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Volume 20 No. 42


The University of Illinois, one of the few schools nationally that has kept its multimedia rights in-house over the years, has reached a 10-year agreement to outsource those rights to Learfield Sports.

The Fighting Illini had been resistant to the outsource model, even though most of their peers in the Big Ten Conference had outsourced with either Learfield or IMG College.

Illinois was part of a small group of schools that managed its marketing and media in-house, along with Southern California, West Virginia and Michigan State, even as Learfield and IMG College grew to become the dominant marketing forces in collegiate athletics. However, Southern Cal recently sold its rights to Fox Sports, while West Virginia recently issued a request for proposal to third parties for its multimedia rights.

Financial terms of Illinois’ deal with Learfield were not clear last week, but the Illini went with the Jefferson City, Mo.-based agency over IMG College and fledgling Rockbridge Sports Group, based on Learfield’s higher guarantee, industry sources said. Learfield’s deal is believed to pay Illinois $3 million to $4 million a year, which is not as lucrative as many of the other deals in the Big Ten, but the Illini also kept some critical sponsorship categories in-house, which deflated the value. Illinois is believed to have kept soda pouring rights, sports drink, credit card, insurance, branded energy and apparel, where the school has existing relationships. Those categories represent an additional $2.4 million in annual revenue for the school.

The Learfield agreement begins July 1. The deal requires state approval before it is finalized.

Learfield’s win at Illinois means that the company now owns the rights to eight schools in the conference, as well as the Big Ten’s own marketing rights, further strengthening Learfield’s foothold in the Midwest.

Learfield has the rights at Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana and Purdue, in addition to Illinois. IMG College has Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska.

At least three other schools, in addition to West Virginia, are looking for a multimedia rights partner.

North Carolina-Charlotte, which recently rejoined Conference USA, issued an RFP on April 27 and began fielding bids this month. The 49ers’ new football program begins play in 2013 and Athletic Director Judy Rose said the move to outsource coincided with the formation of a football program and the need to generate new revenue.

Rhode Island and Wichita State also are seeking multimedia rights partners.

South Florida fills about two-thirds of Raymond James Stadium for its home football games. Appalachian State, on the other hand, draws an average of 4,000 fans more than its seating capacity.

But both schools are signing deals with IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions to outsource their sales and marketing, primarily for football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball.

The University of South Florida is hoping to fill more seats inside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
USF’s rapid rise in football has elevated the program to one of the Big East’s best, and now it’s trying to get its attendance to follow. The Bulls averaged 44,550 last season at Raymond James Stadium, which holds just under 66,000. Bill McGillis, USF’s executive associate athletic director, said the school would work with IMG Learfield to launch “an aggressive new ticket sales initiative. This partnership will enable an infusion of resources that will fuel our effort to expand our ticket base and grow attendance.”

IMG College also has USF’s multimedia rights. Robert Miller, who worked in ticketing with the New Orleans Hornets and Florida Panthers, will serve as general manager of USF’s ticketing operation.

Appalachian State, which has led the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision in attendance for four of the last five years, is attempting to grow its fan base as the school looks to move up from FCS (formerly I-AA) to the FBS level. The Mountaineers averaged 26,211 fans in 21,650-seat Kidd Brewer Stadium last season.

But Matt DiFebo, vice president and managing partner for IMG Learfield, said, “There’s a strong opportunity to continue growing the school’s fan base and generate additional revenue through ticket sales and building relationships with their fans.”

IMG Learfield will run Appalachian State’s ticketing from its national sales center in Winston-Salem, N.C., where IMG College is based. IMG Learfield runs the University of Richmond’s account from there. Other clients, such as Tennessee and Penn State, have their own sales team embedded in the athletic department, the model being employed at USF.

These ticketing outsource deals typically involve a share of revenue between the school and the company based on new tickets sold.

“We’ve had a great relationship with IMG from the corporate marketing side, and this became an opportunity to be more aggressive on the ticket sales side,” said Charlie Cobb, Appalachian State’s athletic director. “We still have some holes to fill with season tickets, renewals and also some group tickets where they can help.”

Appalachian State and USF represent the second and third new school clients since IMG and Learfield created this ticketing joint venture. Georgia State came on board last month.