SBD/November 5, 2015/Marketing Symposium

Brands See High School Sports As Fertile Ground For New Sponsorships

Maddox said high schools offer a new frontier for sponsorships
With competition for sponsorships in pro and college sports as fierce as ever, more brands are taking the next step by beginning to explore high school sports as a space in which they can reach consumers, and upstart media entities see an opportunity to provide loyal followers of local teams the coverage they crave. American Family Insurance Media & Brand Manager Dwayne Maddox, whose company is the title sponsor of the High School Slam Dunk & 3-Point Championships and a presenting sponsor of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, said that with the ad dollars competitors in the insurance category are dedicating to high-profile sports properties, high school offers a new frontier. “Whether it’s State Farm with the NBA or Allstate with college football and so on and so forth, it kind of leaves one space that is untouched, which was high school sports, which was fertile ground for us from a strategic standpoint,” Maddox said. That ability to carve out a niche in the high school space is a key part of the pitch that Big Teams CEO Clay Walker uses in recruiting brands to advertise on the network of websites dedicated to individual high schools’ sports programs based on his company’s content management system. Walker: “There’s nobody advertising. You can own the space. You can own it.”

"LAST BASTION OF PURITY IN SPORTS": Panelists stressed that brands can benefit greatly from being a part of the values associated with amateur athletics, as well as passion on a local level. “It represents almost the last bastion of purity in sports,” said Dick’s Sporting Goods VP/Brand & Sports Marketing Ryan Eckel. “There’s this amateur ethos that kids are participating for the right reasons, and so we’ve been able to really use high school sports to do some emotive storytelling, which has helped build our brand.” PlayOn/National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) Network President Subscription & Consumer Marketing Monisha Longacre said brand advertising on her company’s broadcasts of high school sports content can tap into the high school demographic on a deep level. “Our students are the stars of our content,” said Longacre. “Our students are also creating the content. They’re the ones that are filming, broadcasting, doing the graphics and actually creating the content. And, third of all, they’re also consumers of the content. So we’re reaching them on three different levels, which is a unique opportunity to tap into that high school audience and then the community wrapped around it.” Walker also cited a statistic showing that 91% of parents will switch to brands that are perceived to support high school athletics.

HEADS UP: Asked about head injuries and safety concerns as possible risks for brands in associating with high school sports, the panel stressed the importance of promoting the positive effects that athletics have on high school students. Walker cited a range of statistics indicating that high school athletes experience more career success, academic achievement and personal health than other students. Maddox said American Family is not interested in pushing kids into sports, but simply supporting those families that have decided to make sports a priority. Eckel expressed concern that safety issues are overshadowing the wide array of benefits to high school athletes.

Quick Hits:
* Walker, on high school all-star games: “I don’t dislike them, but it’s not the real high-school experience. The real high school experience is at your high school, not a bunch of all-stars in New Orleans at the Superdome.”

 * Eckel, on maintaining the purity of high school sports: “Once money comes into something, there’s a ton of risk. … We’re focused purely on giving kids across the country an opportunity to play who don’t have it. Ultimately, we know that (funding is being cut) out of high school sports at a rapid, rapid rate, and it’s fantastic that there’s money coming into it now. It’s up to us to make sure that money goes to the right places."
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