SBJ/June 4 - 10, 2001/No Topic Name

No football means schools must get creative

When Tim Hofferth arrived at Villanova University in 1994 to help boost sponsorships, the school was generating a paltry $150,000 a year from corporate alliances.

In 2000, three years after the school promoted Hofferth to athletic director, Villanova hauled in over $1 million from a crop of sponsors including PNC Bank, Ford, State Farm, Comcast and Bob Stores. All without college athletics' biggest carrot: Division I-A football.

"Right off the bat it hurts financially," Hofferth said of not having Division I-A football. "You don't have a chance at revenue sharing through the conference [in football], no bowl money, no BCS money."

Hofferth, now president and chief operating officer at Nelligan Sports Marketing Inc., and Villanova made the formula work by taking control of all marketing elements and emphasizing their lone revenue-generating sport, men's basketball. Since Hofferth's departure last summer, the school has decided to out-source its marketing control to International Sports Properties Inc.

The tradition of Division I-A football attracts fans, which ultimately attracts sponsors. Athletic departments that have major football programs pull in, on average, between $2 million and $8 million annually in sponsorship revenue. A handful of schools with strong basketball programs and without major college football have managed to haul in anywhere from $300,000 to $1 million annually from sponsors.

Without the support of a major football program, athletic departments have to market themselves knowing they can only offer a five-month sponsorship platform as opposed to a nine-month platform.

To do that, Charlotte emphasizes its blossoming hometown, growing alumni base, 5-year-old on-campus arena and on-court success (NCAA tournament berths four of the past five years). The school also pitches its membership in Conference USA as well as visiting high-profile programs led by coaches Bob Huggins (Cincinnati), Rick Pitino (Louisville) and John Calipari (Memphis).

Among Charlotte's sponsors, which account for approximately $500,000: Wachovia, Phillips 66, Food Lion, TIAA-CREF, Chick-fil-A, Bojangles', BellSouth and ConAgra's Healthy Choice brand.

Charlotte has been creative in other areas, too. In February 2000, Signature Sports worked with Charlotte sponsor Food Lion to create a promotion with Nabisco's Oreo brand around a nationally televised game against Cincinnati. Fans could win a chance to compete in an Oreo-stacking contest at the game — against NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"They've done a good job creating something bigger," said Dave Biery, Food Lion marketing vice president. "The program has grown and that helps, and they've also worked very hard to make sure we're reaching consumers and getting some real value there."

The trials of life without football are eased when a school plays in a major market. Nelligan Sports Marketing represents several of those, including St. John's (New York), Seton Hall (New York), DePaul (Chicago) and Georgetown (Washington, D.C.).

T.J. Nelligan, the firm's chairman, said schools must remember that they have far more to sell than just athletics. Every university retains control over numerous, lucrative vendor contracts: copiers, long-distance telephone service, soft-drink machines, student union retail and snack shops. The opportunity for sponsors to have access to all of those contracts in numerous university departments could equal a large potential for revenue.

In addition, Nelligan emphasizes the value of college sports fans. They're better educated than pro sports fans because most of them attended college. And the NCAA's latest basketball TV deal with CBS, for $6 billion, bears out the value of college hoops.

With Georgetown and DePaul, Nelligan took control of the schools' radio contracts, moving them to 50,000-watt stations from 5,000-watt outlets — and quadrupling ad rates in the process. Through Nelligan, both universities were able to purchase air time and sell spots themselves. By combining their radio inventory with other sponsorship elements, both Georgetown and DePaul were able to increase their rates and overall revenue.

Hofferth said schools without football have to work and focus that much harder to reap big-dollar sponsorships. The other crucial piece, he said, is finding marketing and sponsor sales people comfortable with courting corporate America.

As for football? Don't worry about what you don't have, experts say.

"It's never an issue here," said Judy Rose, athletic director at Charlotte. "We market what we have and that's basketball. It takes enough energy to do that without going through what might happen if we had something else."

Erik Spanberg writes for The Business Journal of Charlotte.

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