SBJ/September 24 - 30, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Cingular’s NCAA deal starts to add up when considering the details

Observers have been curious how Cingular Wireless' one-year NCAA deal, which doesn't include any TV in the NCAA men's hoops tourney, could add up to some $3.5 million — two to three times what some sponsors are paying.

Also making people scratch their heads is the fact the NCAA sponsorship agency Host Communications sold Cingular its second-biggest NCAA deal ever (after GM) during the worst year for marketing, advertising and sponsorship sales in a decade.

While Cingular got no benefits beyond Host's standard package of radio, programs and intellectual property rights, there are some sound reasons why Cingular felt it worth two to three times what some sponsors are paying. Foremost is the site of this year's Final Four — Atlanta, Cingular's home.

Cingular has also renewed its titlement to the halftime show on CBS' NCAA tourney coverage, but has extended it to regular-season telecasts as well, an investment upwards of $10 million. Thus, supporting it with a rights package, even a costly one, makes sense, especially when you consider the high penetration of cell phones on college campuses.

While the TV and property rights were sold separately, the deal is the first example of Host and CBS sports sales working together. That will become commonplace soon, with Host and CBS due to roll out new sponsorship packages before the end of the year. Details on the new packages are still sketchy. A recent-NCAA Corporate Partners session, which was to have provided some details, was scuttled by the tragedies of Sept. 11.

Host has the rights to sell as many as 20 sponsorships. It currently has a stable of 14 sponsors, which is expected to drop to around 10 after this season. Three tiers are likely to be established. The lower-priced packages will include opportunities for potential sponsors to cherry-pick specific sports or genders for the first time.

 NOT SO SUBTLE: Michael Jordan's comeback seems to be the worst-kept secret in sports. Witness the recent snafu in which His Airness was briefly listed as an active player on the Washington Wizards Web site. Not to mention the subtle hint from NBA schedulers who have Jordan's Wizards opening their season at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks.

But are we the only ones who remembered that his longtime Gatorade deal expires at year's end? Maybe not.

"I can't envision a scenario where we don't have a relationship with Michael," said Gatorade sports marketing chief Tom Fox. "We should have something done soon."

  COMMERCIAL GUY: For a backup quarterback, Michael Vick has a lot of TV commercials. At last count, the NFL's top draft pick was appearing in four national spots — two for Coke's Powerade, one for Sony's 989 Sports video games and one for EAS energy bars with John Elway.

Octagon's Tom George notes that the agency hasn't cut any local Atlanta deals, although a small deal for Kroger supermarkets shows Vick's strength in Virginia, where he played college football. Kroger will use Vick's name and image and pass through those rights to its vendors.

Nike also has a deal with Vick, but with no TV so far.

Any more in the offing?

"We've basically put a 'sold out' sign on him unless it's something really sweet and multiyear," said George.

Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@amcity.com.

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