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Staff writer Michael Smith spoke with Stephenson last week as, coincidentally, he was about to board a flight to Dallas to meet with National Football Foundation members about the upcoming enshrinement.
Rendering shows the hall, set to open in fall 2014.
Photo by:ATLANTA HALL MANAGEMENT
STEPHENSON: In the future, it will be in our building and that will enable us to do a lot more. This one is a provisional, if you will. But the [old hall in South Bend, Ind.] is closed and we didn’t want this class to go without a celebration. We’ll have a dinner and reception, but it won’t set any precedents for what we’ll do when the hall opens.
■ How busy is your speaking schedule these days?
STEPHENSON: (Laughs) It’s pretty busy, but it’s good. There’s lots of excitement now that the building is coming out of the ground. I’d say I’m speaking three to four times a week and I’m talking to groups of various sizes.
■ What’s the latest on the building?
STEPHENSON: The site work is done, so they’re done with the ground and now they’re building the structure. They’ve poured the first-floor slabs, and now they’re pouring the second-floor slabs this week. Things are going to start moving fast now that they’re out of the ground and despite triple the usual rainfall we’ve had in Atlanta.
■ What developments have there been on the sponsorship front?
STEPHENSON: We still have some categories and some assets to be named. Now that the building is starting to come out of the ground, we’ve had a new wave of sponsors interested and we’re continuing down that path. We’re on track with some sponsors and should have some announcements in the coming months. We’re also working with our  current sponsors and designers to determine how their brands will appear, and the good thing about them coming on early is that they’ll have some opportunity to customize. As the design process unfolds, sponsors are at the table with us, so they can say how they’d like to help.
■ Any cool items or artifacts that you’ve come across lately?
STEPHENSON: We just scanned in John Heisman’s original playbook, so visitors will be able to leaf through that virtually. We’re very fortunate because Kent Stephens, who was in charge of artifacts at South Bend, is with us now.
We will have 1,400 artifacts at our disposal, but only 450 or so will be on display each day throughout the exhibitory. We’ll rotate the artifacts and refresh the exhibits, so the experiences will change. You can almost be guaranteed that the second or third visit will be different than your first visit.
Florida’s home football games conjure images of a packed stadium with close to 90,000 fans doing the Gators’ trademark “Two bits” cheer.
But even the most elite football programs are finding that they can use an assist when it comes to selling tickets.
Florida joins other big-time college football programs that now outsource ticket sales.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
In addition to Florida, IMG Learfield also has added South Carolina, Air Force and Tulsa over the summer, bringing the business’s client list to 26 schools. UNLV, one of the first clients in 2011, also signed an extension for two more years.
Each of these deals is unique to the school. One agreement might be for group sales or corporate sales only, while others are more inclusive and include all types of season and single-game sales.
One thing they have in common is outbound sales, something that was relatively foreign to athletic departments just a few years ago until the Atlanta-based Aspire Group struck a partnership with Georgia Tech in 2009 and IMG College started its ticketing division in 2011. They’ve been going head-to-head ever since.
Scott Carr, a senior associate athletic director at Auburn, an IMG Learfield client, predicts that within five years just about every school in the big five conferences will have some form of ticket operation that makes outbound sales calls. Some schools, such as California, Florida State and Oklahoma State, use an in-house model for outbound sales, while others outsource to a third party like IMG Learfield or Aspire.
“Deals like the one we have with IMG Learfield will be much more the norm as we move forward,” Carr said. “There’s an aspect of customer service that comes with it that we’ve got to have.”
For IMG College, the ticketing business, a joint venture with Learfield Sports, is one of several new businesses that make up the business ventures unit led by Mark Dyer. The business ventures division doesn’t come close to generating the same revenue as IMG College’s primary business — multimedia rights. But it is growing at a rate that has Dyer bullish on its ability to contribute to the bottom line.
The new lines of business now make up 10 percent of IMG College’s total revenue and it’s accelerating, Dyer said.
IMG Learfield Ticketing generated $54 million in total ticket sales and renewals in 2012, and projects to hit $65 million in 2013. Of that, $15 million was related to new tickets in 2012, which will double to $30 million in 2013.
“Of course, you should see dramatic increases when you start from scratch,” Dyer said, “but it really is growing at an explosive rate. There’s interest when you’re talking about selling and raising revenue in athletics.”
IMG College’s parent company, IMG, is currently for sale and that could lead to some changes down the road, but for now, business ventures consists of ticketing, temporary seat rentals and fundraising, all service-oriented businesses designed to make IMG College a one-stop outsource shop for athletic departments.
Outsourcing department functions became the trend through the 1990s and 2000s as more and more schools signed multimedia rights agreements to outsource their marketing and media rights. Now every school in the big five conferences, except for Michigan State, outsources its multimedia rights.
These new businesses could follow that same trend. Seating Solutions, a business that rents cushioned seats to ticket holders, has enjoyed similar growth. It counts Arkansas, Penn State, UCLA/Rose Bowl, Southern California, Washington, SMU and UNC-Charlotte among its new seating customers.
With 90 university partners representing more than 500,000 college football stadium seats across the country, the seating business now has the scale to begin selling national advertising on the seatbacks, Dyer said. Some advertising has been sold piecemeal in the past, but not nationally.
“This is going to make a very effective national package,” Dyer said of new inventory that likely will be sold out of IMG College’s national sales office in New York, spearheaded by Andrew Judelson.
