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Volume 21 No. 2


Looking to capitalize on a time-tested brand as change continues to rock college conferences, athletic directors from the Philadelphia Big 5 schools have signed Front Row Marketing to a two-year deal to sell the group’s commercial rights.

The Big 5 is a 59-year-old brand tied to the major college basketball rivalries among LaSalle, Penn, St. Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova, five schools within a 20-mile radius in Greater Philadelphia.

Inventory includes the Big 5 wall of fame and year-end banquet, both housed at the Palestra.
Photo: BIG 5
The available inventory covers the Big 5 name itself, Big 5 basketball games, the Philadelphia Big 5 website, preseason luncheons, the banquet and player of the year awards. The available assets extend to the Big 5 wall of fame at the Palestra, an 86-year-old building that stands with Cameron Indoor Stadium among college basketball’s iconic facilities, said Chris Lencheski, Front Row’s president.

For the first time, this year’s men’s and women’s banquets will be combined into one event, April 29, held on the floor of the 8,700-seat Palestra.

Any corporate sponsorship deals would grant use of the Big 5 marks and events only, and would not include use of the individual school marks. For those rights, Villanova works with IMG College, Penn has a deal with Nelligan Sports, and Temple uses Front Row, while St. Joe’s and LaSalle’s rights are managed in-house.

Generating revenue is driving the initiative, but in general, the schools feel they have missed out on an opportunity to capitalize on a legacy brand formed in November 1954, said Bill Bradshaw, Temple’s athletic director principally involved in the marketing effort.

“With all these conferences changing, it tends to confuse people,” Bradshaw said. “The Big 5 is the one constant. It’s like the soft pretzel, the cheesesteak, the William Penn Tower. It’s been seamless from that standpoint … but we have not done a good job maximizing what this could be.”

Each of the schools will work with Front Row to make sure none of the Big 5 sponsorships conflict with categories that already are filled by each of the schools. For the Big 5, Front Row is in talks with regional companies in the health insurance, wireless and automotive categories to sign up as official partners, said Bryan Furey, Front Row’s regional vice president.

Rex Hough, vice president of the northeast region for IMG College, said there will be cooperation among the rights holders on these deals.

“They’ll be selling inventory that’s not related to the schools, like the banquet,” Hough said. “Those deals will be cleared by the schools. It’s an arrangement that everyone is comfortable with.”

Starting next season, the Big 5 schools will be spread among four conferences rather than three as a result of more realignment in college sports. Villanova is moving into the new Big East, Temple will be in the old Big East, Penn is in the Ivy League, and St. Joe’s and LaSalle will remain in the Atlantic 10.

But they continue to play one another every year, crowning an unofficial champion and selecting All-Big 5 teams with annual banquets honoring the best men’s and women’s players.

The trophy awarded to the unofficial Big 5 champion is considered an important piece of sponsorship inventory. In that respect, it would be similar to the Mayor’s Cup, sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts, a trophy awarded to the winner of the annual Temple-Villanova football game, Lencheski said. Front Row Marketing, Temple’s rights holder, did the Dunkin’ Donuts deal.

As of last week, no deals had been signed. The value of those agreements could range from $25,000 a year to the low six figures annually depending on the inventory, Furey said.

A trip to the NCAA tournament in the past meant sacrificing updates from other games and instant replays, video elements that are commonplace inside most venues. But that wasn’t the case after the first weekend of games in the new-look NCAA tournament.

This season’s tournament is taking a more fan-friendly approach to improve the experience for those in attendance with a full array of video, including updates, game highlights and — perhaps most importantly for those there — replays.

Working with Van Wagner Big Screen Network, the NCAA is running more replays inside the

game venue, and they’ve created “March Madness Central,” a hub for highlights and score updates from other tournament games.

Those video updates are being presented under the “March Madness Central” banner on video boards that are either permanent in the venue or have been added by Van Wagner BSN. The company also is constructing a 150,000-pound center-hung video board in the Georgia Dome for the Final Four, as well as LED scorer’s tables at arenas and stadiums

Van Wagner and the NCAA have created “March Madness Central,” and Van Wagner is building an eight-sided board for the Final Four.
that don’t already have them.

“This year, ‘March Madness Central’ just adds another layer for the fans at the game,” said Paul Kalil, CEO of Van Wagner BSN. “It really ties together the tournament into one experience for the fans, no matter where they are. Fans don’t have to get scores off their phone or wait until they get home to see highlights.”

In addition to the updates, Van Wagner BSN is producing music videos for each team with integrated highlights, texting and polling questions, flashbacks, classic moments and features on prominent athletes.

“When we first started working with the NCAA about eight years ago, we were not allowed to use our own cameras and there was no replay unless it was completely clean of anything controversial,” Kalil said. “Now we select our own replays. It’s gone from this ultra-conservative way of presenting a game to now, which is much more progressive.”

During the 30 minutes between games, producers in the venue can go to “March Madness Central” for updates, live game action at other venues, sponsor presentations or community announcements. It’s going to be done without any announcers this year, but in the future “March Madness Central” could become a full-blown studio show.

The NCAA always has taken a conservative approach to using replays inside the venue because “there are some sensitivities to being there in front of the student athletes and refs,” Kalil said.

But Mark Lewis, the NCAA’s executive vice president for championships and alliances since last April, has spearheaded an effort to make the tournament games more like the experience that fans have on campus, which includes more video.

That also will give the NCAA more opportunities to integrate sponsors into the video presentation. Previously, only Powerade had any presence inside the venue, through its red-and-black courtside coolers.

At the Final Four, Van Wagner BSN will be constructing the eight-sided video board for the second time. It built a similar structure for the Final Four last year in the Superdome.