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Two new corporate sponsors have struck deals with the Big South Conference, giving those brands rights to the league’s schools and championship events.
Pennsylvania-based Utz will be the official snack of the conference, while Kangaroo Express, a North Carolina-based chain of convenience stores, will have official status as well.
Utz, the maker of chips and other snacks, is looking to expand its business in the Big South’s three-state footprint of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
Kangaroo Express already owns a strong presence in the Southeast and will use its Big South deal to strengthen its position.
Financial terms were not available, but corporate sponsorships at the Big South typically range from the high five figures to the low six figures. The Big South negotiated directly with the companies on these deals.
Utz and Kangaroo Express join a roster of 11 conference partners. Unique to the Big South is that the conference office is able to market and sell rights to their member schools, in addition to the rights to the conference’s championship events.
“We do all of the marketing here, in-house,” said Chad Cook, the Big South’s assistant commissioner of marketing, and a veteran of 11 years at the league office in Charlotte. “We’re a one-stop-shop model for partners because we can integrate them at the local level through assets at the schools.”
Part of the three-year deal grants Kangaroo Express a game-day sponsorship at each of the Big South’s 11 schools.
The company also will run a scholarship contest, which will encourage students to enter through Kangaroo Express’ new mobile app. One scholarship worth $500 will be awarded for each school during each year of the deal.
Utz’s two-year deal will provide the brand with online advertising and sponsorship of the fan poll at BigSouthSports.com, as well as several sampling opportunities on Big South campuses.
Utz came on board for a trial run last March at the league’s basketball tournament with sponsorship of the team benches and decided to return with a bigger deal through 2016. Details haven’t been completed, but Utz will work with the conference and schools to create on-court promotions during basketball games as well.
Ohio State, Wake Forest and Temple are among the schools using a new data-capture tool called FanGauge, which is designed to collect personal information from fans at the stadium.
Most colleges know who is buying their football tickets, but FanGauge will more closely identify who is actually in those seats and other behavioral aspects. The product is being offered by Evolution Sports Partners, a company started earlier this year by former Georgia Athletic Director Damon Evans and his partners, Tracy Howe and Peter Kraft. Kraft and Howe have worked in higher education on recruitment and retention of students, but their venture with Evans is their first sports-focused product.
Ohio State is among the schools using FanGauge.
“Attendance has dropped and schools need the kind of tools that can battle that,” Evans said. “We’re right now making assumptions about who is in the venue, but do we know for sure that the season-ticket buyer actually used his tickets, or did he give them to a friend? Who did the season-ticket holder bring with him?”
By offering fans high-end incentives, such as sideline passes or travel with the team to a road game, FanGauge collects personal information from fans who register to win the prizes.
That kind of data capture is a growing aspect of fan engagement, especially among pro teams. Sporting Innovations last year went to market with Fan360, a tool that tracks a fan’s spending and social media habits at the game. The tech firm is owned by the MLS’s Sporting Kansas City.
Other tech companies, such as Experience, Fanmaker and Fan-I-Am are in the space with fan loyalty or fan upgrade programs that also capture consumer data, although they each have their own features.
FanGauge, which will be marketed on the stadium video board and by fan ambassadors in the concourse on game day, provides a mobile app that fans can download and use to register for the prizes. The tool asks a fan for name, email, phone, date of birth, gender, ZIP code and any social media handles. Additional questions ask for the users’ favorite sport, how many games they attend, if they’ve ever bought season tickets and if they are a student, alum or fan.
That information is then shared with the school’s ticket and fundraising departments. Evolution’s ticket-link technology identifies who is at the game.
For fans who sign up outside the stadium, typically through the school’s official website, they are designated as general fans. Either way, FanGauge can help the school identify fans who might be prospects for tickets or donations.
FanGauge underwent a soft launch last year with a handful of schools, including Temple, which signed on midway through the 2013 season. But this season the company has added Ohio State and Wake Forest, as well as some smaller schools.
The product runs anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 a year, and the school contributes the video board spots, the website link and the experiences.
“Social media is great, and fan engagement is great, but we’ve got to be more analytical in our thinking,” said Temple Deputy AD Pat Kraft (no relation to Evolution’s Peter Kraft).
The key is delivering an experience that cannot be accessed by most fans, whether it’s a behind-the-scenes tour or a trip into the locker room or the sidelines. The incentive has to be strong for a fan to turn over that much personal information, Evolution’s partners said.
Each school brands its FanGauge program differently. Temple calls it CherryConnect, as in the school’s official color. Ohio State calls it BuckeyesConnect.
“The key to success is the client’s willingness to promote it and use every marketing outlet to get the word out,” Peter Kraft said. “The better you understand the fan, the better an athletic department can market itself.”
Evans and his partners also have been hired to consult at Toledo on academic and revenue-generating initiatives, a different type of offering that gives Evans and his partners an opportunity to share their experience in higher education.