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A giant houndstooth hat hangs over a concession area inside the University of Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium, a tip of the cap to the Crimson Tide’s illustrious football history and former coach Bear Bryant’s signature headwear.
The 12-foot-long, 600-pound fiberglass hat signals to fans that they have entered the Bear’s Den, one of many themed concession areas created by Centerplate around the stadium. Centerplate began running Alabama’s concessions in 2008 and won the business, in part, because of its creative approach to branding concession areas.
But unlike most concession and hospitality deals, Centerplate didn’t make the agreement directly with the school. Its contract is with Learfield Sports, the rights holder for the Crimson Tide’s athletic department.
Learfield and Alabama struck their first agreement in 1998, but concessions and beverage rights were included only in their most recent contract, which kicked in two years ago and runs through 2018. Learfield is a 75 percent partner in Crimson Tide Sports Marketing, while ISP Sports is a 25 percent partner, which gives Learfield the controlling interest and decision-making power.
Learfield’s ownership of beverages and concessions at Alabama is yet another way rights holders are deepening their relationships with their school clients. It also indicates how comfortable schools are with outsourcing functions and rights that used to be handled internally.
Everything, from concessions to ticketing and travel to apparel, is now on the table when schools negotiate with their rights holder, which not too long ago handled only the radio network and TV coaches show.
“Schools are getting more and more comfortable with the rights holders and more confident that they can provide value to the school,” said Greg Brown, Learfield’s president and CEO. “These deals used to be all about the radio network not that long ago, then it was radio and TV, then it was radio, TV and print. When the schools see how we can exploit the rights, they start to wonder what else we can do. Who knows what might be next?”
The numbers associated with collegiate multimedia rights deals can be staggering. Schools are guaranteed as much as $7 million, $8 million, and in some cases more than $10 million a year by rights holders whose sales force is limited by such restrictions as bans on alcohol sales or a lack of sign positions in the football stadium. That’s not the case everywhere, but some schools are more conservative than others when it comes to commercializing athletics.
Even in a tough economy, though, the rights fees continue to escalate. Learfield’s deal with Alabama, negotiated just after the arrival of football coach Nick Saban, guarantees the Crimson Tide $7 million this year. The school will probably make an additional $1.5 million to $2 million as part of a revenue-sharing agreement when sales are good, as they have been during Alabama’s recent football success, including last season’s national championship.
Some schools such as Texas and Ohio State make more, but the struc ture of Alabama’s agreement with Learfield is typical of most deals, except that it includes a few more rights (see chart, page 27).
Learfield’s Brown said the guaranteed money is what often makes the headlines, but what is lost is how much deeper these contracts are than they used to be.
“The rights are much more substantial now,” said Brown, whose agency represents more than 50 schools, but has concession rights at just four of them. “The more rights we have, the more attractive we are to the sponsors and advertisers, and the more revenue we can generate.”
If Learfield’s revenue from the property exceeds $11.4 million this year, the agency and the school will share the additional revenue 50-50. Learfield has generated $14 million in each of the past two seasons.
In addition to selling against the radio and TV broadcasts, Learfield has Alabama’s Internet, promotional, sign, print, beverage (pouring and isotonic) and concession rights, according to its contract with the school.
“It’s a deal that’s been very good for both sides,” said Mal Moore, Alabama’s athletic director. “They’ve got more things to sell and it helps promote the school.”
Deepening its rights with school clients is becoming more and more critical because it’s so difficult for agencies like Learfield, IMG, CBS Collegiate Sports, Nelligan Sports and others to acquire new schools. Most every BCS-level school has a long-term agreement with a rights holder, with a few notable exceptions such as Southern California and West Virginia.
Rights holders are also renewing and extending those existing deals three and four years before they expire to keep the contracts at 10 years or more and to prevent them from hitting the open market.
Having more schools under contract mitigates risk for the rights holder in what has traditionally been a high-risk, low-margin business. The idea is that even if a few school properties have an off year, enough will do well to keep the agency thriving.
