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By late afternoon of a college football Saturday, Lee Fitting and the “College GameDay” crew have retired to the ESPN bus that’s their second home during the season.
Fitting, the senior coordinating producer for arguably ESPN’s most popular “studio” show — among both fans and advertisers — leads a discussion on where the nomadic “College GameDay” should travel the following week.
“Not many people know this, but we don’t decide where we’re going from week to week until late Saturday night or early Sunday morning,” Fitting said. “The list changes week to week.”
Home Depot spends more than $20 million a year to be presenting sponsor of “GameDay.”
Photo by:Phil Ellsworth / ESPN
It’s also one of a small handful of ESPN programs that have spawned offspring. A college basketball version of “GameDay” debuted in 2005 and an SEC-branded “GameDay” will launch with the SEC Network next season.
Perhaps most noteworthy, though, is how it’s attracted and retained some of the sports network’s most prized advertisers. In fact, ESPN executives say it’s not uncommon for advertisers to point to Home Depot, the presenting sponsor of the show for the last 10 years, and want to model that relationship.
“ESPN has made ‘GameDay’ its college sports sponsorship and what’s great is it’s paid for with 100 percent ‘working’ media dollars. There’s no hidden or questionable rights fees,” said Jeff Garrant at GroupM ESP, who has worked with several NCAA partners. “With ‘GameDay,’ Home Depot has a seasonlong presence that is a — if not THE — premiere national presence around college football.”
From the time that ESPN first pitched Home Depot and signed them in 2003, “College GameDay” has evolved from an ad buy into a full-fledged marketing platform, and one of the few truly national sponsorships available in the fragmented college space.
“There really aren’t many national buys that capture the passion of college football,” said Sharon Byers, senior vice
Kellogg’s Cheez-It brand activates around “GameDay” with the popular “Real FanCam.”
“We have a really significant play with many individual colleges, but it’s hard to amplify that. ‘GameDay’ represents a national play that, real-time, connects the brand with college football fans.”
The four primary sponsors — Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Cheez-It and AT&T — spend close to $50 million combined on ESPN’s college football platform, starting with “GameDay” and extending throughout the season, according to industry sources, who outlined the costs for sponsors to be involved in the show. That includes “GameDay” integration, ad units throughout the season and spots across digital, print and radio.
But “GameDay” clearly is the driver of these heavy college football investments.
Home Depot spends more than $20 million a year to be presenting sponsor. Coca-Cola will pay in the neighborhood of $15 million to be integrated into the show with a new feature called “Section Zero” for its Coke Zero brand.
Kellogg’s Cheez-It brand, sponsor of the popular “Real Fancam,” spends $8 million to $10 million a year. AT&T has a significant integration in the seven figures annually as well.
“‘College GameDay’ really has become the iconic poster child for a media investment,” said Rob Temple, ESPN’s vice president of sports management, who went on the first sales call to Home Depot in the spring of 2003. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had a client mention Home Depot and say, ‘I want that.’ Once we set the vision for Home Depot, it became the standard.”
Road map to the best game
From a list as long as five or six games each week, Fitting and the “GameDay” crew — Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and Desmond Howard — talk about the merits of each potential road trip. While Fitting runs point on the meeting, Fowler, the primary host, and Herbstreit, the show’s most visible personality, typically have the most input.
Week 3 offered a handful of options but none that really stood out. Florida played at Tennessee in an old-school rivalry between two SEC traditional powers that haven’t been as strong recently.
Notre Dame and Michigan State represented a decent matchup, but this was well before anyone knew that the Irish might go undefeated.
By the time Fitting left the “GameDay” set and flew home to his Connecticut home that Saturday night at 10, the emails were still flying back and forth with Mark Gross, ESPN’s senior vice president and executive producer, and John Wildhack, executive vice president, production.
“John has the ultimate say,” Fitting said. “But rarely is there ever any pushback.”
The staff finally decided on the Gators and Vols, primarily because “GameDay” had not been to Knoxville in several years, the atmosphere on campus with Florida in town would be riotous, and, well, “The SEC is hot,” Fitting said. “Viewers seemingly can’t get enough of the SEC.”
When asked about site selection for “GameDay,” Fitting says it’s really that simple. They’re looking for the best game and the best story. Sometimes a single game checks both boxes. Other times, “GameDay” will look for alternatives if there isn’t an obvious big game.
