Marketing in College Sports

mainphoto_sponsor(Gazelle Group, 2014)

Talk about a timely topic. As the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments come to a close, the issues at the heart of multiple lawsuits and grievances between current and former college players and the NCAA are fully on display. To the casual observer, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the level of corporate sponsorship at the college level and professional level, does there?

We don’t want to wade too deep into these waters. That debate and its ethical and legal implications, can be left for another day. What we are interested in this morning is the path forward for companies in their marketing efforts.

A recent article in the New York Times illuminates the potential for companies to reap big profits and generate significant impressions by ponying up to get the their logos connected to March Madness in some way. Take a look at Warren Buffet and Quicken’s $1 billion dollar bracket challenge. Talk about a windfall – 8.7 million entrants, willing to give over significant amounts of personal data to marketers in the hopes of getting stuck by lightning over one million times! (odds of a perfect bracket are one in 4,294,967,296, while odds of getting struck by lightning are one in 3000)

But what happens moving forward? With the potential for unionization at Northwestern University and a host of other issues coming to light, where will public sentiment lie in the next two, five, or 10 years? Will fans of college games begin to reject big corporate partnerships without a significant shift towards more compensation for players? Hard to say. For now, its easy to see the value in college corporate sponsorship right now. But will this always be the case? Take CVS’ announcement from a few months ago that they were discontinuing cigarette sales in all of its stores. The company was looking at the potential long-term implications of staying in the cigarette-selling business and chose to forgo massive profits in the near-term. We know it isn’t a direct correlation. It is doubtful businesses will ever completely pass on the opportunity to engage universities and tap this segment of the market. But it is important for a company to always weigh profits and brand perception. What good is a solid fiscal year if impressions of your brand begin to trend negatively?

This conversation goes a lot deeper and branches out in many directions. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Given the opportunity to sponsor a major college sporting event, would you take it? Why? Where do you see the greatest potential for brand partnerships in the future? How do you think the relationship between the NCAA, the players, and businesses will change over the next few years?


Have a great week!