“You’re going to have some that are up and some that are down,” Brown said. “I don’t love that about this business, but that’s how it is. It’s tough. But if we can keep growing our rights, we can use the assets we have to make ourselves more attractive to the sponsors.”
As much as a third or more of Learfield’s $14 million in annual revenue from the Alabama property comes from sources not associated with ad sales or sponsorship, including concessions, pouring rights, isotonic beverage rights and online rights.
Many schools, for example, do their own agreements with Gatorade or Powerade for the isotonic category. Those beverages pay low to mid-six figures a year to put their brand on the sidelines on coolers, cups and drink carriers. At Alabama, that money goes to Learfield, which has factored such revenue into the annual guarantee it pays the school.
Learfield also collects from Centerplate for concessions, CBSSports.com for
RollTide.com, TeamFanShop for merchandise sales and Coca-Cola for pouring rights. These deals typically provide Learfield with a guarantee plus a share of revenue once it hits a threshold, meaning that the property enjoys a certain revenue stream before it sells the first ad or sponsorship, which has helped diversify its business away from strictly selling ads.
The concession rights also give Learfield a flexibility and additional revenue it couldn’t command before. Now each of the items sold in concessions, such as Golden Flake chips or Bryan hot dogs, has a media buy on radio and TV broadcasts built into its agreement.
It also enables Learfield and Centerplate to tag team on promotions during the game. For the Dreamland BBQ deal of the day, the iconic Tuscaloosa restaurant, which has several locations within Bryant-Denny Stadium, buys advertising to promote the deal on the pregame radio broadcast and on the stadium’s video board. When fans text a message for the deal of the day, they’re rewarded with a bounce-back coupon for BBQ sandwiches at a reduced rate.
Papa John’s, Dippin’ Dots ice cream and Coca-Cola/Dasani, all of which sell their products inside the stadium, have similar arrangements with their media buys. Those promotions drive concession sales, of which Learfield gets a piece through its deal with Centerplate.
“We are utilizing the expanded property assets to do more cross-promotion,” said Steve Gowan, senior vice president for Learfield’s Atlantic region. “What we’re finding is that this is a better answer all the way around.”
A sampling of recently signed
multimedia rights deals
* Estimated value, as Texas' deal is a revenue-share instead of a guaranteed figure.
** Does not include an additional $10 million in value that followed ISP's purchase of Action Sports.
# Formerly ISP Sports
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research
Chairman and CEO, IMG
Forstmann provided the resources for IMG to acquire three companies that had been stalwarts in the collegiate marketing business, all of which now form IMG College.
President, IMG Sports & Entertainment
The former captain of the Brown University football team has made the college space a priority since joining IMG in 2006. Pyne works closely with Ben Sutton to set the long-term strategic vision.
President, IMG College
The founder and former CEO of ISP Sports now runs the day-to-day media and licensing operations of IMG College out of his Winston-Salem, N.C., office. He has worked in the collegiate multimedia rights business for nearly 30 years.
COO, IMG College
Crispino is moving out of the Cleveland office to Winston-Salem, where he will oversee the financial operations of the college business.
Senior VP and Managing Director, IMG College
Stultz will take the lead on the multimedia rights portion of the IMG College business, including oversight of the new Longhorns network at the University of Texas.
Senior VP, IMG College
Eiler will oversee the licensing side of the business, which still goes by the Collegiate Licensing Co. moniker.
Senior VP, IMG
Pyne's utility man and projects leader has played a significant role in the formation of IMG College's new national sales team. The former NASCAR licensing chief was a longtime Host Communications executive before going racing.
— Compiled by Michael Smith
Ben Sutton spent $10 million a few years ago to build a 35,000-square-foot headquarters, a shrine to all things ISP Sports in the agency’s hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C.
The lobby is a replica of a basketball court with a goal, courtside seats and a red ISP logo in the foul lane. ISP is etched in glass that borders the second-floor balcony and the tile in the bathroom. Even the black leather chairs in the conference room have a red ISP emblazoned across the back.