While one would think that ESPN has a pretty good idea of where the crew will go each week, Fitting said no final determinations are made until end-of-the-day Saturday — and occasionally Sunday morning.
“The game itself has the most to do with it,” Fitting said. “But things can change so much in one Saturday. If we
Signage on the "GameDay" desk gives Home Depot constant branding on the set.
Photo by:Allen Kee / ESPN
In the past, “GameDay” has gone to the Division III showdown between Williams and Amherst, or the rivalry between historically black universities, Southern vs. Grambling.
ESPN does not discriminate over which broadcaster has the game at that site. On several occasions, “GameDay” has traveled to a game that’s being televised by CBS or Fox.
“There’s no real formula and there’s no concern over the network broadcasting the game,” Fitting said.
And no one, Fitting emphasizes, other than those who work on “GameDay,” have a voice in the decision. Even the highest-level sponsors don’t know where the show is going until a public announcement is made on Sundays.
“Honestly, it really makes no difference to us,” said Brad Goist, vice president and general manager of Kellogg’s Snacks, and the manager of Cheez-It’s “GameDay” sponsorship. “We just want them to go to where the best show will be. We’re a national brand and we’re pretty big everywhere. The fact that they’re selecting the best game of the week makes it more authentic and more genuine. That’s good.”
The making of a marketing platform
The relationship between ESPN and Home Depot didn’t get off to the smoothest of starts.
“GameDay” back then was traveling, but it didn’t have the panache it currently has, and Discover Card, the presenting sponsor, elected not to renew.
“This was our chance to reimagine the show,” Temple said. “The core mission was to serve the fans and we were doing that, but we explored every way we could make the show better.”
That’s when ESPN executives added so many of the elements that give “GameDay” its personality — the bus; the on-site Jumbotron; the enhanced set with bunting around the perimeter. Other elements, like the hovering fan camera and celebrity pickers, came on board as the show evolved.
“So many little things, like the bus, were obvious,” Temple said. “Until then, we had been renting classrooms on campus to give the talent a place to cool off and relax. The bus was convenient and comfortable and it ended up becoming a media asset.
“When you put all of that together, what we took to Home Depot wasn’t so much a media asset as a media and marketing platform.”
In the spring of 2003, ESPN executives Sean Hanrahan, Temple and Erhardt visited Costello in Home Depot’s Atlanta offices.
Just as ESPN’s team moved to the front of the conference room, one of them kicked the plug out of the socket “and the whole room went dark,” Temple said, laughing. “We still talk about it to this day. We had to plug everything back in and reboot. From that humble beginning …”
That was the first time ESPN introduced the concept of “GameDay built by Home Depot.” “It’s common now,”
The home improvement retailer’s original three-year deal has been extended three times, putting Home Depot in its fourth three-year deal, with one year remaining.
Temple said he gives Home Depot and its agency, Octagon, credit for adding extra elements, from the orange hard hats to the branded rally towels for the thousands of fans on-site who give the show its energy.
The company also has effectively withstood a rash of turnover at key positions that oversee “GameDay.” Since Costello, Home Depot has gone through at least four top marketers, the latest being Mark Gambill, the vice president of marketing who left this summer to go to Vocus Inc. Details on Home Depot’s sponsorship and activation have long been held close to the vest, and the company did not respond to requests for this story.
Despite the personnel changes, Home Depot has used its ubiquitous branding across the “GameDay” set and personal services agreements with all four members of the crew to weave a “GameDay” theme through its creative during the season. Home Depot also has ramped up its hospitality over the years, inviting manufacturers and vendors to “GameDay” sites.
The other sponsors have paid attention. Cheez-It, which sponsors the fancam, also is doing more on-site this year with product sampling of its new Zingz flavor, marking the first time since Cheez-It came on board in 2009 that it is featuring a specific product in its “GameDay” marketing.
The Kellogg’s brand is working with ESPN’s in-house agency, CreativeWorks, on more interactive, on-site activation. Like Home Depot, Cheez-It is bringing more corporate hospitality to its program this year for employees and retail partners.
Coca-Cola is the newcomer. It decided to market Coke Zero because the show provides a direct avenue to reach the young male audience that the brand desires, according to Rafael Acevedo, a group director at Coca-Cola who works on the “GameDay” program.
It will activate its Coke Zero brand this year with Section Zero, a part of the “GameDay” footprint that will be reserved for 50 fans. They will be selected through on-campus promotions and social media through the week leading up to Saturday’s show. A slew of agencies will work with Coca-Cola this year: Droga5, Melt, CSE and Fast Horse, the company said.
