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As the University of Dayton geared up for a basketball game against UMass earlier this month, a top NCAA official was relaxing in a back room of UD Arena with reporters.
Dan Gavitt is the NCAA vice president who oversees tournament games. He makes a habit of going to see as many games in different cities throughout the regular season as he can.
UD Arena has been home to the NCAA tournament’s opening games for 13 years.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
The question is, will Dayton’s run as the NCAA’s First Four host continue after next year?
Dayton is set to host the First Four — the opening games of the annual tournament, to be played Tuesday and Wednesday this week — at UD Arena through at least 2015. Site selections for games beyond that are yet to be made, though. The NCAA will start a new bid cycle later this year for hosting future games, with announcements for 2016-18 expected in November.
Gavitt said Dayton’s chances to keep its NCAA connection are good.
“It’s just the kind of experience we’re looking for, for the athletes when they get here,” Gavitt said. “Dayton is in the pole position because they’ve done this so well for so long.”
From Dayton’s perspective, basketball is a key part to the city’s economic engine. Between local college regular seasons, high school tournaments and NCAA tournament games, basketball has brought $100 million to the area over the past 10 years. It’s because of that impact, and the particular visibility of the First Four, that a local organizing committee is pulling out all the stops to make sure Dayton stays on the NCAA’s host sheet.
“It’s about long-term making this like the Final Four or the Super Bowl,” said J.P. Nauseef, chairman of the committee, which was assembled by the University of Dayton to help promote the event. “It’s a natural fit, and it’s been proven already. The fans prove it every year. We’re trying to build that reality so we can become the de facto center for college basketball.”
The NCAA tradition clearly has been established in Dayton. UD Arena has hosted more NCAA men’s tournament games than any other venue: 101. Two years ago, the city’s connection to the First Four drew attention beyond basketball circles, as President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron joined Ohio Gov. John Kasich at the games at UD Arena.
But as the NCAA is deciding on whether to commit to keeping the First Four in central Ohio, local leaders are being active. Matt Farrell, a member of the local organizing committee, said the NCAA is considering several factors in its decision. While UD deals with the NCAA directly, local leaders have built a separate effort — dubbed Dayton Hoopla — to market the games to the community through the organizing committee.
Every year, the committee creates new events and activities to make the First Four experience different from past efforts. The committee also has been courting sponsors and has secured commitments from Montgomery County, Dayton Power & Light, Heidelberg, Dayton International Airport, and the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association among more than 70 other local businesses and organizations.
British Prime Minister David Cameron was President Obama’s guest in Dayton in 2012.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
“You wouldn’t get something like this to go the way it has even in New York City,” Titlebaum said. “You roll out a basketball in Dayton, and you get 10,000 people. It doesn’t matter who’s playing.”
One of the biggest promotions that has been tied to the First Four has been giving tickets to U.S. Air Force personnel and their families from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. It’s also a major part of the culture that has been showcased by the Dayton Development Coalition, which offers economic incentives to promote business growth and attraction to the Dayton area.
“Having the NCAA tournament in Dayton every year is a brand that every city in the country envies,” said Jeff Hoagland, president and CEO of the coalition. “We use … the NCAA tournament to showcase our region.”
Supporters of Dayton’s place on the NCAA’s landscape have grown to include three NBA players who announced donations to support local First Four efforts recently: Los Angeles Lakers guard Kent Bazemore, New Orleans Pelicans guard Brian Roberts and Boston Celtics forward Chris Johnson. Roberts and Johnson played at the University of Dayton. Bazemore came to Dayton for games as a member of the Old Dominion basketball team.
Building the hype around the games carries a tangible impact the organizers hope will resonate with the NCAA, Farrell said. It begins again on Tuesday night.
“This is our last chance, Tuesday night,” he said, “in front of an audience of 10 million people, to showcase everything we’ve done and what it means to this community to have this event here.”
Tristan Navera writes for the Dayton Business Journal, an affiliated publication.
Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.
Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright, wearing a black pinstripe suit, looks intently at the two bottles of body wash put before him. With all of the intensity of a Villanova huddle in the final seconds of a tense NCAA tournament game, Wright examines both bottles and selects the Dove Men+Care product.
As decisions go for the coach of the Big East regular-season champions, that one was pretty easy, and that’s exactly the message Dove hopes to send in its new March Madness-themed commercials called “Easy Decisions.”
Wright’s 30-second TV spot is part of a new campaign that launches this week and will run through the NCAA tournament. Unilever worked with BBH, New York, on the creative.
Wright’s “Easy Decisions” spot is central to Dove Men+Care’s March Madness marketing, but there also will be digital extensions on Bleacher Report, ESPN.com and Grantland.
Dove, which works with Mindshare ESP, a division of GroupM ESP, on its NCAA activation and strategy, stepped up to sponsor National Bracket Day on Monday, the day between Selection Sunday and Tuesday, the first day of the tournament.
Central to that will be on-site activation in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, where Dove will set up kiosks in high-traffic areas for fans to participate in a bracket challenge. Bleacher Report software will enable fans to create profiles for their brackets, such as all upsets or all favorites, and the software will plug in the teams.