Sutton, the founder and CEO of ISP, might well transform the entire collegiate sports marketplace before he figures out how to turn all of those ISP marks into IMG, which acquired his company.
“I go to bed dreaming about selling college sports and I wake up thinking about selling college sports,” Sutton said. “What we’re about to do is change the whole buying and selling paradigm.”
When IMG completed its acquisition of ISP in October, the agency trumpeted its intention to take on the NFL for sponsorship and advertising supremacy. Now under the IMG College banner, Sutton, the new president, believes he has the critical mass of rights to make the college marketplace significantly more attractive for sponsors seeking a national platform.
With the marketing and licensing rights to more than 80 schools, a slew of conferences and bowls — and the ability to sell the NCAA’s inventory as well — IMG has placed a major bet on the college space, spending close to $300 million in the last three years to acquire ISP, Host Communications and Collegiate Licensing Co., all of which now form IMG College.
Not everyone, though, agrees that brands will come running to IMG with check in hand. While college sports have held up well through the recession, with ratings and rights fees on the rise, the marketplace traditionally has been cumbersome for sponsors to navigate.
Aggregating the rights to 30 or 40 schools to create a truly national program has meant negotiating 30 or 40 contracts with multiple rights holders, from IMG to Learfield Sports, Nelligan, CBS Collegiate Sports Properties and, formerly, ISP.
That many deals often become an expensive proposition, and companies don’t have the marketing infrastructure to manage so many different properties anyway. Most sponsors seeking a national college platform in the past, for example, have simply gone to ESPN. It was just easier.
IMG is trying to change that dynamic by making the college space easier to manage for companies. Through the ISP acquisition, IMG College now has many of the top brands — Texas, Ohio State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Georgia, UCLA, for starters — and coverage in 49 of the top 50 U.S. markets.
“When you think about signage in 49 markets, ad sales in 49 markets, digital, sponsorship, it’s a very integrated set of rights that we can offer,” said George Pyne, president of IMG Sports & Entertainment. “This also represents a reinvention of IMG in America.”
IMG Chairman and CEO Ted Forstmann projects that “in a few years, college will be bigger than all of our other businesses put together. We’ve gone in a couple of years from having no business in the U.S. worth talking about to college being a huge business for us” with $400 million in revenue and 700 employees.
A simpler approach?
Todd Fischer manages State Farm’s national sponsorships, which include Major League Baseball, the NBA and college sports. Unlike MLB and the NBA, there is no league office for college sports sponsorships; there is no one-stop shop.
In order to construct a national college platform, State Farm title-sponsors ESPN’s basketball “College GameDay,” it is an NCAA corporate partner, and it has relationships with 90 colleges across the country. The NCAA deal gives State Farm marketing rights to the Final Four and other national championships.
“It’s definitely a challenge to create a unified front across all of those deals,” Fischer said. “You have to work really hard to create synergies amongst all of the pieces to tie them together in a unified program.”
Without surprise, the greatest challenge is maintaining the 90 schools with which State Farm has relationships. Those deals have been accumulated over the last 30 years, Fischer said, and The Marketing Arm has been a key partner in building State Farm’s program.
“We don’t have 90 people to manage each one of those partnerships; we have a few people,” said Fischer, who added that he’s optimistic that consolidation in the college marketplace will make life easier for the brands that are committed to being in it.
“It would be so much easier to invest with a national partner versus cutting 90 separate team deals,” Fischer said. “It’s a very challenging landscape to navigate. It takes a lot of time and dedication. We’ve been in college sports nearly 30 years and we’re still learning and evolving.
“For us, it’s become a very effective platform, but it’s only as effective as all the pieces working together.”
Insurance is one of the few mature categories in the marketplace. State Farm and Allstate have both found a way to make it work in college sports. Allstate has relationships with more than 70 schools, most of which raise Allstate-branded nets for field goals and extra points.
The other mature categories include soft drinks, isotonics, health care, banks and wireless, according to IMG’s Sutton, who spent 19 years building ISP into one of the nation’s foremost college sports marketing agencies before selling.
