When two Pac-12 stalwarts announced they were decamping to the Big Ten last summer, I wrote a blog post headlined: “What Happens to Conference Partnerships in the Wake of UCLA and USC Move?”
Little did we know what was in store, even if the post hinted at the disruption to come with this observation: “The Big 12’s move the day before the Pac-12 shakeup to hire Brett Yormark, an experienced sports industry leader and previously an accomplished sponsorship sales executive, could prove remarkably prescient.”
Indeed it was, as the new commissioner’s move to jump the line and extend his conference’s ESPN and Fox contracts with two years to go on its existing media rights deal sealed the Pac-12’s fate.
So we are again in a position where the rough seas of realignment make things at best unpredictable (in the case of expanding conferences such as the Big Ten and SEC) and at worst practically impossible (in the case of the currently four-member Pac-12) for conference sponsors.
While decisions about what to do once schools actually depart some conferences in a year’s time can be put off for now, there may be value for both conference and university sponsors to go all out for this coming football and basketball seasons, celebrating what essentially will be the last year of college sports as we have come to know it.
Content highlighting landmark moments and tapping into fans’ fond memories should resonate and keep the focus off an uncertain future.
On a more positive note in college sports sponsorship, Hyundai Motor Company and Georgia Tech University unveiled a partnership this week that includes naming rights to the Yellow Jackets’ football field.
The agreement is noteworthy in that 1) the school was not looking for a naming rights sponsor and 2) it is part of a larger agreement between the two parties that includes to-be-specified “research and applications to support the future of sustainable mobility, hydrogen economy, workforce development, and smart cities.” The larger agreement is in support of Hyundai’s $5.54 billion investment in its Metaplant America, a new electric vehicle and battery plant in Bryan County, Georgia.
Although standalone sponsorships that don’t extend beyond a school’s athletic department and its IP can (and do) deliver value to brands, fans and the institution, a campus-wide partnership that delivers on multiple business objectives allows for greater integration and raises the chances that the entire university community will recognize and appreciate the corporation’s role.
Expect to see more partnerships where naming rights and other high-value sponsorship inventory are not the end goal, but instead are additive to more comprehensive relationships between brand and rights holder.
That said, there is a small nagging issue with the Hyundai/Yellow Jackets arrangement. No doubt the result (and victim) of plenty of internal political discussions and negotiations, the name Bobby Dodd Stadium at Hyundai Field seems backward given typical sports venue nomenclature (not to mention architecture).
And finally, a not-so-serious lingering question: Will Georgia Tech replace its Ramblin’ Wreck mechanical mascot—a 1930 Ford Model A Sport Coupe—with a Hyundai vehicle to avoid ambush marketing of its newest partner?