“When you put it all together, ‘GameDay’ is probably the model of how to leverage an asset,” said Rick Jones, whose FishBait Marketing has worked on several college-oriented marketing programs, such as the Capital One Cup. “‘GameDay’ has become a property within itself. It’s a property every school covets. They all want to host ‘GameDay.’”
Bill Hancock hands out two business cards these days — one for the Bowl Championship Series and one for the College Football Playoff.
Even though college football’s first playoff is only one season away, Hancock, the executive director of both the BCS and the CFP, hasn’t fully turned his attention to next year. He still has one eye on the BCS and making the finale as good as it can be. But he also must start moving forward on creating what he calls “a major iconic national sporting event,” the first playoff championship game in January 2015.
The to-do list is lengthy and includes determining everything from a selection committee to a model for corporate hospitality and weekend entertainment.
“It’s a remarkable position to be in because this is a championship that has to be born full-grown,” said Hancock, a former NCAA and Big Eight Conference executive who has overseen the BCS as executive director since 2009.
Bill Hancock (right), Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott (center) and SEC Commissioner Mike Slive announce the name and structure of the playoff system at a news conference in April.
Photo by:AP Images
Despite the dual focus, the process of creating the College Football Playoff is well underway. A CFP office has been established in the Las Colinas area of Irving, Texas, about halfway between the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and Love Field. Within shouting distance are the offices for the Big 12 and Conference USA. The new American Athletic Conference has been looking in that area as well.
The handful of CFP employees moved into a new office earlier this month. Hancock and COO Michael Kelly have hired a CFO, Reid Sigmon, who has experience on three Super Bowl host committees. Other hires include Ken Elder, senior director of marketing and strategic partnerships, and Gina Chappin, senior director of communications and brand management. Elder has worked directly or consulted on sales and marketing for six Super Bowl host committees. Chappin came from the Rose Bowl.
Hancock is continuing to hire and will have the staff up to 12 by early 2014. Expenses for the office are being subsidized by the 10 conferences that support the CFP.
“They’re going to come from event business, they’re going to have backgrounds in conferences, universities, bowls, Super Bowl host committees, the NCAA,” Hancock said of the hires. “We’re going for utility infielders. They all have specialties, but they can play any position. But it’ll still be a small staff compared to the pro leagues. That’s just the way we want to go for now.”
Hancock’s to-do list remains daunting, even now that he has some help.
They will work with the conference commissioners to create a selection committee that will pick the four playoff teams next year. They must determine which design company will create a new trophy. The crystal ball will be awarded just once more with this final edition of the BCS, and then it will be, like the BCS, defunct.
Dr Pepper owned the naming rights to the BCS trophy, a deal that will expire this season. ESPN, which owns all of
The network is not commenting on sales, but industry sources believe the cost will increase from the high teens into the low-to-mid $20 million range. There will be no title sponsor on the championship game.
ESPN retains all the rights for field wraps and signage.
Meanwhile, Hancock’s staff also is beginning to work through exactly what the stadium, the game and the ancillary events will look like. Hancock said the Final Four provides something of a blueprint because the CFP championship game will be on a Monday night, just as the title game for the basketball tournament has been on Monday night for more than 30 years. That lends itself to a weekend of concerts and other festivities leading up to the playoff title game.
Unlike the BCS championship game, which is run by the host bowl, the CFP title game will be a stand-alone event managed by the CFP office, not a bowl. The intent currently is to manage the championship game in-house with the staff that Hancock hires.
“By planting our flag on Monday night for the next 12 years, it lends itself to a full weekend with a fan fest, music, lots of entertainment, all of the things that people have come to expect from a top-flight event,” Hancock said.
The semifinal games will be run differently. They will still be managed by the bowls. For example, a semifinal game at New Orleans will be called the College Football Playoff at the Allstate Sugar Bowl. At Pasadena, they’ll call it the College Football Playoff at the Rose Bowl presented by Vizio.
That assumes, of course, that those sponsors strike deals with ESPN to retain their title sponsorships. ESPN is into deep discussions with those six incumbent sponsors — Allstate, AT&T, Chick-fil-A, Discover, Tostitos and Vizio.
Other items on the to-do list include how to manage corporate hospitality and the CFP website, which is currently in a rudimentary form and being edited in-house. Hancock said his staff will be working on a plan for corporate hospitality in the coming months, during which time they will determine whether to outsource it to a third party or handle it in-house.
