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ESPN alters college football ad platform

With college football’s national championship being decided in the Rose Bowl on ABC this season, the network has developed a new advertising platform called “The Drive to the National Championship.”

Brands including Dr Pepper, Ford, Home Depot, Nissan, Vizio and Taco Bell have jumped on board as sponsors of “The Drive.” At least two other companies also are attaching their brands to ESPN’s “Drive” platform.

The most noticeable absence on the opening weekend of college football was Pontiac, which had been promoting the “Game Changing Performance” since the 2004 college football season. The platform, which urged fans to vote for the most remarkable play of the season, became hard to miss across ESPN’s college football programming on TV and the Web, and ultimately grew to include college basketball as well. Just like every other activation in the soon-to-be-defunct Pontiac portfolio, that platform is gone this season.

Rather than targeting one sponsor to take over Pontiac’s position, ESPN decided to sell the ad time vacated by Pontiac to several other companies. The “Game Changing” platform will not be revived, said ESPN, which instead is putting its focus on the national title and “The Drive.”

Pontiac’s departure from college football
has opened the door for other sponsors.

“The ‘Game Changing Performance’ was very customized to Pontiac,” said Eric Johnson, ESPN’s executive vice president of multimedia sales. “We decided to take that real estate and customize it for other advertisers.”

For example, Ford will attach its name as the title sponsor of ABC’s “Saturday Night Football” postgame show. ESPN created another advertising opportunity around the BCS Coaches’ Trophy, which is awarded to the BCS title winner. Dr Pepper, a college football sponsor stalwart, will sponsor the trophy’s appearances on ESPN “GameDay” and other shoulder programming.

The moves certainly take the spotlight away from General Motors. The “Pontiac Game Changing Performance” program contributed more than $2 million to universities through scholarship donations, according to the program’s leader, Chris Hornberger, the advertising manager for the Pontiac brand.

Where GM goes from here with its college football presence remains to be seen, but it’s not expected to exceed traditional advertising.

GM also continues to explore its options as an NCAA sponsor. It is in the final year of its corporate champion deal with the NCAA and has been widely expected to fall back into corporate partner status, but even that is not a certainty as the automaker attempts to recover from bankruptcy.

“We don’t have a divisional brand that is officially assigned to replace Pontiac,” Kelly Cusinato, GM spokeswoman, said of the automaker’s presence in college football. “Furthermore, we are still in discussions with CBS and the NCAA regarding what to do when our current agreement expires at the end of this year. Since we have not made any decisions yet, I can’t provide much of an update.

“Because of the larger media weight we have around college football, multiple GM brands — Chevy, GMC — could have a presence, but again that is all part of the ongoing discussions.”

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