New themed commercials from Burger King and Dove Men+Care highlight a flurry of March Madness creative breaking this week from NCAA partners.
Dove Men+Care, whose parent company, Unilever, has been an NCAA corporate partner since 2011, also dipped into the college basketball world for its new spot. Dove signed Villanova coach Jay Wright to appear in a 30-second spot about making important decisions (see related story), which will be tied to a Twitter initiative.
Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Kansas’ Bill Self and North Carolina State’s Mark Gottfried are among other coaches appearing in March Madness promotions.
Using NCAA-related talent, tournament footage and March Madness branding has been an emphasis from the NCAA’s rights holders, Turner Sports and CBS. The two companies jointly market and sell the NCAA’s rights as part of their 14-year, $10.8 billion contract.
“We’ve got more themed creative than ever before from our corporate partners and champions,” said Will Funk, Turner Sports’ senior vice president of NCAA partnerships. “We’ve done a lot of testing and research on March Madness-themed advertising and they perform at much higher levels. That’s something we’ve shared with the partners, and we’ve seen a very good response.”
Turner and CBS won the NCAA’s rights in 2010, when the corporate sponsorship program had 10 partners, and have since increased that number to 16. They’re in discussions with another potential partner that could become the 17th by the time the tournament gets underway this week.
Many of those deals with existing partners were set to expire in 2013, but Turner and CBS managed to extend each of the eight deals up for renewal.
Corporate champions Coca-Cola and Capital One, as well as partners Lowe’s, Infiniti, Enterprise, Kraft, Unilever and UPS, were among those that renewed for either three- or five-year terms.
“We’ve been able to grow the business while also keeping partners and extending them,” said Chris Simko, CBS Sports senior vice president of sales and marketing.
Burger King and its Culver City, Calif.-based ad agency, Pitch, chose Webber to be the centerpiece in its new spot in which the 6-foot-9 former NBA All-Star blocks the view of others trying to watch the game. The burger chain also works with Horizon Media and Scout Sports & Entertainment on its sports marketing.
Burger King is working directly with Twitter for a social media promotion around #WatchLikeAKing. More than 500 fans who tweet with that hashtag will be chosen for prizes that range from $100 gift cards to flat-screen TVs and Final Four trips to Dallas.
“We look at March Madness as one of the most iconic sporting events, right up there with the Super Bowl and the Olympics,” said Eric Hirschhorn, Burger King’s chief marketer for North America.
Jeff Schemmel, the former San Diego State athletic director who is now a college consultant, has opened his own firm in Atlanta.
College Sports Solutions will offer consulting services for athletic departments, led by Schemmel and a cast of college sports veterans who are available to assist schools.
At CSS, Schemmel’s clients so far include Alabama State, Houston, Northern Iowa and Tulane. Schemmel worked on projects for Houston while at JMI, including a coaching search and Title IX compliance. That relationship will continue at CSS.
Outside of the college space, Schemmel is working with the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
The firm plans to offer consulting services for issues that face athletic directors, from coaching and executive searches to compliance, crisis management, budgeting, NCAA membership and organizational structure within the athletic department.
Schemmel will work with Russell Wright, the managing director of Collegiate Consulting, another Atlanta-based consultancy. Wright works with a variety of schools but has found a niche in Division II and the lower Division I ranks. Among his clients are Wichita State, where Wright assists the school with ticket sales and marketing. He also has done feasibility studies for schools looking to change conferences or move up a division within the NCAA.
“We’ll be partnering on some projects and also sharing some resources,” Schemmel said. “We’re separate companies, but we see the opportunity to collaborate quite a bit.”
Among the consultants that Schemmel plans to make available to his clients will be former Texas AD DeLoss Dodds, former UNLV AD Jim Livengood, former interim commissioner of the Big 12 Chuck Neinas, and Rick Bay, the former AD at Ohio State, Minnesota and Oregon.
Schemmel said working with schools to prepare for potential changes in the NCAA landscape is proving to be a significant source of business. “To say that there’s a lot of angst out there would be an understatement,” he said.
Scotts Miracle-Gro is mounting its first NCAA March Madness promotion with the help of pass-through rights from NCAA corporate sponsor Lowe’s and will do a media buy on the tournament in order to get in front of the spring yard season.
TV ads from Lowe’s and Scotts will tag the promotion. Wasserman Media Group is Scotts’ sports marketing agency of record.
Scotts has been an MLB sponsor since 2010, but the NCAA rights and the promotion “allows us to start to talk to consumers about lawn care a little earlier, by tying ourselves to a big property like March Madness, and gets us a nice presence at Lowe’s, which is one of our biggest customers,” said Chris Strunk, director of marketing promotions and communications for Scotts Miracle-Gro. “We’ll jump-start our selling season and then still run a seasonlong program with our MLB rights.’’
The same merchandising units at Lowe’s will be converted to an MLB theme next month. This year’s, Scotts MLB promotions and marketing will carry the tag line “Go Yard” and will link to home run contests and on-air enhancements. A sweepstakes overlay dangles a $25,000 yard makeover as top prize. The Colorado Rockies have been added to Scotts’ portfolio of MLB team sponsorships, a lineup that also includes Atlanta, Boston, the Chicago Cubs, the New York Yankees, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Texas.