SBJ/October 15-21, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

NCAA sponsor auctioning pieces of Final Four floor for charity

When Northwestern Mutual, a new NCAA corporate partner, was offered the chance to buy the playing floor from the Final Four, the company jumped at it.

Never before had an NCAA sponsor been able to purchase the floor from the Final Four and, frankly, Northwestern Mutual executives didn’t even know what they were going to do with it.

Northwestern Mutual bought the floor that the University of Kentucky won the national title on in April.
“I remember getting a call from our CMO in Milwaukee a few days after the Final Four,” said Dan Rivers, who manages Kentucky and Southern Indiana for the firm. “He said, ‘If we buy the floor, can we do something with it?’ I said, ‘Kentucky just won the national championship. I assure you we can do something with it.’ Once we bought the floor, we shifted into overdrive to create a plan for it.”

Northwestern’s plan comes to life this week with an online auction for 300 pieces of the playing floor that brings a little March Madness to October. Each 18-by-12-inch segment of the floor has the signature of Kentucky coach John Calipari and a small Northwestern Mutual mark in the lower left-hand corner.

Proceeds from the auction at 2012UKfloor.com will go to children’s hospitals in Lexington and Louisville. Northwestern wouldn’t say how much it paid for the court, but it costs around $100,000.

The two teams in the finals, Kentucky and Kansas, were offered the chance to purchase the floor, as many teams have done in the past, but they weren’t interested. The NCAA always makes the floor available to the tournament’s finalists first.

When both teams decided to pass on the floor, Northwestern expressed an interest and became the first sponsor to ever buy a Final Four court from the NCAA.

“Not only are we creating great brand recognition for the company, we’re raising a boatload of money to fight pediatric cancer,” Rivers said.

Rivers knew that pieces of the actual playing floor had value in the Wildcats’ backyard, but he wanted to work with Calipari, known as a master marketer among coaches, to enhance the floor’s worth. Negotiating directly with the coach, Rivers struck an agreement to share the floor with Calipari. Their deal calls for Northwestern to auction 300 pieces of autographed floor, 500 pieces of the floor to go to Calipari’s foundation, and another 200 to remain in Northwestern’s possession.

Of the 300 pieces being auctioned this week, Rivers expects to generate $300,000 to $500,000, all of which will go to the hospitals. More than 400 potential bidders had registered on the site 2012UKfloor.com before the auction even launched.

Calipari hasn’t decided what he’ll do with his 500 segments, but it will benefit his foundation. Northwestern, likewise, hasn’t decided what it will do with the remaining 200 chunks of floor.

Doe Anderson, an ad firm in Louisville, has worked with Northwestern to promote the auction.

“With the fervor for UK basketball the way it is in this state, there’s no doubt there will be a strong market for this,” Rivers said.

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