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Volume 21 No. 1


Marketing rights to 33 college bowl games will be available to sponsors from one source for the first time under an agreement reached by the Football Bowl Association and FishBait Marketing.

By aggregating the marketing rights to all but two of the bowl games in college football’s postseason, FishBait will go to market with the ability to sell corporate sponsorships that stretch across nearly all of the bowls. It’s a one-stop shop model that’s never been tried in the bowl space.

The Capital One Bowl is among the many bowls that sponsors can buy their way into through FishBait Marketing.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
“It’s something that many of us in the bowl space have been talking about for years,” said Steve Hogan, CEO of the Capital One Bowl and Champs Bowl and chairman of the Football Bowl Association. “Aggregating the space is the only way to have a national conversation with sponsors. It’s one of our most powerful branding assets, and in the past those assets have been left to smaller, local deals. Much like we’ve seen with the PGA Tour, there’s power in numbers. We needed to combine our rights. It’s the only way for sponsors to be able to do one deal and have a footprint that stretches across the postseason.”

Like most of the collegiate marketing world, bowls have been fragmented and difficult for sponsors to navigate unless they simply wanted to buy a title sponsorship to a single game.

Obtaining marketing rights to multiple bowls required a brand to go to each of the bowls and negotiate separate contracts. As a result, it seldom happened. The sponsorships on a tier below the title deal typically went to local sponsors as part of low-level deals.

RELATED STORY: New NCAA executive Mark Lewis talks about evolving with the market.

“As one bowl director said, his idea of contacting Taco Bell was to call his buddy who owned two of them,” said FishBait’s Rick Jones. “You just can’t have a conversation about a national buy with one bowl in one city.”

FishBait, a Charleston, S.C., agency that focuses heavily on the college space, now will go to market with the rights to 33 of the 35 bowl games and the ability to sell across them. The Rose Bowl and the Pinstripe Bowl are the two that didn’t jump onboard. Sponsors of the New York Yankees already enjoy rights to the Pinstripe Bowl. Talks with both bowls are continuing.

Each bowl will continue to sell its own title rights, unless it strikes a separate agreement with FishBait.

“We’re calling this the omelet station,” Jones said. “Just like you order the omelet the way you like it, this is going to be customizable for any business. Rights, logos, signage, hospitality, tickets, team luncheons, mobile marketing, fan fests — all of it can be customized now and they’re available across many different bowls and markets.”

ESPN has the marketing rights to the BCS bowls — Fiesta, Orange, Rose, Sugar and the national championship game. The network will retain those title sponsorship rights, but FishBait will be able to sell corporate sponsorship packages into those games as long as the categories don’t conflict.

With all of the different ways to create marketing programs, secondary bowl sponsorships can run from the five figures into the low six figures annually. Bowl title sponsorships range from the low-to-mid six figures for the smaller games up to $3 million a year for non-BCS events.

FishBait also is determining other ways it can work with ESPN Regional, the events arm of ESPN that owns seven bowl games. The network televises all but two of the bowls.

FishBait will not initially offer ad units as part of its sponsorship packages. However, the Football Bowl Association and FishBait plan to produce their own TV spots that would run during the bowl broadcasts and feature many of the participating sponsors. “It’s not unlike the Olympic model, where you buy the rights and marks, and then you go get TV based on your needs,” Jones said.

FishBait also will have the ability to sell additional bowl assets to the existing BCS sponsors — Allstate, Discover, Tostitos and Vizio — if they’re interested in marketing rights to any of the non-BCS bowls.

In all, FishBait and the Football Bowl Association have identified 30 categories that they will target, everything from consumer packaged goods to tires, home improvement retailers, rental car agencies, travel websites, sports bars, recreational vehicles, arcades, mutual funds, sporting goods stores and motion picture studios, Jones said.

FishBait has set a goal of selling six of the categories for the 2012 bowl season and six more for the 2013 season, for a total of 12 categories in two years.

“When we started out, I really thought the biggest challenge was going to be how we split the revenue,” Hogan said. “But it really wasn’t that hard. Everything gets shared evenly. It’s kind of like a conference. You’re only as strong as your smallest member.”

Jones said he wasn’t concerned about the NCAA’s ability to approve or nullify sponsor deals. While bowl games are not owned or run by the NCAA, they must by licensed by the governing body. The NCAA keeps essentially the same standards for bowl sponsorships that it would have for its own sponsors, Jones said.