And then there’s the final edition of the BCS. Hancock said he and the conferences are thinking through a special tribute for the last round of the BCS, but they’re not sure how that will come off.
The CFP has been careful not to plow old ground as it has decided its name, its trophy and other elements of the new championship. There is little to no evidence of the BCS anywhere in the new CFP format because the commissioners don’t want any of the negative residue from the BCS filtering over.
But Hancock, whose job it has been to promote the BCS, still has a soft spot in his heart for the expiring system.
“History will view the BCS fondly,” Hancock said. “History will look back and say, ‘Wow, look at how the game grew, look at the regular season.’ I’m proud of it.”
Husky Stadium (Washington)
The track at Husky Stadium was removed and the field was lowered.
Photo by:University of Washington
■ Cost: $250 million
■ Project team: 360 Architecture; Turner Construction; Wright Runstad & Co.
■ Details: The stadium’s track was removed and the field was lowered 4 feet, and shifted north about 7 feet, to optimize seating and sight lines. The lower bowl and southside stands were demolished and rebuilt.
Rose Bowl (UCLA; Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio; 2014 BCS National Championship Game)
■ Cost: $168.8 million
■ Project team: Bernards|Barton Malow
■ Details: The nearly 100-year-old venue is receiving a total upgrade, including a new seven-level pavilion, which ultimately will include 54 suites, 48 loge boxes and 1,180 club seats. It also will add a new press box, new video board, wider tunnels, additional aisles, restoration of the historic field hedge, added concessions and added restrooms.
Snyder Family Stadium (Kansas State)
Snyder Family Stadium
Photo by:Kansas State University
■ Cost: $75 million (school officials said the final cost will be higher.)
■ Project team: AECOM; Heery Design; GE Johnson; Mortenson Construction
■ Details: New concessions, restrooms and ticket offices will replace the current westside facilities, which were built in 1968. A new fan retail store and hall of honor will be included on the main concourse level.
Arizona Stadium (Arizona)
■ Cost: $72.3 million
■ Project team: Heery International; Mortenson Construction
■ Details: Construction of the new north end zone facility will provide upgraded premium seating and fan amenities, relocate and provide new facilities for the football program, and provide new concourses with cross-connecting access to the east and west stadium seating sections.
Memorial Stadium (Nebraska)
■ Cost: $63.5 million
■ Project team: HNTB and The Clark Enersen Partners
■ Details: The project will add 3,000 regular seats, approximately 2,100 club seats and 38 suites. Nebraska has the NCAA-record sellout streak, currently sitting at 325 games.
McColl-Richardson Field at Jerry Richardson Stadium (University of North Carolina-Charlotte)
McColl-Richardson Field at Jerry Richardson Stadium
■ Cost: $45 million
■ Project team: DLR Group; Jenkins Peer Architects; Rodgers PCL Russell
■ Details: The Charlotte 49ers football program will begin play as an FCS independent, but will move up to the FBS level as a member of Conference USA for the 2015 season.
Hancock Stadium (Illinois State)
■ Cost: $26 million
■ Project team: BDMD Architects and Vissering Construction Co.
■ Details: The renovation is expanding seating from 9,500 to about 13,000 seats.
Tony and Nancy Moye Football and Lacrosse Complex (Mercer University)
■ Cost: $17 million
■ Project team: McMillan-Pazdan-Smith Architecture; Chris R. Sheridan & Co.
■ Details: The stadium will be used for football and lacrosse.
Multi-Sport Performance Stadium (Alderson Broaddus University)
■ Cost: $6.5 million
■ Project team: High Point Construction Group
■ Details: The venue will be used for football, lacrosse and soccer.
Young-Wise Memorial Stadium (Hendrix College)
■ Cost: $6 million
■ Project team: Fennell Purifoy Architects; East-Harding Construction
■ Details: The cost is for the stadium, an indoor tennis center and a sports training facility. The venue will play host to football, lacrosse, track and field, and intramurals.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research
Oregon State answers the Ducks
While the Oregon Ducks serve as the petri dish for uniform design, rival Oregon State has changes of its own to show off this season. The school’s Nike uniforms include a more sleek and fierce beaver logo. There are three different uniforms: all black, all white and all orange. A white helmet features the beaver logo, the black helmet is plain except for the center stripes, and the orange helmet has the jersey number on the side.
