Seattle City Light paid the Mariners and Sounders more than $300,000 in advertising fees last year, mostly to promote its energy-conservation programs.

Share story

Seattle City Light is a public agency and a monopoly. So why did the electricity utility pay the Mariners and Sounders more than $300,000 in advertising fees last year?

There were announcements and signs at Sounders matches, television spots with slugger Nelson Cruz during Mariners games and City Light-sponsored fireworks at Safeco Field. The utility bought dozens of tickets — some for luxury seats.

City Light says it paid the baseball club $232,000 and the soccer club $95,000 mostly to help raise awareness among electricity customers about energy-conservation programs that save money for everyone and benefit the environment.

Under a state initiative approved by voters in 2006, the utility is required to set biennial energy-conservation targets and get them approved by the City Council.

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

In October, City Light said it was on track to beat its 2014-2015 target of reducing its systemwide electricity use by 207 million kilowatt-hours. In 2014 alone, the utility’s conservation measures saved ratepayers $115 million, according to a spokesman.

The council last month approved a new target for 2016-2017 of 224 million kilowatt-hours.

Conservation saves money because it reduces the need for the utility to buy electricity on the open market, said City Light spokesman Scott Thomsen.

“Since the late 1970s, Seattle has pursued energy conservation as its resource of choice for City Light to meet the community’s growing energy needs,” Thomsen said.

“Rather than building new power plants or buying that electricity on the market, we’ve gone the route of trying to use the electricity we have more efficiently.”

Though survey results show the pro-sports campaigns have reached millions of people, increasing their awareness of City Light’s conservation programs, officials have yet to demonstrate that the campaigns are paying off dollar-for-dollar. That’s because it can be difficult to draw a line between certain ads and dollars saved, Thomsen said.

“With links to our website, we know someone clicking on an ad was engaged enough to check things out, and we track that,” he said. “But did someone call because they heard a radio spot or saw an ad in the newspaper or for some other reason?”

In 2014, City Light didn’t do much to track the effectiveness of its Mariners and Sounders campaigns. Then last year, it began using surveys for that purpose.

The utility promoted its survey of Sounders fans at matches and on its social-media pages; 3,094 people completed the survey between August and November.

The ad campaign reached about 389,000 Sounders fans, delivering 12 million impressions through signage, video-screen messages and radio, according to City Light.

Sounders fans’ awareness of City Light energy-efficiency rebates rose from 58 percent in August to 61 percent in October, then fell to 57 percent in November, the survey found.

Their awareness of We Power Seattle, which covers all City Light’s energy-conservation programs, rose from 20 percent in August to 26 percent in November.

Just 194 people completed the survey of Mariners fans because Major League Baseball (MLB) rejected a plan to have it sent to people on the Mariners’ email list.

The ad campaign reached more than 1 million Mariners fans, generating almost five impressions per person.

Their awareness of energy-efficiency rebates increased from 57 to 81 percent and of We Power Seattle from 30 to 33 percent, according to the survey.

City Light will use the results to help decide how to advertise this year, Thomsen said. Some advantages to partnering with the Mariners and Sounders are clear, he said.

City Light sought to promote LED light bulbs in 2015, and the Mariners last year became the first MLB club to illuminate their home field with the energy-efficient bulbs.

The utility highlighted the move in some ads, including a video spot featuring Cruz.

“That demonstration was value we couldn’t get anywhere else,” Thomsen said.

Sounders fans are a very diverse group, making advertising with the club “a great opportunity to touch people we might not connect with otherwise,” he added.

City Light’s contract with the Mariners in 2015 included access to 80 lower-level tickets, two Diamond Club tickets and 20 suite tickets.

The utility ended up using about 40 lower-level tickets, four Diamond Club tickets and the 20 suite tickets, according to records provided by Thomsen.

The lower-level tickets were mostly given to people associated with businesses taking advantage of energy-conservation programs: Naked City Brewing, Swedish Automotive, Statements Tile and ArtHouse Apartments. They took part in on-field City Light presentations at the games they attended, Thomsen said.

The Diamond Club tickets went to a customer who entered her name in a drawing related to City Light promoting its programs at a Mariners game.

Half the suite tickets were given to an auction benefiting the Seattle nonprofit El Centro de la Raza and half were given to participants in City Light’s Project Share initiative, which uses donations to help needy customers keep their lights on.

City Light staff members used tickets to accompany the recipients for the presentations. In some cases the staff members stayed to watch, but not always.