Lewis looks beyond hoops for NCAA revenue
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.”
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.
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.”