SBJ/May 14-20, 2012/Colleges

Bowl sponsors get one-stop shopping

Marketing rights to 33 college bowl games will be available to sponsors from one source for the first time under an agreement reached by the Football Bowl Association and FishBait Marketing.

By aggregating the marketing rights to all but two of the bowl games in college football’s postseason, FishBait will go to market with the ability to sell corporate sponsorships that stretch across nearly all of the bowls. It’s a one-stop shop model that’s never been tried in the bowl space.

The Capital One Bowl is among the many bowls that sponsors can buy their way into through FishBait Marketing.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
“It’s something that many of us in the bowl space have been talking about for years,” said Steve Hogan, CEO of the Capital One Bowl and Champs Bowl and chairman of the Football Bowl Association. “Aggregating the space is the only way to have a national conversation with sponsors. It’s one of our most powerful branding assets, and in the past those assets have been left to smaller, local deals. Much like we’ve seen with the PGA Tour, there’s power in numbers. We needed to combine our rights. It’s the only way for sponsors to be able to do one deal and have a footprint that stretches across the postseason.”

Like most of the collegiate marketing world, bowls have been fragmented and difficult for sponsors to navigate unless they simply wanted to buy a title sponsorship to a single game.

Obtaining marketing rights to multiple bowls required a brand to go to each of the bowls and negotiate separate contracts. As a result, it seldom happened. The sponsorships on a tier below the title deal typically went to local sponsors as part of low-level deals.

RELATED STORY: New NCAA executive Mark Lewis talks about evolving with the market.

“As one bowl director said, his idea of contacting Taco Bell was to call his buddy who owned two of them,” said FishBait’s Rick Jones. “You just can’t have a conversation about a national buy with one bowl in one city.”

FishBait, a Charleston, S.C., agency that focuses heavily on the college space, now will go to market with the rights to 33 of the 35 bowl games and the ability to sell across them. The Rose Bowl and the Pinstripe Bowl are the two that didn’t jump onboard. Sponsors of the New York Yankees already enjoy rights to the Pinstripe Bowl. Talks with both bowls are continuing.

Each bowl will continue to sell its own title rights, unless it strikes a separate agreement with FishBait.

“We’re calling this the omelet station,” Jones said. “Just like you order the omelet the way you like it, this is going to be customizable for any business. Rights, logos, signage, hospitality, tickets, team luncheons, mobile marketing, fan fests — all of it can be customized now and they’re available across many different bowls and markets.”

ESPN has the marketing rights to the BCS bowls — Fiesta, Orange, Rose, Sugar and the national championship game. The network will retain those title sponsorship rights, but FishBait will be able to sell corporate sponsorship packages into those games as long as the categories don’t conflict.

With all of the different ways to create marketing programs, secondary bowl sponsorships can run from the five figures into the low six figures annually. Bowl title sponsorships range from the low-to-mid six figures for the smaller games up to $3 million a year for non-BCS events.

FishBait also is determining other ways it can work with ESPN Regional, the events arm of ESPN that owns seven bowl games. The network televises all but two of the bowls.

FishBait will not initially offer ad units as part of its sponsorship packages. However, the Football Bowl Association and FishBait plan to produce their own TV spots that would run during the bowl broadcasts and feature many of the participating sponsors. “It’s not unlike the Olympic model, where you buy the rights and marks, and then you go get TV based on your needs,” Jones said.

FishBait also will have the ability to sell additional bowl assets to the existing BCS sponsors — Allstate, Discover, Tostitos and Vizio — if they’re interested in marketing rights to any of the non-BCS bowls.

In all, FishBait and the Football Bowl Association have identified 30 categories that they will target, everything from consumer packaged goods to tires, home improvement retailers, rental car agencies, travel websites, sports bars, recreational vehicles, arcades, mutual funds, sporting goods stores and motion picture studios, Jones said.

FishBait has set a goal of selling six of the categories for the 2012 bowl season and six more for the 2013 season, for a total of 12 categories in two years.

“When we started out, I really thought the biggest challenge was going to be how we split the revenue,” Hogan said. “But it really wasn’t that hard. Everything gets shared evenly. It’s kind of like a conference. You’re only as strong as your smallest member.”

Jones said he wasn’t concerned about the NCAA’s ability to approve or nullify sponsor deals. While bowl games are not owned or run by the NCAA, they must by licensed by the governing body. The NCAA keeps essentially the same standards for bowl sponsorships that it would have for its own sponsors, Jones said.

“They’re not going to allow certain energy products or pharmaceuticals,” Jones said, citing two examples. “But we’re not going to be working the fringe. I have enough categories that are absolutely approved not to worry about that. We’re not going to be pitching controversial categories, we’re looking at more mainstream categories.”

FishBait’s Scott Farace in the Dallas office oversees college football and will be the lead on the Football Bowl Association account, while David Brown out of Columbus, Ohio, who runs national sales, will lead the sales.
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