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Volume 20 No. 42
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The Hartford dropping NCAA deal

The road to the Final Four will no longer run through Hartford.

The financial and insurance company, which has been an NCAA corporate partner since 2004, is not renewing its sponsorship with college sport’s governing body, according to industry sources. The Hartford’s five-year deal expires at the end of this year.

Spokespeople at the NCAA and its rights holders, Turner Sports and CBS, referred all questions to The Hartford. Officials for the Hartford, Conn.-based company did not comment when reached last week.

Turner and CBS jointly run the NCAA’s corporate partner program.

The Hartford first came on board eight years ago as a corporate partner with rights in the financial services category. Corporate partner deals with the NCAA run from the high seven figures to eight figures annually.

After an initial three-year deal, The Hartford signed on for five more years, which took the agreement through the end of 2011.

Activation of its NCAA rights included an extensive media schedule during the NCAA tournament on Turner and CBS; entertainment of brokers at games; and the “Playbook For Life” educational program, where The Hartford brought a message of financial planning to NCAA athletes.

There was no word on why The Hartford jettisoned its NCAA rights, especially considering that the NCAA deal was its most visible sports sponsorship. In the past, company officials had said the arrangement has supported better brand equity across all consumers, especially within its key constituency of insurance brokers.

The move comes as The Hartford is retooling its overall marketing strategy, and after some distressing financial results in the third quarter. The Hartford reported last week a net loss of 2 cents per share and a zero net income for the third quarter ending Sept. 30 because of the slumping equity markets and millions in disaster claims associated with Hurricane Irene. That’s compared with a net gain of $666 million, or $1.34 per share, during the same period last year.

The loss of The Hartford leaves the financial and insurance categories wide open for the NCAA. Earlier this year, State Farm announced that it had dropped its NCAA corporate partnership, which was first formed in 2005.

Without The Hartford or an auto, home or life insurer, it creates an opportunity for the NCAA to attract a broad-based hybrid financial services/insurance sponsorship or to keep the categories separate.