USC’s Founders Park part of Lancaster-based credit union’s growth plans

The University of South Carolina signed a 10-year contract awarding naming rights of its baseball stadium to Founders Federal Credit Union.
The University of South Carolina signed a 10-year contract awarding naming rights of its baseball stadium to Founders Federal Credit Union.

With more than 200,000 members, there is hardly an “average” account holder at Founders Federal Credit Union based in Lancaster.

Overall, though, Founders members are likely to be blue-collar workers with a passion for sports – football, racing, baseball and basketball. On any given weekend their attentions are focused on the Panthers, Gamecocks, Tigers and their NASCAR driver of choice, not to mention high school or youth league teams.

So when the chance came to partner with the University of South Carolina – changing the name of the Gamecocks’ baseball home from Carolina Stadium to Founders Park, it was a no-brainer for the credit union. Swing the bat, connect with the sweet spot, watch the ball sail out of the park.

The 10-year contract, however, is as much about future credit union members as it is current members. The relationship with the university is part of Founders’ strategic plan to increase and diversify its membership, and add more business partners.

Founders already is the state’s largest credit union with almost $1.9 billion in assets. It’s a big change from 1950 when Elliott White  Springs founded the credit union to serve his mill workers.

Founders survived the mill closings. It has been aggressive in extending its markets and membership.

As a credit union, there are certain membership criteria. If you live, work, worship, attend school or volunteer in Lancaster, York or Chester or other South Carolina counties you can be a member. You can qualify for membership if your company, organization or association offers membership as a benefit. Currently more than 2,500 businesses, including Chester County’s Giti Tire, and other groups offer Founders as a benefit according to credit union officials.

Residents who live in areas the federal government has determined to be “underserved” by financial institutions also are eligible for membership.

Family members of credit union clients are also eligible to join. That was one reason Founders has expanded to many South Carolina university campuses, especially South Carolina and Clemson.

Founders is looking for new members who have the capacity to invest in the credit union and use its services, particularly loans, said Bruce Brumfield, the credit union’s president and CEO. It makes no sense, he said, to enroll new members just for the sake of bigger membership.

For several years Founders has been advertising at South Carolina athletic events through IMG College, a collegiate sports marketing company.

Discussion about naming rights for the baseball stadium were the result of a five-year relationship among Brumfield and athletic director Ray Tanner and baseball coach Chad Holbrook. They met through Ray Tanner’s foundation, Brumfield said.

“This was a relationship that turned into a friendship,” Brumfield said.

Developing a contract was not an easy process. The university controlled the name rights, not IMG College. Brumfield wanted a package that included the naming rights and his other athletic advertising.

The university also had contracts with other financial institutions at the baseball stadium. “You have to honor them,” Brumfield told university officials, “But you don’t have to renew them.”

The final deal is $7 million over 10 years, with the naming rights worth $4.5 million. Founders is also paying $2.5 million in sponsorship and advertising. The result was not just renaming the baseball stadium, but also rebranding it. The credit union name will be prominently displayed throughout the stadium – physically and digitally.

Brumfield said the annual commitment is about $450,000 – about 15 percent of the $3 million the credit union spends annually on marketing and other community events.

Each year Founders will be monitoring the returns on its investment. So far, the credit union is getting more inquires and membership arrangements from businesses, Brumfield said.

Unsaid when the deal was announced – but equally as important to Founders members – is the fact that the partnership will not affect the credit union’s annual loyalty rewards program.

For several years Founder paid a dividend to its members. Three years ago Founders decided to set aside $5.7 million annually as a loyalty reward for its members. The amount each member receives is based on the interest they pay in loans and earn on their accounts. The loyalty dividend is paid Dec. 1.

Several members, Brumfield said, have questioned the deal but the majority have told him, “I’m proud to see that name on the stadium.”