When they inked a deal to sponsor the Tour de Georgia, United Community Bank raised a few eyebrows.
The company, the third largest banking organization in Georgia with $8.2 billion in assets, is no small player. But compared to the two larger companies, SunTrust and Synovus, United Community has a much smaller footprint. Its banks are concentrated in North Georgia and Metro Atlanta with a smattering of locations on the coast.
But United Community marketing executives say they are happy with their investment and potentially could come back for another year.
The Tour de Georgia is not NASCAR, where sponsors plunk down millions for the right to have their name on the side and hood of a car.
The bicycle road race has struggled with title sponsors. Auto giants Ford and Dodge have both come and gone from the race as presenting sponsors in recent years.
Last year, the race was in jeopardy when AT&T stepped up as a $500,000 presenting sponsor in an announcement heralded by Gov. Sonny Perdue.
In addition to sponsors, the tour is a driver of additional visibility for the charitable beneficiary, the AFLAC Cancer Center at Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta.
"We were delighted when the lieutenant governor's office called us telling us we were the recipient of the 2008 Tour de Georgia," said Diane Vaughan, senior development officer with the AFLAC Cancer Center.
She said the race allows the center to raise awareness throughout the state, as well as raising money for pediatric cancer research.
The center is heavily involved along the race.
"We will have a booth at every start and finish of each leg of the race," Vaughan said. "In our booth, we'll be talking about health and wellness. We will partner with the Safe Kids coalition in each community."
There will also be health screenings for adults.
United Community is a founding partner, the second highest level of sponsorship. They are listed with such notables as Georgia Power, Wal-Mart and General Electric.
The bank gets a marked vehicle in the parade of sponsors who precede and follow the cyclists as they roll along the state's highways.
"We've been involved since the inception of the race," said Rhonda Hood of United Community.
"Other than the charitable reasons, it's great visibility through the signage we have," said Michael Infante, a marketing executive at United Community. In addition to vehicles, the bank gives out "spirit hands," which are giant cardboard cutouts shaped like hand for spectators to wave at the cyclists.
"We try to make sure that the race goes in front of our bank locations," he said.
He admits it's a big step for the bank. "It's important to us because it's important to the state of Georgia," Infante said. "It drives tourism and gives Georgia some national exposure."
He said the bank's employees get excited about the company's participation in the race.
In the communities where they have banks, United Community has a junior board of directors made up of high school students who take an active role when the race comes to their town.
Will they do it again? "A lot of it will depend on economics," Infante said. "It will depend on the success of the race and it will depend on our year. If economics allow for it, we'd love to continue."