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Volume 21 No. 1


The NCAA’s sliced-and-diced restaurant categories are paying off, this time with a Whopper of a new corporate partner.

Burger King, the world’s second-largest hamburger chain, has agreed to a multiyear deal that will make it an NCAA corporate partner in the quick-service restaurant category, industry sources said.

In January, the NCAA brought on Buffalo Wild Wings as a new partner in the casual dining category. Turner Sports and CBS, the joint rights holders who sell sponsorships for the NCAA as part of their 14-year, $11 billion agreement, also are shopping for a pizza deal.

Those restaurant categories formerly were tied up in Coca-Cola’s corporate champion deal, and in the past Coke issued NCAA pass-through rights to food-service companies such as McDonald’s, Papa John’s and Domino’s.

But when Coca-Cola renegotiated its contract with Turner and CBS last year, those restaurant categories were returned in exchange for reduced rights fees, sources said. That put a handful of new restaurant categories on the market for Turner and CBS to sell.

Miami-based Burger King will come in at the partner level, where rights fees typically go for mid-seven figures a year and the ad buys on Turner and CBS can go as high as $20 million annually.

The new relationship represents one of Burger King’s largest sports commitments in a space that McDonald’s used to dominate, via rights from Coca-Cola.

McDonald’s still has official deals with the NFL and NHL, while Taco Bell has the NBA and Major League Baseball.

Details of Burger King’s NCAA activation were not available. Sources said that Burger King’s media-buying agency, Starcom, brokered the deal.

The addition of Burger King increases the NCAA’s sponsor list to 16, which includes three corporate champions at the highest level, where rights fees and advertising can run as high as $35 million to $50 million a year. There are 13 brands at the partner level (see chart).

Based on the most recent analysis available from 2011, Burger King ranked 45th in sports ad spending. The burger chain spent $273 million in total ad spending, according to Nielsen, with $59 million spent on sports.

The NCAA play fits Burger King’s move away from strictly “dude food” — burgers and fries — as it attempts to market a broader menu of lower-calorie fries (Satisfries), salads and smoothies, according to one food-service analyst.

“Burger King has gone through a couple of years of menu rework,” said Kathy Hayden of market research firm Mintel. “They’re doing more to try to reach families and broaden their audience.

“In some ways, you see them trying to be everything to everybody and that’s hard to do, but that’s kind of how the whole category is. It’s a little scattered.”