The ticketing and seat rental businesses were started via acquisition, while the fundraising arm began earlier this year with the hiring of former Georgia AD Damon Evans. Dyer and Evans have been calling on ADs this summer, and Dyer believes there will be a demand for the fundraising help, even though they’re still seeking their first client.
Often, schools don’t have the wherewithal to hire large sales staffs and pay commissions. The third party typically is embedded in the athletic department and acts on behalf of the school.
“What you’re looking for is a certain expertise and broad coverage of sales that athletic departments typically don’t have,” said Chris Ferris, Pitt’s associate AD for external relations. “It’s not just cold calling. It’s more strategic than that. They’re reaching out to the corporate community and they’re finding people who used to buy tickets and for whatever reason haven’t purchased in a few years.”
Across the Big 12, Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard saw his fellow schools creating the Longhorn Network and Sooner Sports TV. Within his own state, Iowa had the Big Ten Network.
Pollard felt like he was falling behind and he had to do something to address Iowa State’s growing exposure deficit with its rivals.
His solution will be unveiled this week in the form of a 24/7 television channel that will be carried by the state’s largest cable operator, Mediacom. The network, which will be called Cyclones.TV powered by Mediacom, launches Saturday with Iowa State’s football opener against Northern Iowa, complete with a two-hour pregame show and postgame coverage.
“We needed an answer for what everybody else is doing,” Pollard said. “We had to have a presence. We thought about what we could do that would make us unique.”
Iowa State’s channel will be all Cyclone sports, all the time, including one live football game, four to six men’s basketball games and all of the home events for volleyball, wrestling, women’s basketball and softball. Other sports will be integrated in a highlight or replay format.
The name of the channel — Cyclones.TV — is an extension of Iowa State’s broadband channel on its website, Cyclones.com. Much of the content that will appear on the TV channel, including live games, press conferences, shoulder programming and features, all produced by the school, already has been running online for the last few years, Pollard said. On TV, the programming will run in four-hour blocks and then repeat itself, unless there’s live programming.
The deal gives Mediacom a competitive advantage in the state. Cyclones.TV won’t be offered to the cable company’s rivals, including DirecTV and Dish Network, giving Mediacom exclusive access to Iowa State sports. It will carry the TV channel in high definition and standard definition formats on an expanded basic tier.
The distribution fee that Mediacom pays to carry the channel — believed to be in the six figures annually — goes to Learfield, which owns Iowa State’s media rights. So the channel won’t be an immediate revenue producer for the school.
But it will help the school achieve its goal in terms of exposure. Mediacom is the state’s largest cable operator with 500,000 households.
“From a brand perspective, and a recruiting perspective, we had to have an answer,” Pollard said. “We can’t be in a league where everybody else is doing it and we don’t have anything. We’re recruiting against [Texas and Oklahoma] and schools in the Big Ten where they have their own networks. Now we have something that allows us to be seen whenever our fans want to see us and we don’t have to share it with the rest of a conference.”
While the other conferences are aggregating their schools’ rights to form the Big Ten Network, the Pac-12 Networks and the SEC Network, the Big 12 decided a few years ago to go in the opposite direction.
Led by Texas, which partnered with ESPN on the Longhorn Network, the Big 12 members decided to let the schools keep their third-tier rights — games that aren’t picked up by league partners ESPN and Fox. That freedom not only spawned the Longhorn Network but also Oklahoma’s Sooner Sports TV. Other Big 12 schools made similar linear TV arrangements, either with Fox regionals or, in the case of Kansas and West Virginia, local cable operators.
Iowa State is a ’tweener. The state is not directly served by a Fox regional, but the school was committed to putting its content on TV, not just online behind a pay wall.
“We wanted to capture all of the folks who don’t have the interest or the ability to go to the Internet,” Pollard said.
Plus, the Cyclones are not the kind of national brand that would attract a major partnership like the ones at Texas or Oklahoma.
“They needed a unique solution,” said Joe Ferreira, chief content officer for Learfield Sports.
Learfield owned the rights to the school’s third-tier games. Mediacom, already an Iowa State corporate partner, was the natural distribution partner for an ISU network. Learfield negotiated distribution with Mediacom executives Ed Pardini and Steve Purcell.
As part of the deal with Mediacom, Learfield retains the right to sell all advertising on the channel.
“It’s not just a TV deal,” Pollard said. “They’ve got signage in the arena and other rights. This makes it a very comprehensive relationship between Iowa State and Mediacom.”
The channel will launch at a time when Cyclones athletics are at a peak in popularity. Just five years ago, they could sell only 22,000 season tickets for football. This season, they’ve sold out of season tickets at 43,000. The basketball team is on a roll as well, going 23-12 last season and making the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. Its 13,393 fans per home game in 2012-13 ranked 22nd nationally.
“Our success has really helped grow the brand,” Pollard said. “We’re selling out our season tickets in football and that’s with 6-6 records. Something good is happening here.”
Encompass Digital Media was brought on by Learfield to be the broadcast provider. That means Encompass will take the content from ISU and deliver it to the cable company in the form of a channel. There won’t be any additional production costs because the content was already being produced for online use.
“The core challenge for a school channel has been the volume of content that’s required,” Ferreira said. “We’ve put in a lot of work on how to program this and figure out what resources are needed to provide compelling content. A school-branded, stand-alone channel takes everything to a higher level.”