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NCAA adding Kraft, Capital One

Just days before its flagship event begins, the NCAA is adding Kraft as a corporate partner and is closing a deal with Capital One as a corporate champion, the highest level of sponsorship.

Both new sponsors plan significant activation around the NCAA tournament and Final Four, from ad buys on tournament broadcaster CBS to a presence in Bracket Town, the interactive fan event at the Final Four in Indianapolis. Those elements, as well as spots on CBSSports.com and NCAA.com, are assets built into the sponsorships.

CBS, which owns and sells the NCAA’s marketing and sponsorship rights as part of the 11-year, $6 billion broadcast agreement, confirmed the addition of Kraft as a corporate partner, but had no comment on Capital One’s entry as a corporate champion in the retail banking category.

Financial terms of both multiyear deals were not available, but corporate partners typically pay in the high seven figures annually, while the corporate champions go for the low eight figures a year.

“In the last year or so, we really feel like the corporate program has gained a lot of momentum,” said Chris Simko, a CBS senior vice president and director of CBS Sports Properties.

The NCAA recently lost General Motors as a corporate champion and Sheraton dropped out as a corporate partner last year. GM had been in talks with the NCAA and CBS for nearly a year as it evaluated all of its sports sponsorships during bankruptcy proceedings, but it eventually decided to exit.

At the champion level, Capital One will join AT&T and Coca-Cola, both longtime sponsors with the NCAA. Sponsors at the partner level include LG, Lowe’s, State Farm, Enterprise, The Hartford and Hershey’s, in addition to Kraft. At the champion level, sponsors receive more ad time and integration into the broadcasts on CBS, although each deal has its own characteristics.

Capital One’s entry at the champion level will give the company a college basketball platform to go with its substantial marketing against college football.

Capital One is the title sponsor of the New Year’s Day bowl game in Orlando, as well as the sponsor of the Mascot of the Year award to go with its major ad buys on ESPN during Capital One Bowl Week. The company hired former quarterback Doug Flutie to be its spokesman for its ad campaign during the last football season.

The multiyear agreement for Kraft to become an NCAA corporate partner begins immediately with in-store activation and a plan for extensive sampling at the Final Four. Kraft, which had been an NCAA partner in the past, gave an assist on the new deal to IMG, which helped arrange the sponsorship agreement with CBS. Momentum will lead creative development and implementation of in-store and on-site activation, as well as experiential marketing.

“We feel like big stages are the right place for our big brands,” said Stephen Chriss, senior director of marketing partnerships for Kraft Foods.

Kraft’s deal includes official status, promotional and marketing rights for its Planters, Ritz, Oreo and Wheat Thins brands across the NCAA’s 88 men’s and women’s championships. Kraft’s spend gives it exclusive status for the nut, cracker and cookie categories.

As part of Kraft’s plan to activate around the tournament, it will conduct product sampling, contests and promotions, details of which are being worked out. The company also is working on an in-store program with Coca-Cola that will include college-themed displays in grocery stores with the official NCAA and Final Four marks.

“Big displays in grocery stores is a strength of ours, and a partnership with the NCAA certainly helps elevate our credibility and gets more displays up in stores,” Chriss said. “That’s the win for us. You’ll see various offers in stores, and this will also help us launch two new products.”

Planters will introduce a new almonds and cashews product, Flavor Grove, in the next month, while Ritz is coming out with Munchables, a combination cracker-pretzel snack. Both will be part of Kraft’s sampling at the Final Four.

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