Photo by:University of Nebraska / Adidas
Huskers show off dark side
The University of Nebraska and Adidas unveiled an alternative uniform that the Cornhuskers will wear Sept. 14 when they play UCLA at Memorial Stadium. The uniform includes black jerseys with white stencil-font numbers. The helmet is matte white with a wide black stripe, stencil numbers and a face mask that fades from red to matte black. Still, the team’s famed, straight red “N” logo remains unchanged. Tradition trumps all in that department.
Photo by:University of Kansas
Kansas unveiled new helmets that feature five colors and two styles of Jayhawks. The helmets give KU as many as 20 potential uniform options. Not to be outdone, Indiana unveiled six helmet designs that cover everything from a retro look to the school’s more traditional fare, to even a crimson-and-chrome candy-striped version.
A more consistent bear
The University of California, Berkeley, spent nearly two years collaborating with Nike on uniforms to achieve brand consistency across all sports, which among other things resulted in a new snarling bear logo. Cal strayed from the extremes that have dominated many uniform do-overs, sticking with a clean and traditional look. No neon colors here or endless combinations. Instead, for the football team, a new gray uniform option is about as over-the-top as it gets.
Photo by:Miami University
The other Miami lets it fly
Miami (Ohio) University will take to the field in Adidas uniforms that include the school name on the shoulders of the jersey, and an exclusive numbering and lettering font. Hydrographics partnered with Adidas in creating a feather design for the helmet that provides the finishing touches for the RedHawks.
Also worth a mention:
■ Sometimes it’s the small details that make the biggest statements about uniforms. West Virginia’s Nike jerseys, for example, will feature a canary image stitched inside the front collar to represent the state’s coal heritage. Miners once used canaries in the mines to alert them of dangerous gases. The University of Tennessee football team will add outlines of the Volunteer State to the backs of its jerseys, reinforcing the school’s status as the state’s public university.
■ The University of Arizona will wear updated Nike jerseys that feature ombre jersey numbers in the school’s traditional cardinal, navy and white, complemented by cardinal, navy, white and copper helmets.
■ North Carolina coach Larry Fedora surprised his players by revealing the program’s new Nike uniforms in a video. The new looks include an all-black uniform that will be worn for the Oct. 17 game against Miami. The school’s “Tar Pit Series” will feature a new alternate jersey or helmet one game each year.
■ Appalachian State unveiled Nike football uniforms that feature five combinations, including an alternate gray jersey with black pants. The team will go with a matte-finish helmet, including one version that features the classic “Yosef” mountaineer logo, complete with the corncob pipe.
■ Tradition-rich Notre Dame, as it did last season, will shake things up a bit in 2013 with a special Adidas jersey created for the team’s Oct. 5 game against Arizona State. The jersey is all-white with metallic gold and Kelly green shamrock accents.
■ Georgia State employed social media to tout its new Nike uniforms, which provide 12 possible outfit combinations for the Panthers this fall. For the unveiling, Seattle-based Tagboard.com aggregated social media messages about the new uniforms, with the university posting a new piece of the uniform “puzzle” over the course of two days.
■ Under Armour was holding off on releasing details of the uniforms it’s producing for college programs until closer to specific game dates. However, retailer Red Raider Outfitters, while waiting for its shipment of Texas Tech replica jerseys from Under Armour, posted drawings of new jerseys for fans to preorder. The drawings included a never-before-seen gray jersey. A clause in first-year Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury’s contract gives him the ability to oversee uniform design.
■ Houston’s football team will, for the first time, have an option for a white helmet. Overall, the team will have eight different uniform combinations from Nike to choose from this season.
Photo by:Western Kentucky University / Russell
■ Hundreds of fans turned out to watch Western Kentucky’s football team unveil its new red, white and black uniforms from Russell Athletic that feature reflective chrome helmets.
■ Fresno State will wear a mostly black uniform in its game against Nevada on Nov. 2. The look includes a black helmet with a red stripe down the middle, with the player’s number on one side and the Bulldogs logo on the other. The school spent about $50,000 for the Nike uniforms, and merchandise sales are expected to offset the costs.
■ Georgia made only subtle changes to its uniforms and made it clear that the school wasn’t touching the trademark “Power G” logo. Georgia did work with Nike on a new secondary logo, featuring a wide bulldog head in a red, spiked collar. However, the “Secondary Dawg” won’t be utilized for uniforms.
Source: SportsBusiness Daily archives