SBJ/April 9-15, 2012/Colleges

Shaheen's future focus of Final Four talk

The 2012 Final Four started the same way for Greg Shaheen as the previous 11 since he joined the NCAA.

Just before tipoff of Saturday’s games, Shaheen found Tom Jernstedt, his former co-worker, and they shook hands. A ritual they started years ago, it’s their way of annually signifying that another successful men’s basketball tournament has reached the end of the road, since one or the other has been in charge of the tournament since 1973.

Whether Shaheen and Jernstedt will repeat that ceremonial handshake at next year’s Final Four remains to be seen. Shaheen, the NCAA’s interim executive vice president for championships and alliances, is expected to interview soon, if he hasn’t already done so, to have the interim tag removed from his title.

The NCAA began publicly advertising Shaheen’s job in December.
Photo by: SHANA WITTENWYLER
The NCAA and its search firm for the permanent position, Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search, began publicly advertising Shaheen’s job in December and the process is close to running its course. Shaheen is a candidate, but the uncertainty surrounding his future dominated conversations in New Orleans because he has established himself as the tournament’s guiding force, from negotiating media contracts to managing the hour-to-hour operations. He oversees 89 NCAA championships — the basketball tournament obviously being the most important — and relationships with Turner Sports, CBS Sports, and the 14 corporate champions and partners.

It’s a position that has made Shaheen one of the most influential figures in collegiate athletics. Adam Silver, the NBA’s deputy commissioner, once told SportsBusiness Journal that Shaheen is the “least-known, most powerful person in basketball.”

NCAA President Mark Emmert during the Final Four managed to neither clarify Shaheen’s status nor erase any of the doubt that he’ll be back.

Several industry sources at the Final Four predicted that if Emmert doesn’t retain Shaheen, he’ll look into his past and attempt to bring Scott Woodward to the NCAA’s headquarters in Indianapolis. Woodward is the athletic director at the University of Washington, where Emmert used to be the school president, and the two worked together previously at LSU.

In his 12 years with the NCAA, Shaheen figuratively took the baton for overseeing the tournament from Jernstedt and shepherded it into a new era. It was Shaheen who led the NCAA’s negotiations in 2010 on a new 14-year media deal worth close to $11 billion and worked with Turner and CBS to expand ancillary events and activation opportunities for sponsors.

But being under this kind of microscope — including a lengthy story last week in The New York Times that speculated about his future — has made Shaheen, who has done his best work behind the scenes, extremely uncomfortable. Those close to him say he hasn’t begun to explore any other opportunities and he remains optimistic about his prospects with the NCAA.

Throughout the tournament, NCAA committee members said Shaheen carried out his responsibilities as he always had, going to Dayton for the opening round, watching second and third rounds in the Turner Sports headquarters and later visiting regional sites.

The day after the championship game, he flew to Denver for the title game of the women’s Final Four.

But clearly, things have changed in the 18 months since Emmert took command and restructured his senior leadership team. In fact, Jernstedt’s position as executive vice president was one of the first to be eliminated in 2010.

Was it coincidence that Shaheen’s seat for the Final Four was on the second row of press row instead of the first, where he has traditionally been seated with the tournament committee members? Or was Shaheen’s move from courtside to the second row a hint of things to come?

LOWE’S FUTURE: Lowe’s, an NCAA corporate partner since 2005, is not expected to continue its Senior Class Award beyond this year. The award, which has been one of the company’s primary activation platforms in the college space, has honored senior student athletes who have excelled on and off the field.

But industry sources were careful to caution that the end of the award should not be considered an indicator of what’s to come from Lowe’s next year when it enters the final year of its contract with the NCAA. Rather, Lowe’s is in a heavy re-evaluation period for all of its sponsorships, along with its marketing agency, GMR, industry sources said. In addition to its NCAA deal coming up next year, the company will be entering the final year of its Jimmie Johnson sponsorship in NASCAR. Those deals combined represent spending in the $50 million to $60 million range, sources believe.

While industry experts don’t see Lowe’s exiting the college space, the home improvement retailer could continue with the NCAA or it could go deeper with its individual school deals, or both. But what seems certain is that Lowe’s sponsorship could have a significantly different feel by the end of next year.

Allstate’s “March Mayhem” campaign was part of the Bracket Town fan experience. The
company is considering a program to recognize the impact college athletes make off the field.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
ALLSTATE’S GOOD WORKS: Allstate, which debuted loudly as an NCAA corporate partner this year with its “March Mayhem” platform, is a prospect to fill the void created by the loss of the Senior Class Award. The insurance company, which promotes the Good Works team in college football, is considering a similar Good Works team for basketball and possibly other sports. Student athletes make the Good Works team based on the impact they make off the field.

Dan Keats, Allstate’s director of sponsorships, said he was pleased with the company’s first effort as a corporate partner, given that the contract was signed just a few weeks before the start of the tournament.

“It was better than we hoped for,” said Keats, who joined Allstate five months ago after previously working on the State Farm account for The Marketing Arm. “We were able to pull together our advertising, digital programming, social media, Bracket Town, all of it in a matter of weeks, and still hit all of the touch points.”

Allstate’s “Team Mayhem,” which included Dick Vitale, James Worthy, Bill Raftery and others, conducted interviews and made appearances for the company in New Orleans. Taylor worked on the company’s public relations, while IMG handled strategy and Octagon assisted on activation. Leo Burnett quickly turned around the “March Mayhem” creative.

LIKE A ROCK: Two of the busier executives in New Orleans were Rich Klein and David Johnston, who went to the Final Four for the first time as principals of the Rockbridge Sports Group.

Klein and Johnston were both longtime vice presidents at CBS Collegiate Sports Properties before breaking away last year to form Rockbridge. At CBS, they were instrumental in acquiring rights and building properties at LSU, Maryland and Virginia, among others, and now at Rockbridge they’re starting the process of becoming a rights holder.

Rockbridge is competing against the two dominant agencies in the space, IMG College and Learfield Sports, for the rights at Illinois, and the company already has a relationship with Liberty University in Virginia.

Another line of business emerged recently when Rockbridge was hired to be a consultant for West Virginia.

CARD SHARKS: Upper Deck, one of the major sponsors of the NCAA’s Bracket Town in New Orleans, will unveil its new college football cards this week. Some of them were on display at the Final Four, including Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, Alabama’s Trent Richardson and Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon. All three are expected to be top-10 picks in the NFL draft later this month.

 
Upper Deck displayed some of its new college football cards at the event.
Upper Deck, which is entering its third year of making college cards through its licensing deal with IMG’s Collegiate Licensing Co., has increased college production each year. Its college business now accounts for roughly a third of its revenue.

“It’s growing every year and we’re seeing it reach new fan bases, too,” said Brandon Miller, Upper Deck’s brand manager. “We really saw things bottom out a couple of years ago, but things are coming back strong, especially with the college product.”

Upper Deck is creating individual cards as well as team sets. The North Carolina basketball team collection was the first last year and sets representing Oklahoma, Texas, Notre Dame and Alabama football have followed, with Duke and Kansas basketball sets on the way.

There’s also a new collection of school mascots.

“The trading card marketplace has always been fanatical about college cards, but until recently, the focus has been on the rookie’s professional potential,” said Dave Kirkpatrick, CLC’s vice president for non-apparel. “These collegiate sets are now celebrating their college accomplishments, stadiums, mascots, and it’s exciting to see retailers embrace this new niche.”

Any players featured in their college uniforms have exhausted their eligibility. Current players cannot be displayed because of NCAA restrictions.


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