Why Patrick Mahomes is the new spokesman for a company you’ve probably never heard of

For decades, the Government Employee Health Association has steadily grown customers and revenues. But Darren Taylor, the company’s president and CEO, said few people have even heard of it.

“We’ve been pretty humble,” he said.

Not anymore.

GEHA, which provides health, dental and vision plans to federal employees, just inked a partnership deal with the Kansas City Chiefs and the team’s star quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. The company celebrated the multi-year deal with a Friday afternoon press conference at GEHA’s headquarters in Lee’s Summit.

“It’s a bold move for us,” the CEO said in an earlier interview with The Star. “We really want GEHA to become a household name.”

With the sponsorship deal, the not-for-profit company becomes the exclusive partner with the Chiefs for health, dental and vision plans. The partnership will create a new Chiefs digital wellness program, military appreciation initiatives and an updated Chiefs Sports Lab, an educational program for children at Arrowhead Stadium.

GEHA will also be the presenting sponsor of the Chiefs’ new digital show, “The Franchise,” and of Arrowhead Stadium’s new Drum Deck, near the top of the stadium below the scoreboard on the west side.

As part of the deal, Mahomes will appear in TV, print and online ads for GEHA, as well as represent the company at local events.

On Friday, Mahomes drove a white Bentley to a reserved spot in front of GEHA’s offices, which span across multiple buildings in a nondescript office park off of Interstate 470.

About 75 GEHA employees were selected to attend the event, set inside an air conditioned tent. They were joined by two Chiefs cheerleaders, the KC Wolf mascot and the Chiefs Rumble percussion squad. After a brief appearance on stage, Mahomes told reporters he and GEHA have shared values.

“This partnership means a ton to me,” he said. “It’s awesome to get to align yourself with people like that and get to build these great partnerships with great Kansas City companies.”

Friday’s announcement is just the latest sponsorship deal for last season’s NFL MVP, who lay low for his first year and a half in Kansas City before accepting major deals with companies like Hunt’s (Mahomes loves ketchup), Hy-Vee, Adidas and Goodcents Deli Fresh Sub.

GEHA isn’t competing in the consumer goods market: “We’re not Adidas, we’re not Hunt’s ketchup,” Taylor said.

But the CEO said it does compete with other well-known health providers like Blue Cross Blue Shield to cover federal workers, their dependents and federal retirees. He estimates that market includes some 5 million Americans.

GEHA was formed in 1937 when several railway mail clerks met at Union Station after a long, hot August day of dangerous work delivering the U.S. mail to help each other cover the cost of healthcare.

Taylor said the company has retention rates above 90 percent with its 2 million health, dental and vision customers. But it has low name recognition — even among federal employees. He believes Mahomes and the Chiefs will help spread the word from coast to coast.

“He is a very popular young man right now,” he said.

There’s also an element of hometown swagger: GEHA leaders believe an association with the Chiefs and their starting quarterback will help with employee recruitment and retention. The company employs about 1,400 people, mostly in Lee’s Summit and Independence.

“We want to let people know that GEHA is a great place to work,” the CEO said. “We’re innovative, but we’re also steeped in tradition. We want to keep our strong tradition and be a little more bold in the market.”

But that’s entirely new for the firm: Onstage Friday, he said the entire executive team went shopping the night before to ensure they had the best outfits possible for the event.

“That’s never happened before,” he said.

In an interview, Taylor pointed to the work of Mahomes’ agents, who have carefully managed his brand image and sponsorship deals since he began with the Chiefs in 2017. Last season, he threw 50 touchdown and completed 5,097 passing yards as the Chiefs advanced to the AFC Championship Game.

While it may seem like the beloved quarterback is everywhere, his agency team has taken a measured approach to his public appearances.

“I really appreciate their approach because they don’t want to flood the market with Patrick everywhere,” Taylor said. “We’re not going to run 50 commercials in every market every day of the week.”

The CEO said a joint marketing campaign will premiere this fall — the beginning of both the NFL season and open enrollment periods for most federal workers. A Sports Illustrated reporter recently predicted the Chiefs would finish the 2019 season with the league’s best record.

Chiefs President Mark Donovan said he saw similarities between the member-based GEHA and the Chiefs, which relies on a loyal pack of season ticket holders. He predicted the partnership would raise the local and national profile of the company.

“GEHA is a huge organization, sort of a hidden gem in Kansas City,” Donovan said. “And we are honored that they are going to select us to help raise that awareness.”

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Kevin Hardy covers business for The Kansas City Star. He previously covered business and politics at The Des Moines Register. He also has worked at newspapers in Kansas and Tennessee. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas