You wouldn’t be alone if your first thought upon hearing the news that Dick’s Sporting Goods had become the newest corporate partner of the NCAA was, “What took so long?” In other words, now that the NCAA has an official sporting goods retail partner, it seems surprising that the category was open until now.
The particulars of the agreement include many elements that capitalize on the natural fit between the sponsor and the property, including Dick’s receiving “product category exclusive access to official NCAA licensed merchandise for promotional purposes only available to official NCAA Corporate Champions and Partners,” according to the joint press release announcing the agreement.
Timed of course to take advantage of the buzz around the upcoming March Madness men’s and women’s basketball championships, the partnership includes on-site activation during the Final Four games for both tournaments, including sponsorship of the Women’s Final Four Open Practices, the Kids Zone at the Men’s Final Four Fan Festival, the Ferris wheel at the Men’s Final Four Tip-Off Tailgate and the Women’s Final Four Mascot University at Tourney Town.
Dick’s also will have a plethora of March Madness media assets, including courtside signage and a broadcast ad buy across media rights partners CBS Sports and Warner Bros. Discovery Sports.
Two additional elements of the partnership may prove to be the most interesting.
First, like all the members of the 20-year-old NCAA Corporate Champions and Partners Program (which now includes 14 Partners and three top-level Champions—Coca-Cola, AT&T and Capital One), Dick’s official status extends to all 90 NCAA Men’s and Women’s Championships. But while most of the other sponsors concentrate their promotional efforts on the basketball championships and their enormous audiences, Dick’s is primed to utilize its ties to most, if not all, of the other sports given its role as an equipment purveyor.
Second, the announcement noted that Dick’s also will be granted “category-exclusive rights to NCAA-owned historical championship footage, which will be used to create custom content.” A bricks-and-mortar retailer recognizing the importance of exclusive content points to a smart and sophisticated approach to sponsorship that will seek to engage consumers beyond just enticing them into stores with NCAA merchandise.
Finally, the partnership also serves as a reminder to properties and rights holders searching for new partners that despite highly publicized problems at many traditional retail chains, there are many that are chugging along and investing in marketing. Just the day before its NCAA announcement, Dick’s reported that its fourth-quarter sales grew 7.3 percent to $3.59 billion, outpacing analysts’ expectations and sending its stock price soaring.