“You look at the pros and they have about 30 developed categories and we have six,” Sutton said.
Comparing prices in the college game to the pro leagues can be difficult because of the fragmentation in the collegiate market, but most pro league deals run in the low to mid-seven figures. School sponsorships at the highest level go for the high six figures to seven figures, but the costs vary depending on how many signage, radio, TV and digital rights are included in the deal.
Getting schools to work together
Those untapped categories — consumer packaged goods and consumer electronics, among others — present a significant opportunity for IMG with its new collection of properties from the ISP acquisition, but it will have to convince the buyers.
“It’s so hard to get ownership and create a sustainable position,” said Mike Boykin, executive vice president at GMR Marketing, which represents NCAA corporate partner Hershey. “You run into totally different mind-sets from school to school and conference to conference.”
If a brand wants to own a certain piece of the field or position on the video board, it will have to do without Michigan, Stanford or the other schools that don’t allow signage in their stadiums.
“It could require more flexibility from the schools,” said Jim Livengood, athletic director at UNLV and a former AD at Arizona and Washington State. UNLV is an ISP client that is transitioning to IMG College.
“All of college athletics will benefit from these moves if we’re willing to do more of the same things and what’s best for the whole, as opposed to competing against each other on the marketing side,” Livengood said.
Boykin, for one, is curious to see if schools are willing to show that flexibility.
“If you do get a program together and think, ‘Wow, that looks great’ on paper, you’ve still got to manage all of that day to day,” he said. “It takes significant resources to activate and to make sure you’re leveraging all of the assets.”
State Farm’s Fischer politely described the management of all these assets as a “potential growth area” for rights holders in general. “What we hope is that IMG, with all of its resources, will be able to ramp up the strategic planning and work more with partners. That’s certainly an area that could be a point of differentiation for a rights holder.”
Better activation and planning ideas might also help the rights holders fend off the primary competition for a national college presence: ESPN.
“You can be a massive player in college sports through ESPN,” Boykin said. “For some brands, it’s OK that they’re not on the ground with the local team deals. They get the exposure and brand awareness they need. What you get with the rights holders, though, is the ability to take it more in-depth and to get on the ground with these schools and touch their fan bases.”
Learfield Sports has tried to create a national sales approach of its own over the years with varying degrees of success. It has a six-person sales team that has access to all of the inventory at Learfield’s 46 school properties.
Learfield and ISP in the past also sold across their properties — more than 100 in all — in an attempt to do more national deals. Despite their combined efforts, “it’s difficult to get two separate organizations on the same page,” Sutton said. “We never really got integrated.”
Learfield President Greg Brown, a close friend of Sutton’s and a veteran of the college marketplace, understands the skepticism associated with creating a national platform out of multiple school deals.
“There’s still a real lack of symmetry in the college space,” Brown said. “There just aren’t that many brands that have been able to launch a broad-based program. If there’s a way to make it more of a cohesive process, then it becomes a worthwhile venture, but you’re still going to wind up with a big price. Part of the magic of unlocking this space is making it more efficient, something we’re all trying to do.”
AJ Maestas, president of Chicago-based Navigate Marketing, works with schools to help them determine the value of their multimedia rights.
“The national value of these deals has been overstated,” Maestas said. “The number of deals that come to the table because they’re looking for something national, that’s a very small percentage. And dollars have been prevented from coming into the market because it has been so inefficient. But there are benefits to it for the rights holders, so I can see IMG continuing on its acquisition path.”
Building a sales team
One of IMG’s first tactical moves has been forming a 20-person national sales team that will have offices in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles and possibly Dallas and Chicago. That staff is expected to be in place by the first of next year.
This team will serve as an umbrella unit to sell against all of IMG’s properties. Each school will continue to have its own sales staff locally.
“One sales representative can represent all of our properties in one fell swoop,” Sutton said of the national office. “If you’re at Procter & Gamble or Johnson & Johnson, you’ll have one person who can put that package together for you, as opposed to working with 40 different general managers. We think it will appeal to a broader and deeper group of sponsors.”
