TicketManager | New College Sports Sponsorship Assets Cry Out for Activation

Even without the need for Power 4 collegiate athletic programs to soon have to come up with ways to fund athlete payments in the wake of the House v. NCAA settlement, it was no surprise to see the league approve on-field commercial sponsor identification for football games across all three of its divisions beginning this fall.

Nor is it shocking that the Big 12, Conference USA—and reportedly multiple other conferences in the Group of 5—are considering selling naming rights to their organizations as they seek revenue to remain competitive with the deep-pocketed Big 10 and SEC.

These new rights represent a massive next step for marketers looking to associate with college sports, but they also have the potential to be very expensive missed opportunities if they are only used as a branding exercise and not fully leveraged.

That’s not a new idea, of course, but it’s particularly important to emphasize in the world of college sports sponsorships, where—especially at the school level—many brands do not take full advantage of the chance to connect with passionate fans, alumni, students and other stakeholders.

There are exceptions to that rule of course, but unlike sponsorships at most pro sports organizations, many college sponsorship programs are merely glorified ad buys, with partnership elements bundled in with traditional and digital media sold by the schools’ multimedia rights holders.

In my experience, that is the fault of the brands, not the schools’ representatives at Learfield, JMI Sports and other MMR specialists. While those professionals understand the value of combining experiential, community and other types of activation efforts with signage and advertising, too many brands are content with the low-maintenance portion of the package—the spots and dots—and don’t commit the resources to bring partnerships to life, even in the most basic of ways.

This will likely not be as much of a problem for future conference naming rights partners, given the seven- and eight-figure estimates put on those deals. Brands that can afford to play in that space should understand the value of activating the association, although even that is not guaranteed.

But the prospect of the Allstate 12 Conference, for example, brings its own set of challenges. As I wrote in a previous post, many other leagues have shied away from selling naming rights for multiple reasons, including not wanting to give up control of their own brands and the risk both sides face by tying themselves so closely to one partner should controversy, scandal or other negative circumstances arise.

The need for revenue will likely push those issues to the side in collegiate sports, but those big dollars will not arrive without a few complications.

As with almost all things related to collegiate athletics these days, how college sports properties and brands manage these new opportunities—and others likely to come soon, such as jersey patches—will be fascinating to watch.