The lights are on, the grass is freshly painted, and the national anthem still echoes inside the stadium. About 20,000 fans eagerly await the kickoff at Geodis Park, a soccer stadium at Tennessee’s historic Nashville Fairgrounds.
On the field for the coin flip isn’t someone from Adidas or Coca-Cola, which are among the largest sponsors of Major League Soccer. Standing between the two team captains — coin in hand — is John Oxford of Renasant Bank.
He takes it all in for just a second, including how the players on the home team, the Nashville Soccer Club, are wearing jerseys with his bank’s name emblazoned across the front.
“You’re seeing your brand everywhere and hearing announcements like ‘this game is brought to you by the official bank of Nashville SC,’” he says, describing the moment as one of the greatest pleasures of his career.
Now the sponsorship — which already has celebrity team owners like Reese Witherspoon sporting the Renasant-branded jersey at the games, on social media and in ads — is whipping up even more excitement, with a connection to country music legend Johnny Cash.
Oxford expects a new team jersey featuring Cash’s signature and related marketing initiatives to help attract an influx of customers in 2023. (Get details on the Cash-inspired campaign below.)
Soccer Sponsorships Gaining Momentum with Banks
Unlike the NFL and American football — which are part of more than 100 years of U.S. sports history — soccer has been prominent in this country for barely a quarter of a century. But as the popularity of the sport has grown, with major cities getting their own MLS teams and building dedicated stadiums, sponsorships of soccer teams have offered fresh opportunities for financial institutions.
Momentum has picked up over the past year in particular. WSFS Bank in Wilmington, Del., became the official bank partner of the Philadelphia Union soccer team, under a multiyear agreement announced in August 2022. It is the first major sports sponsorship WSFS has ever done.
Chicago’s BMO Financial partnered with the Los Angeles Football Club to rename its stadium in January 2023. The BMO Stadium deal reportedly will cost the U.S. unit of Canada’s Bank of Montreal $10 million a year through 2033. (BMO recently absorbed Bank of the West, which had been based in San Francisco, giving it a major presence in California.)
The league itself even teamed up with digital bank Avant to distribute an MLS-branded credit card.
Renasant, a regional bank based in Tupelo, Miss., waded into the novelty in 2019 as the main sponsor for the Nashville Soccer Club, getting its name prominently displayed on the jersey. In the three and a half years since then, the partnership has deepened, with some sizeable payoffs.
World Cup and FIFA Video Game Excite Renasant
Its partnership with the Nashville Soccer Club has helped the $16.6 billion-asset Renasant win over local communities, while also giving its brand a national — and international — stage.
When Nashville’s center-back Walker Zimmerman made it onto the U.S. national team and played in the 2022 World Cup, Renasant featured him in a television spot. In it, Zimmerman is shown practicing his soccer moves, with just a brief pause to do some mobile banking, as an announcer says the star player chose Renasant because of how it makes banking so easy. “No practice is needed,” the announcer says.
For roughly three weeks during the World Cup, the ad aired before games, at half-time, and during break-in slots, across the five southeastern states where Renasant has branches, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
Renasant expects the value of the partnership to increase as the Nashville Soccer Club — and the sport itself — become more popular, especially with the 2026 World Cup set to be played primarily in the United States.
“With the World Cup, it’s only going to get even hotter,” Oxford says. “We believe it’s a good bet to set us up for a future marketing play.”
He adds that the Nashville SC jersey can be outfitted in the latest FIFA console games, which provides Renasant with a lot of exposure.
“A really cool side benefit of doing the jersey sponsorship is if you play FIFA — the most popular video game in the world — our jersey is in there,” Oxford says, joking about how this has made him especially popular with his 12-year-old son and his son’s friends.
As a part of the Nashville SC sponsorship, Renasant also has a suite in the stadium that can be used to entertain clients during games and there are opportunities to introduce those clients to players and team owners such as Witherspoon, an Academy Award-winning actress.
This business development component is another way “to go after a return on your investment,” says Oxford.
- Get Ready for the 2026 World Cup Now, To Enjoy a Big Marketing Payoff
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How the Johnny Cash ‘Man in Black’ Jersey Came About
Witherspoon brings some celebrity glam to the soccer sponsorship, and she provides free exposure for Renasant every time she wears a jersey. But Cash is country music royalty who adds a whole new dimension to the mix.To mark the fifth anniversary of the Nashville Soccer Club being in the MLS, the team introduced a black jersey, inscribed with Cash’s signature on the back of the shirt at the neck.
The team calls this its “Man in Black” kit, as a tribute to Cash’s 1971 hit “The Man in Black.” A group of fans inspired the idea, with the display shown in the photo below. (This type of fan project, which is designed to get the attention of the team, is commonly referred to as a tifo in international soccer, a word meaning “visual display” in Italian.)
The Nashville SC will sport the Johnny Cash jersey for two seasons. It will be worn at almost all the away games this year, and a handful of the home games.
Renasant was joined in the jersey sponsorship by Apple Music and Adidas, the latter of which thinks this is “going to be their top selling domestic jersey, and maybe one of their top three global jerseys this year,” Oxford says.
He adds that the team sold 60,000 jerseys in 2022 and that he expects sales of the new black jersey to be double that amount.
The weekend following the public launch, Renasant and the soccer team hosted a festival in the Walk of Fame Park in Nashville to celebrate the new kit. The jersey also made an appearance in Times Square, where it was featured on a Nasdaq digital billboard.
That was a big deal to Oxford, who says a shout-out in New York helps generate national awareness for Renasant.
“NYC is the world’s financial capital, and we are traded on NASDAQ,” he says of the bank, whose ticker is “RNST.” “We have investors and analysts and, just like awareness with clients, we look for awareness in this audience as well.”
Johnny Cash Guitar Pick Exclusively at Renasant Branches
With its soccer sponsorship, Renasant’s marketing team has the singular opportunity to weave the bank’s brand together with the MLS, the city of Nashville — a pop culture hub and the epicenter of country music — and a timeless singer.
The Renasant team already has a way to link its bank branches with the Johnny Cash promotion, and Oxford promises more ideas to come.
Renasant will soon sell a collectible guitar pick, which will be available exclusively at the branches. The other collectible guitar picks can be purchased at the stadium, in addition to Apple Music and Adidas hubs.
“If you want to collect the guitar picks because you’re a fan, you have to come to our bank to get a certain type of guitar pick that we’re going to have behind our teller row,” Oxford says.
Merchandise pop-up shops that can often be found in the parking lots of the branches also will offer the pick, he says.
Renasant’s stake in this latest Nashville Soccer Club promotional effort is not small. Investing in the “Man in Black” jersey and related marketing ran in the low seven-figure range, Oxford says.
However, he says the return has been substantial already. The Nashville SC reported that in the first three days following the release of the Renasant-sponsored black jersey there were “almost 1,300 mentions across national and international outlets.” That provided brand exposure to more than 1 billion people globally, which amounts to an estimated $9.4 million of advertising value, Oxford says.
There are also direct benefits, like being the official bank for the soccer club. This is a strategy Oxford recommends other marketers pursue if they struggle with getting their executives to approve a sports sponsorship.
“If you can bank the franchise, if you can bank the development around the stadium, if you can bank the players, if you can bank the board, the executives and ownership, you can offset — or somewhat offset — some of the expense, which makes the deal even better for banks,” he says.