Sutton is in the process of hiring someone to lead national sales. Among his other moves, Sutton has brought in Tony Crispino from IMG’s Cleveland office to serve as IMG College’s chief operating officer. Crispino had been senior vice president of finance operations.
Most of the executives from the old Host Communications office in Lexington, Ky., including senior vice presidents Tom Stultz and Lawton Logan, will move to the new headquarters in Winston-Salem. The Lexington office is not expected to stay open.
Teams of ISP and IMG executives also have formed six committees to work on their merger: Sales, finance, legal, human resources, operations and IT.
“It’s about putting something together that competes with MLB, the NFL, ESPN,” Sutton said. “When you look around and see DuPont taking thousands of people to NASCAR races or all of the hospitality at PGA Tour events, there’s nothing like that in college sports. Yes, we have suites and some hospitality, but frankly, they’re not great offerings. We’ve got to be more competitive. There’s no reason to cede that to the PGA or anybody else.”
Pyne and Forstmann also envision new lines of business developing out of IMG’s deeper dive in the college space through the sale of premium seats, facility financing, database marketing and ticketing, all of which are emerging as potential streams of new revenue from college sports.
Whether that propels IMG into another round of acquisitions remains to be seen. Competing rights holders Learfield, CBS Collegiate, Nelligan and other smaller operations could offer further industry consolidation if acquired by IMG. ISP and Learfield very nearly merged last year, but the deal never closed.
As Forstmann contemplates future acquisitions, the new company would have to bring considerable leverage. Do Learfield’s rights at 46 schools, multiple conferences and the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky., represent enough new territory for another IMG acquisition?
“If we’re already in 49 of the top 50 markets, how much leverage do we gain by being in the top 60 markets?” Forstmann said. “The whole secret to acquisitions is the leverage. … Our task right now is to execute. We really have a lot to do and we’ve got hundreds of millions in guarantees that have to be paid. I think we’ve reached the necessary critical mass we need and now we’ve got an opportunity to grow like hell.”
The University of Alabama has a 10-year agreement with Learfield Sports and ISP Sports that guarantees the Crimson Tide more than $75 million, plus a revenue-share piece that will drive that number even higher. Learfield hired the staff of what's now called Crimson Tide Sports Marketing to run Alabama's program. Here's a breakdown of how the deal works: Joint venture
Learfield is a 75 percent partner in Crimson Tide Sports Marketing, while ISP is a 25 percent partner, which gives Learfield the controlling interest and decision-making power. Learfield and ISP have similar joint ventures at several other schools, including Texas A&M, Clemson, South Carolina and Auburn, with Learfield taking the lead on some and ISP on others.
The joint venture pays Alabama an annual rights fee that is guaranteed,
regardless of how well Crimson Tide Sports Marketing performs
The revenue share
If the joint venture's total revenue tops certain thresholds, it will pay Alabama a 50 percent share of what it makes above those thresholds. Those thresholds are shown below.
The rights conveyed to Learfield in the 10-year contract:
Radio broadcast, live events
Television shows, coaches shows
Select television broadcasts, live events and delayed broadcasts
Internet rights, RollTide.com
Print, game programs
Endorsement rights for coaches, including appearances, commercials and use of images
Signs at the school's stadiums and arenas
Concession rights, food and beverages
Source: Contract between Learfield,
ISP and Alabama
National TV rights deals for
Division I-A conferences
(2008-09 TV media rights revenue)
ACC ($76.8 million)
Football: 7-year, $258 million deal with ABC/ESPN through 2010. Basketball: 10-year, $300 million deal with Lincoln Financial/Raycom Sports through 2010-11
Note: A 12-year, $1.86 billion deal with ABC/ESPN begins in the fall of 2011, covering all ACC sports.
Big 12 ($70.0 million)
8-year, $480 million deal with ABC/ESPN through 2015-16 for football, basketball and Olympic sports; 4-year, $78 million deal with FSN through 2011-12
Note: FSN’s football contract includes a multiyear deal to sublicense Big 12 football games to the ESPN family of networks and Versus. The conference receives no direct revenue from the deal.