“They’re not going to allow certain energy products or pharmaceuticals,” Jones said, citing two examples. “But we’re not going to be working the fringe. I have enough categories that are absolutely approved not to worry about that. We’re not going to be pitching controversial categories, we’re looking at more mainstream categories.”

FishBait’s Scott Farace in the Dallas office oversees college football and will be the lead on the Football Bowl Association account, while David Brown out of Columbus, Ohio, who runs national sales, will lead the sales.

In his 14 years of working on the Olympics, Mark Lewis developed an understanding of where amateur athletics and commercialism meet. He is now the NCAA’s guy to oversee that delicate intersection.

“We’re not going to start having rock ’n’ roll concerts where a basketball game breaks out,” said Lewis, the NCAA’s new executive vice president of championships and alliances. “But you do have to evolve and change with the market.”

Lewis, who replaced Greg Shaheen as the NCAA’s chief of championship events and partnerships last month, has been on the job for nearly four weeks and some of the objectives he will tackle are beginning to crystallize.

The former Olympic marketer wants to take a closer look at the NCAA’s championship events, especially in the Olympic sports, to see if there’s more revenue to be mined. Close to 90 percent of the NCAA’s revenue comes from its $11 billion, 14-year contract with CBS and Turner Sports, primarily for the men’s basketball tournament.

Lewis, who spent seven years at Jet Set Sports, where he ran hospitality and events around the Olympics, also wants to better define what makes an NCAA corporate champion and corporate partner within the governing body’s sponsorship program. CBS and Turner manage the partnership deals, but Lewis is not sure there’s enough distinction between the highest level — champions — and the next level of partners.

Two new leaders sought for basketball

Greg Shaheen had been the point man for all things men’s basketball at the NCAA for more than a decade. Now that he and the governing body have parted, the NCAA is beginning its search for a new basketball chief.

Within the last few days, the NCAA posted openings for a vice president of men’s basketball and a vice president of women’s basketball. Sue Donohoe, who spent 12 years at the NCAA as vice president of women’s basketball, resigned her post in October.

Both men’s and women’s basketball positions will report to Mark Lewis, the new executive vice president for championships and alliances at the NCAA.

“We’ve obviously got some holes on the basketball side of things that need to be filled,” Lewis said. “We will work with a lot of speed on these positions. I’ve already been reaching out to the basketball community so that I can understand what attributes they think are important and what qualities to look for. These people will be the primary point persons for their sport.”

The vice presidents for men’s and women’s basketball will oversee their respective Divisions I, II and III, as well as the NIT events.
The NCAA and NBA also are searching for a president of

— Michael Smith

AT&T, Capital One and Coca-Cola are the three companies at the champion level, while 11 more are at the partner level. Corporate champions can spend anywhere from $30 million to $50 million a year on marketing rights to all of the NCAA’s championship events.

“We’ve got to do a better job of distinguishing those programs,” Lewis said. “As we assess the landscape right now, I can tell you that we charge different amounts for each, but are we truly delivering different value for one investment versus the other?”

The corporate sponsorship program is just one aspect of the NCAA that Lewis will oversee as he moves past the unpacking-boxes stage. He’ll also be responsible for all 89 of the NCAA’s championship events and partnerships with sponsors, broadcasters, licensees, and hospitality and ticketing partners.

Lewis, whose father, Bill, was a head football coach at Wyoming, East Carolina and Georgia Tech, already has met with many of the corporate champions and partners, begun a search for two new positions to oversee men’s and women’s basketball (see related story), and watched as the planning for a busy spring season of championship events unfolds.

Making sure the NCAA maximizes those events, from an experience and a monetary standpoint, is part of his responsibility.

“We need to create new and perhaps unknown revenue models,” Lewis said. “That’s something that needs to be explored. That will be an area of focus. When you look at FIFA, they have their global partners and then they have sponsors that are local as they move events from one country to another. We have a combination of events that are very customizable.”

FishBait Marketing’s Rick Jones, who first met the new NCAA executive when Lewis was vice president of marketing for the Salt Lake City Olympics, thinks that Lewis’ background in the Olympics will benefit the NCAA’s non-basketball events.

“Hopefully, he’ll realize that there’s more revenue to be extracted from the other sports,” Jones said. “Men’s basketball pays just about all the bills. Mark’s background in the Olympics should help the NCAA monetize some of the other sports.”

As for the greatest lightning rod issue that Shaheen faced during his leadership of the men’s basketball championship — possible expansion of the tournament — Lewis doesn’t anticipate facing that question any time soon.

“That’s been done and dusted,” Lewis said. “I’m looking forward to executing what’s already been decided in that regard.”