SBJ/March 25-31, 2013/Colleges

Front Row to sell inventory for Philly’s Big 5

Looking to capitalize on a time-tested brand as change continues to rock college conferences, athletic directors from the Philadelphia Big 5 schools have signed Front Row Marketing to a two-year deal to sell the group’s commercial rights.

The Big 5 is a 59-year-old brand tied to the major college basketball rivalries among LaSalle, Penn, St. Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova, five schools within a 20-mile radius in Greater Philadelphia.

Inventory includes the Big 5 wall of fame and year-end banquet, both housed at the Palestra.
Photo: BIG 5
The available inventory covers the Big 5 name itself, Big 5 basketball games, the Philadelphia Big 5 website, preseason luncheons, the banquet and player of the year awards. The available assets extend to the Big 5 wall of fame at the Palestra, an 86-year-old building that stands with Cameron Indoor Stadium among college basketball’s iconic facilities, said Chris Lencheski, Front Row’s president.

For the first time, this year’s men’s and women’s banquets will be combined into one event, April 29, held on the floor of the 8,700-seat Palestra.

Any corporate sponsorship deals would grant use of the Big 5 marks and events only, and would not include use of the individual school marks. For those rights, Villanova works with IMG College, Penn has a deal with Nelligan Sports, and Temple uses Front Row, while St. Joe’s and LaSalle’s rights are managed in-house.

Generating revenue is driving the initiative, but in general, the schools feel they have missed out on an opportunity to capitalize on a legacy brand formed in November 1954, said Bill Bradshaw, Temple’s athletic director principally involved in the marketing effort.

“With all these conferences changing, it tends to confuse people,” Bradshaw said. “The Big 5 is the one constant. It’s like the soft pretzel, the cheesesteak, the William Penn Tower. It’s been seamless from that standpoint … but we have not done a good job maximizing what this could be.”

Each of the schools will work with Front Row to make sure none of the Big 5 sponsorships conflict with categories that already are filled by each of the schools. For the Big 5, Front Row is in talks with regional companies in the health insurance, wireless and automotive categories to sign up as official partners, said Bryan Furey, Front Row’s regional vice president.

Rex Hough, vice president of the northeast region for IMG College, said there will be cooperation among the rights holders on these deals.

“They’ll be selling inventory that’s not related to the schools, like the banquet,” Hough said. “Those deals will be cleared by the schools. It’s an arrangement that everyone is comfortable with.”

Starting next season, the Big 5 schools will be spread among four conferences rather than three as a result of more realignment in college sports. Villanova is moving into the new Big East, Temple will be in the old Big East, Penn is in the Ivy League, and St. Joe’s and LaSalle will remain in the Atlantic 10.

But they continue to play one another every year, crowning an unofficial champion and selecting All-Big 5 teams with annual banquets honoring the best men’s and women’s players.

The trophy awarded to the unofficial Big 5 champion is considered an important piece of sponsorship inventory. In that respect, it would be similar to the Mayor’s Cup, sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts, a trophy awarded to the winner of the annual Temple-Villanova football game, Lencheski said. Front Row Marketing, Temple’s rights holder, did the Dunkin’ Donuts deal.

As of last week, no deals had been signed. The value of those agreements could range from $25,000 a year to the low six figures annually depending on the inventory, Furey said.

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