Big East ($35.1 million)
6-year, $200 million deal with ABC/ESPN across numerous media platforms, through 2012-13 for basketball and the 2013 football season
Big Ten ($230.0 million)
10-year football and basketball deal with ABC/ESPN runs through 2016-17, worth a projected $1 billion; 25-year, $2.8 billion deal through 2023 between Big Ten Network and Fox. Additionally, CBS has a 10-year, $200 million basketball-only deal with CBS through 2015-16
Note: The conference and News Corp. launched Big Ten Network in 2007. News Corp., Fox’s parent company, projected in documents filed with the SEC that it would pay $2.8 billion to the conference through fiscal 2032, or an average of $112 million annually. The conference owns 51 percent of the partnership and supplies the content. News Corp. owns 49 percent and operates the network. The two entities share expenses.
Conference USA ($12.8 million*)
6-year, $22 million deal with ESPN through 2010-11; 6-year, $45.8 million deal with CBS College Sports through 2010-11
Note: The conference signed a 5-year renewal in July 2010 with CBS College Collegiate Sports Properties, through June 2016, worth a total of $35 million-$37.5 million. ESPN networks carry the conference’s football championship, as well as its men’s and women’s basketball championships, at least 10 regular-season football games, at least six men’s basketball games, and at least three women’s basketball games annually. The deal also includes rights to wireless, broadband, video-on-demand and HD, among other things. In addition to national and regional rights to regular season football and basketball, CBS’s deal includes all other C-USA sports. The CBS agreement also includes corporate marketing rights, VOD, Internet, broadband, national over-the-air and satellite radio, wireless distribution and website production.
8-year football and basketball deal with ESPN through 2016-17
Mountain West ($11.8 million)
7-year, $82 million deal through 2013-14 with CBS College Sports that includes rights to all electronic media, for all sports
Note: CBS’s contract includes a multiyear deal to sublicense up to 10 games a year to Versus. The conference receives no direct revenue from the deal.
Pac-10 ($56.7 million)
Football: 5-year, $125 million deal with ESPN/ABC through 2011; 5-year, $97 million deal with FSN through 2011. Basketball: 6-year, $52.5 million deal with FSN through 2011-12; deal also gives FSN exclusive rights to sell, among other things, all Pac-10 basketball tournament sponsorship packages
Note: FSN’s football contract includes a multiyear sublicense agreement with Versus. The conference receives no direct revenue from the deal.
SEC ($60.1 million)
15-year, $2.25 billion deal through 2023-24 with ABC/ESPN for multiple sports; 15-year, $825 million deal through 2023-24 with CBS for football and basketball
Sun Belt ($140,000)
Deal with ESPN through 2012-13, for all sports
7-year, multisport deal with ESPN through 2016-17
* Includes media and marketing revenue
Sources: Conference Form 990s filed with the IRS; conference officials
Pat Battle will remain chairman of IMG College through the end of the year, but he no longer has a decision-making position with the company, according to industry sources.
George Pyne, president of IMG Sports & Entertainment, described Battle’s role as a consultant to the college division, but would not elaborate on his status.
Battle has moved out of the day-to-day operations of the company, say those close to the situation. Ben Sutton was named president of IMG College in July when IMG first announced the acquisition of ISP Sports, the company Sutton founded. The deal called for Sutton to report directly to Pyne.
Battle confirmed that he remains chairman, but would not comment on his future status with the agency.
Collegiate Licensing Co., the business founded by Battle’s father, Bill, was the first acquisition IMG made to get into the college space. IMG bought CLC for close to $100 million in 2007 and Pat Battle was installed as the senior corporate vice president, where he oversaw the formation and development of IMG College.
Those in the industry believe Battle’s next move could be to go into business with his close friend Billy Payne, both of whom are members at Augusta National and longtime residents of Atlanta.— Michael Smith