SBJ/February 20-26, 2017/Colleges

Power of 100 pays off big for UConn

Brands buy into winning streak

Coach Geno Auriemma and team celebrate on Feb. 13.
Photo by: STEPHEN SLADE / UCONN
When the final seconds ticked off the University of Connecticut’s 100th straight women’s basketball victory, confetti dropped from the rafters like a Super Bowl celebration. Only, this was no ordinary confetti. The paper actually was shaped like a $100 bill and in place of Benjamin Franklin was the image of Geno Auriemma, the school’s coaching icon.

The commemorative $100 bills — 5,000 in all, with 100 of them being a “golden ticket” redeemable for a $3 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card — were part of Dunkin’s sponsorship activation last Monday night to celebrate yet another landmark victory for the Huskies, who have become the greatest college dynasty of their time.

But Dunkin isn’t the only corporate partner that’s finding value in marketing women’s basketball at UConn. Other major brands — Chevrolet, Papa John’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Mohegan Sun — each of which have lengthy corporate relationships with the school, commemorated the event with their own special offers tied to the 100th win.

A standard women’s game will feature a single game-day sponsor, but the winning streak created several new marketing opportunities.

“The program has become so successful that I tell sponsors it’s like an annuity. It’s always going to be there,” said IMG College’s Tom Murphy, who has been general manager of UConn’s property for nearly eight years and graduated from the school.

Since 1995, UConn’s women have won 11 national championships and completed six undefeated seasons. The Huskies haven’t lost since an 88-86 overtime setback on Nov. 17, 2014, at Stanford.

Such unparalleled success has given UConn’s players and the nationally recognized program a rock-star status that sponsors love to tap into. The Huskies win so much that they provide several unique activation points, ranging from local activation after the national championships to winning streaks like the 100th.

It’s almost become routine: Webster Bank sponsors the national championship trophy tour; Coca-Cola produces the commemorative can. Sponsors have virtually built-in marketing components with the UConn women that are almost impossible to duplicate with any other program in any other sport.

In between the games, Auriemma keeps the partners engaged by inviting executives to practice so they can get a look behind the curtain. Having these regular-season touch points are especially valuable because UConn’s corporate partnerships don’t come with promotional rights at NCAA Tournament venues.

“When you think about the accomplishments, it’s probably been undervalued, but it’s been amazing to watch ESPN and our partners step up the way they have with the 100th,” said David Benedict, UConn’s athletic director.

Special Geno “hundreds,” and a few golden tickets, dropped from the rafters.
The biggest difference between the Huskies and most other college programs is that sponsorships and promotional rights for women’s games cost the same as the men’s games. That’s because the number of eyeballs are roughly the same, if not more for the women.

IMG College sells sponsorships across the athletic department and they typically include football, men’s and women’s basketball, and ice hockey, the major sports that draw crowds. At practically every other major college program, men’s rights cost more, but not at Storrs.

“We don’t differentiate with the rate card,” Murphy said. “That’s pretty unique, at least among the IMG properties I know of.”

After a sellout crowd of 10,167 filled Gampel Pavilion for the record-setting 100th straight win, the UConn women now average 8,996 fans at home, which is more than the 8,338 the men have averaged this season.

UConn's TV Domination

ESPN's most-viewed women's basketball games ever

Network Date Matchup Television viewership
ESPN2 Dec. 30, 2010 UConn-Stanford 2,111,000
ESPN2 Feb. 1, 2003 UConn-Duke 1,941,000
ESPN2 Feb. 2, 2009 Oklahoma-Tennessee* 1,286,000
ESPN2 Feb. 13 2017 South Carolina-UConn 1,229,000
ESPN Feb. 1, 2001 UConn-Tennessee 1,195,000

* Tennessee coach Pat Summitt was going for her 1,000th career victory.
Note: Among regular-season games
Source: ESPN


UConn’s 100th, which was televised on ESPN2, was the channel’s most-viewed college basketball game of the season — men or women — with 1.23 million viewers.

The Huskies’ women have developed an audience as well on SportsNet New York, which has carried 17 games and more than 350 hours of UConn women’s basketball programming per season over the last five seasons.

In the four games leading up to the 100th, all on SNY, the network delivered a household rating of 6.78 in the Hartford/New Haven market. By comparison, SNY broadcasts five UConn men’s games per season and the highest season average in Hartford/New Haven has been a 4.86 household rating. Overall, the Huskies’ men have averaged a 3.47 household rating on SNY over the last five years.

In the New York market, UConn’s 99th straight win on Feb. 11 drew a 0.50 household rating (37,301 total viewers), the largest New York audience ever for a women’s game on SNY. Before the streak, no UConn women’s game had ever eclipsed a 0.40, but five games this season, with the help of the streak, have topped 0.42.

The success of the program has given the UConn women’s team rock-star status.
Photo by: STEPHEN SLADE / UCONN
Beyond the game coverage, Auriemma and his players, such as Rebecca Lobo, Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore, have become national figures. Auriemma was a guest on ABC’s “Good Morning America” the morning of the 100th straight win.

UConn’s licensing agent, Collegiate Licensing Co., also collaborated with the athletic department to design a “100 and counting” winning streak mark that is being used on shirts, the school’s digital channels, and throughout the arena. CLC’s in-house creative team has worked with UConn on several national championship legacy marks in the past.

Knowing that the winning streak was growing to epic proportions, CLC began talking to Kyle Muncy on UConn’s brand team two months ago about ways to create a mark that could evolve with the streak, with the number changing from 100 to 101, 102 and so on. While some gear is being produced with the 100 mark, the most collectible merchandise will be items with the final number from the winning streak — if the Huskies ever lose.

On the sponsorship side, Papa John’s used the occasion to give away 100 free pizzas on Twitter, Mohegan Sun offered a $100 season ticket to its Connecticut location, and Moe’s sold burritos last Wednesday for a discounted price as a nod to the women’s team.

All of the brands have corporate partnerships with UConn that span the athletic department.

But Dunkin’ Donuts’ idea of dropping $100 bills with Auriemma’s image seemed to steal the night. After the game, UConn players had their photo taken while holding the keepsake $100 bills that also had Dunkin’ branding.

Fenway Sports Management’s Kate Hogan worked with Dunkin’ on the planning, which required a quick turnaround. Dunkin’ and FSM put together the idea for the golden tickets in just two weeks. Dunkin’ previously used a golden ticket concept in 2011 when it gave away Boston Bruins tickets.

The challenge with the UConn activation was getting everything in place without publicly touting it because Auriemma didn’t want any promotion that would forecast or assume a 100th win. So UConn’s game operations staff discreetly carried bins of the special $100 bills into the rafters of Gampel Pavilion and waited on the catwalk until the game ended.

Within a minute of the game’s conclusion, the PA announcer read a Dunkin’ message and the 5,000 fake $100 bills were dropped from the ceiling, giving it a confetti effect. The ones that had the golden ticket were turned in at the gate in exchange for the $3 gift card by fans as they exited the arena.

“The atmosphere was electric and this was just a great way to end the night,” Murphy said.

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