SBJ/November 17 - 23, 2003/This Weeks Issue

Big South Conference on the way to its biggest revenue year ever

The Big South Conference expects record revenue this year, thanks to increased corporate marketing support.

The league plans to announce eight new corporate partners Thursday, which will bring the total to 20.

The addition of the new partners will help bring Big South corporate marketing revenue to more than $600,000 this year, Big South Commissioner Kyle Kallander said.

That figure is about 21 percent above last year's corporate marketing revenue, he said, and about 14 percent above corporate revenue generated in the 2001-02 school year, the league's previous record year.

Kallander thinks the Big South, though not as high-profile as bigger Division I conferences, is able to attract blue-chip sponsors because of its one-stop-shop packaging of sponsorships.

The Big South, unlike most conferences, includes inventory from its members in all of its deals, Kallander said. Big South corporate partnerships typically range from $25,000 to $100,000 a year.

The league buys inventory from its schools to include in its league deals so a corporate partner receives not only conference rights, which typically revolve around the league's basketball tournament, but also rights to certain or all of the league's member schools.

"It's really a flexible approach and depends on what the partner's looking for," Kallander said.

The new sponsors are Edy's Grand Ice Cream, Geico Direct, John Deere, Kroger, Naturally Fresh, New Balance, Pepsi and UPS. Those companies join Choice Hotels, which announced its sponsorship last month, as new sponsors this year.

The increased revenue is significant because it gives the league the opportunity to add to its television exposure and increase the amount of money it can distribute back to its schools, Kallander said.

Overall, the league is projecting revenue of $1.9 million this school year, an increase of about 7 percent over last year. More than $500,000 of that is expected to be distributed back to members. The rest is used to pay for league operations and television production. The Big South's television agreements are primarily designed so that the league pays for production and splits ad revenue with its television partners.

NESTLÉ INCREASES TOURNEY ROLE: Nestlé Purina, in its third year as a sponsor of the Missouri Valley Conference's men's basketball tournament, is beefing up its involvement with the league with an in-store promotion for discounted tickets to the 2004 tourney.

Nestlé Purina is on the ball with plans for the next Missouri Valley Conference tourney.

Plans as of last week called for Nestlé Purina to run a buy-one-get-one-free ticket promotion in Schnucks grocery stores throughout the St. Louis area, said Missouri Valley associate commissioner Joe Mitch.

The promotion centers on Nestlé Purina's line of dog and puppy chow and will include in-store point-of-sale displays, Mitch said. It is also likely to be supported by radio and television spots. The promotion is slated to begin in late January or early February and will run until the start of the tournament March 6. Arrangements with other retailers were still being worked out, according to Nestlé Purina officials.

In addition to promotional rights, Nestlé Purina receives media and signs as part of its sponsorship of the tournament. The company also plans to again feature its Incredible Dog Team during the tournament. The dog team will perform acrobatic tricks and catch Frisbees at halftime.

Bud Hanson, director of experiential marketing for Nestlé Purina, said this year's involvement with the Missouri Valley is greater than in the past because the company's retail partners were looking for ways to further promote Nestlé Purina dog chow brands. "This was a way to do something beyond pricing," he said.

For the Missouri Valley Conference, the promotion helps promote the tournament at retail and is hoped to help increase attendance, Mitch said. He would not disclose financial details of Nestlé Purina's deal. Overall, the Missouri Valley Conference generates about $1.4 million annually from media sales and tournament sponsorships.

The 2004 tournament will be March 6-8 at the Savvis Center. The last tournament had a league record attendance of 60,000 over five sessions.

HEISMAN DINNER OPEN TO PUBLIC: The Heisman Trophy dinner will be open to the public for the first time in almost 70 years.

The Downtown Athletic Club of New York City Inc., the presenter of the award, decided this year to sell tickets to the public as a way to raise money for the Heisman Trophy Foundation, which donates money to a collection of charities, including the Boys and Girls Club of New York. The only other time the presentation was open to the public was in 1935, the first year the trophy was awarded.

In previous years the dinner was open only to Downtown Athletic Club guests and members. But with the club closed and its members dispersed, club officials wanted to change the focus of the dinner, said Norman Shaffer, president of 707 Marketing, which handles marketing for the Heisman.

The club, located at 19 West St., just blocks from the World Trade Center site, was closed indefinitely after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, because of damages to the building and a subsequent inability to fund repairs. As a result, Heisman Trophy presentations for the last two years have been held at alternate locations in the city.

This year's trophy presentation will be Dec. 15 at the Hilton New York. About 1,500 people are expected to attend, Shaffer said. Tickets are selling for $600 apiece or $6,000 for a table for 10. Downtown Athletic Club officials hope to raise $400,000 to $500,000 for the foundation.

As for the Downtown Athletic Club, Shaffer said club officials are trying to reopen it in another location.

Contact Jennifer Lee at jlee@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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