SBJ/March 26-April 1, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

Muscle Milk beefs up college presence

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Whenever the University of Oregon’s popular duck performs pushups to celebrate a touchdown, he goes up and down on a platform adorned with Muscle Milk’s logos. It’s not certain if the guy inside the duck costume uses Muscle Milk’s protein supplement, but Oregon’s athletes do as part of a unique sponsor relationship between the school and the company.

Muscle Milk is one of the fastest-growing sponsors in the college space. It has deals at close to 30 schools, and most of them are similar to the one at Oregon, where the school trades sponsorship inventory for a negotiated combination of product and cash. Other Muscle Milk partners include premium schools such as Texas, Southern Cal, Syracuse and Florida State.

The maker of protein supplements has deals with nearly 30 schools, including the University of Oregon.
Photo by: OREGON IMG SPORTS MARKETING
The brand is working on at least two more school deals in preparation for its football season activation.

At most of them, Muscle Milk trades its protein powder, ready-to-drink shakes and protein bars for sponsor assets, such as signs, advertising, hospitality and promotional rights. Some deals are straight trade for product, while others, like the deal at Oregon, are a combination of product and cash.

The arrangements are somewhat like the deals that schools have with footwear and apparel companies such as Nike or sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade. Financial details were not available, but industry sources said these assets would typically go for the high six figures to low seven figures per school.

“The most important component of these deals is the product distribution within these schools,” said Chris Kildow, vice president of sports marketing for Muscle Milk. “You’ll see a lot of companies do media buys with these programs, but we want to be in a position to support these student athletes. If schools want us to be a sponsor, but they don’t want to use our product, that doesn’t fit for us.”

Muscle Milk began working its way into the college ranks in 2006, when it forged sponsor and product relationships with a handful of schools. That number has grown to 28 schools and two conference deals, with more to come, Kildow said. Muscle Milk doesn’t have a definitive number of schools it’s trying to reach, but Kildow is guiding the methodical addition of schools that make sense, both to create a balance geographically and for strategic goals, such as entertaining retailers.

Muscle Milk has done all of these deals in-house, and handling all of them can be a tall task because 28 deals require 28 different contracts to oversee. These deals typically go through the multimedia rights holder for the school, such as Learfield Sports or IMG College, which manage the advertising and sponsorship rights for the schools.

The company also has created a Muscle Milk Collegiate brand that represents the protein products that Muscle Milk distributes to its school partners for the athletes’ use. Athletes take the products before and after workouts to help with lean muscle growth and quick recovery.

“We go into each situation and try to create something that works, even if the components are different from one school to another,” Kildow said. “Most of the time that means signage in football and basketball, something that’s impactful from a visibility standpoint.”

The Muscle Milk brand is a product within California-based parent company CytoSport, which produces several lines of sports nutrition and supplement products. Muscle Milk has been best known for its endorsement deals with mainstream and action sports figures, from Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson to surfer Dustin Barca. But the brand is seeking additional ways to increase its visibility in the college space, especially when it can link its product to the athletes.

At Stanford, Muscle Milk sponsors the Athlete of the Week on GoStanford.com. At Texas, Muscle Milk has print and digital ad inventory and heavy signage in TV-viewable areas of the football stadium and basketball arena, according to IMG College’s Scott Willingham, general manager of the Texas property.

Most of the sponsorships include some form of hospitality where Muscle Milk can entertain retailers, from GNC to grocery stores.

The deal at Oregon goes beyond the branding on the duck’s pushup platform (he does a pushup for every point after the Ducks score). For home games, the duck’s pushups are broadcast on Autzen Stadium’s video board and a Muscle Milk-branded meter counts the pushups.
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