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Volume 21 No. 1

Marketing and Sponsorship

Whenever the University of Oregon’s popular duck performs pushups to celebrate a touchdown, he goes up and down on a platform adorned with Muscle Milk’s logos. It’s not certain if the guy inside the duck costume uses Muscle Milk’s protein supplement, but Oregon’s athletes do as part of a unique sponsor relationship between the school and the company.

Muscle Milk is one of the fastest-growing sponsors in the college space. It has deals at close to 30 schools, and most of them are similar to the one at Oregon, where the school trades sponsorship inventory for a negotiated combination of product and cash. Other Muscle Milk partners include premium schools such as Texas, Southern Cal, Syracuse and Florida State.

The maker of protein supplements has deals with nearly 30 schools, including the University of Oregon.
The brand is working on at least two more school deals in preparation for its football season activation.

At most of them, Muscle Milk trades its protein powder, ready-to-drink shakes and protein bars for sponsor assets, such as signs, advertising, hospitality and promotional rights. Some deals are straight trade for product, while others, like the deal at Oregon, are a combination of product and cash.

The arrangements are somewhat like the deals that schools have with footwear and apparel companies such as Nike or sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade. Financial details were not available, but industry sources said these assets would typically go for the high six figures to low seven figures per school.

“The most important component of these deals is the product distribution within these schools,” said Chris Kildow, vice president of sports marketing for Muscle Milk. “You’ll see a lot of companies do media buys with these programs, but we want to be in a position to support these student athletes. If schools want us to be a sponsor, but they don’t want to use our product, that doesn’t fit for us.”

Muscle Milk began working its way into the college ranks in 2006, when it forged sponsor and product relationships with a handful of schools. That number has grown to 28 schools and two conference deals, with more to come, Kildow said. Muscle Milk doesn’t have a definitive number of schools it’s trying to reach, but Kildow is guiding the methodical addition of schools that make sense, both to create a balance geographically and for strategic goals, such as entertaining retailers.

Muscle Milk has done all of these deals in-house, and handling all of them can be a tall task because 28 deals require 28 different contracts to oversee. These deals typically go through the multimedia rights holder for the school, such as Learfield Sports or IMG College, which manage the advertising and sponsorship rights for the schools.

The company also has created a Muscle Milk Collegiate brand that represents the protein products that Muscle Milk distributes to its school partners for the athletes’ use. Athletes take the products before and after workouts to help with lean muscle growth and quick recovery.

“We go into each situation and try to create something that works, even if the components are different from one school to another,” Kildow said. “Most of the time that means signage in football and basketball, something that’s impactful from a visibility standpoint.”

The Muscle Milk brand is a product within California-based parent company CytoSport, which produces several lines of sports nutrition and supplement products. Muscle Milk has been best known for its endorsement deals with mainstream and action sports figures, from Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson to surfer Dustin Barca. But the brand is seeking additional ways to increase its visibility in the college space, especially when it can link its product to the athletes.

At Stanford, Muscle Milk sponsors the Athlete of the Week on At Texas, Muscle Milk has print and digital ad inventory and heavy signage in TV-viewable areas of the football stadium and basketball arena, according to IMG College’s Scott Willingham, general manager of the Texas property.

Most of the sponsorships include some form of hospitality where Muscle Milk can entertain retailers, from GNC to grocery stores.

The deal at Oregon goes beyond the branding on the duck’s pushup platform (he does a pushup for every point after the Ducks score). For home games, the duck’s pushups are broadcast on Autzen Stadium’s video board and a Muscle Milk-branded meter counts the pushups.

When Manny Pacquiao’s next opponent is featured on HBO’s “24/7” series in the lead-up to their June 9 pay-per-view, he will be decked head to toe in the Nike swoosh.

Light welterweight champion Timothy Bradley became the third Top Rank-promoted fighter to join the burgeoning Nike boxing stable, joining Pacquiao and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., when he signed an exclusive, one-year shoe and apparel deal with the brand last week. Nike will design branded Bradley apparel, including robe, trunks and training gear, as well as the shirts his cornermen will wear for the fight.

Light welterweight champ Timothy Bradley
“Tim Bradley’s visibility is about to increase tenfold,” said Lucia McKelvey, executive vice president of marketing for promoter Top Rank, who represented Bradley in negotiations. “With ‘24/7’ following him around, he’s going to be in the public eye all the time. So why not be polished with his look?”

McKelvey would not discuss financials. But Nike’s deals with similar, lesser-known athletes typically are built largely around a swap of gear for exposure, with the potential for athletes to see a greater upside if they emerge as stars.

Along with wearing Nike gear, Bradley will appear the week of the fight at Niketown, in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.

“I wanted to get him a Nike deal and I didn’t want it to be a one-off just around this fight,” McKelvey said. “As long as Tim grows, that relationship (with Nike), from a financial perspective, will grow. But it has to have a starting point. The starting point may not be anywhere near the starting point of a first-round draft pick in the NFL or NBA. But it’s a start. They want to grow with Tim Bradley. It’s almost up to Tim in terms of where that can go.”

For the fourth time in 14 years, the country’s third-largest tennis tournament will have a new name: the Sony Tennis Open.

The event’s current name, Sony Ericsson Open, will remain in effect through the scheduled end of this year’s event on Sunday. The tournament began last week.

Last October, Sony bought from Ericsson the half of the joint-venture mobile phone business it did not own, but regulatory review of the deal prevented the tennis event from changing its name right away.

“It will be a really big deal for us to be under the Sony umbrella with the other three brands: TV, music and entertainment, and now mobile,” said a source close to the Miami tournament who requested anonymity because the name change is not scheduled to be disclosed until later this week. “We can be a fully integrated entertainment venue.”

The WTA Tour, which has had Sony Ericsson as a sponsor since 2005, has already changed the corporate reference on its website from Sony Ericsson to Sony Mobile. Sony Mobile has been using tennis to promote the Xperia smartphone, which the WTA advertised on the grounds of the recently completed BNP Paribas Open. The main branding in Miami will be Xperia too, though Sony Ericsson will remain the name at the entrance of the tournament and the moniker used in broadcasts.

On the WTA’s website, Xperia is advertised on the home page; Sony Mobile is named under corporate sponsors.

Sony Ericsson also previously had an endorsement deal with Maria Sharapova. That deal expired in December.

The new Sony Tennis Open (which in Miami will be marketed as simply the Sony Open) drew 316,267 fans last year, putting it behind the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., and the U.S. Open Tennis Championships in New York.

The Miami and Indian Wells events long have jockeyed for the claim as America’s top non-Grand Slam tennis tournament, but lately, BNP has been pulling ahead. The California event drew 370,408 fans this month, up 20,000 fans from last year and a considerable widening of its attendance lead on Miami that was first claimed in 2007. New investments from BNP Paribas tournament owner Larry Ellison, including electronic line-calling on every court, something even the U.S. Open does not have, has further cemented the impression that the Miami event, owned by IMG, is being left behind.

“We skew a younger, multicultural, bilingual crowd in a top-rated TV market [and] a multicultural, cosmopolitan city and continue to attract visitors who may not all be tennis fans but come for lifestyle and entertainment reasons to Miami,” said Wendy Elkin, the Miami tournament’s senior vice president of marketing and television. “In regards to our infrastructure, we just completed a stadium renovation of our player and media services this year and have received incredible feedback. [It’s the] first major renovation since we opened the stadium in 1994.”