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Volume 20 No. 42
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Illinois signs with Learfield but keeps some categories in-house

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.