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Volume 21 No. 1


Days before Fox Sports produced the first game in its 12-year, $600 million relationship last week with the Big East Conference, the two signed an integrated sales partnership.

The two-year deal will have Fox Sports sell and market all corporate sponsorships around the Big East, including a presenting sponsorship for the entire conference. Fox will make these sales pitches in addition to selling ad time around game inventory on Fox Sports 1.

Other conferences and networks have similar deals, such as the SEC and ESPN.

Fox Sports’ Larry Jones: “This is a great opportunity to break the traditional mold.”
“This is a great opportunity to break the traditional mold of having conferences sell sponsorships and television sell the media,” said Larry Jones, Fox Sports’ executive vice president.

Fox’s ad sales team, led by Neil Mulcahy, executive vice president of advertising sales, will sell everything from presenting sponsorships for the entire conference to advertising time for the media company’s Big East telecasts.

Fox is reporting a robust ad sales market for its slate of Big East men’s basketball games. The regular season is virtually sold out, and the Big East Tournament already is 70 percent sold. Plus, Fox says it is close to closing “several” presenting sponsorships.

Fox’s ability to “hit the ground running” was a main reason why the Big East did this deal, said Val Ackerman, who was named the conference’s commissioner just four months ago. With the Fox deal, Ackerman said the Big East does not need a corporate sales team, and it’s not holding back any inventory for the conference to sell.

“We’re new and are still staffing up and building infrastructure,” she said. “This is not just a basketball deal. They share our determination to promote and maximize the commercial opportunities with all of our sports.”

Creighton is one of three new Big East members this season.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
Almost immediately after taking the job in July, Ackerman said she was contacted by several agencies looking to handle the conference’s corporate sponsorship sales. But knowing the relationship in place with Fox Sports on the media side, she and Jones orchestrated the deal over the past four months. Big East CMO Ann Wells Crandall and Mulcahy will coordinate the relationship.

Fox’s sales staff will pitch everything from ad buys on TV and official conference sponsorships to Big East Tournament sponsors and use of marks in the same conversations with potential sponsors.

If successful, Fox Sports executives believe this could produce the template for future deals with other conferences.

“My sales group is very optimistic about this,” Jones said. “They feel, based on conversations that they’ve had in the marketplace, that this is going to be very well-received. And if it is well-received, it does set a precedent to potentially do it in other situations.”

About two years ago, Fox set up a partnership to manage the University of Southern California’s multimedia rights through USC Sports Properties. Unlike Fox’s Big East deal, the USC partnership does not sell television inventory, as that is handled by the conference’s partner networks. But Jones cited the success of USC Sports Properties in selling sponsorships as something that gave Fox confidence in cutting the Big East deal.

“It gave us a little bit of experience in terms of selling sponsorships,” he said. “In this situation, there potentially will be deals where we’ll sell sponsorships without media. But clearly, the more integrated sponsor packages is what the conference is looking at as the primary source of revenue.”

A San Francisco-based mobile marketing company with several pro clients is moving into the college space.
Phizzle, which runs text message and in-venue video board programs for a handful of NBA and NHL teams, has arranged with Learfield Sports to work with its 50 schools on a variety of fan engagement campaigns. Learfield owns the multimedia rights to schools such as Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Penn State and Stanford.

Through the agreement, Phizzle will become a Preferred Solutions Provider, a program Learfield started in April as a way to recommend certain companies and their products to the schools. It is intended to cut through the clutter for schools that might be seeking a technology partner but don’t have the expertise to select one.

“A PSP deal provides discounted pricing for our school partners,” said Joe Ferreira, Learfield’s chief content officer. “Essentially, we’re vetting companies for our school partners and bringing the best of the best to them.”

Phizzle’s agreement with Learfield is not exclusive. Learfield schools can continue with other technology partners if they already have a relationship.

But in many cases, Phizzle will be bringing unique products that will help Learfield’s schools engage with its fans.

Phizzle’s mobile marketing includes text-to-win, polling and trivia campaigns, all of which can be promoted and tracked on a school’s in-venue video board during football and basketball games or through the official website.

These types of campaigns can cost anywhere in the five figures up to six figures, depending on its complexity.

Learfield makes Phizzle a PSP member at no cost. Then Phizzle makes its services available to Learfield schools at a discount.

Part of Phizzle’s attraction, Ferreira said, was the firm’s ability to create individual fan profiles from their activity on social networks, mobile and online programs. From that data, schools can create loyalty programs to reward fans for their activity on social media or other mediums.

“Over the last couple of years, as a way to enhance our value, we have figured out how to expand our data capture and management,” Phizzle CEO Ben Davis said. “As fans are engaging with their team, the school can take all of that information and better understand their fans.”

Learfield, which recently sold a majority stake to Providence Equity Partners, is moving forward like business as usual, Ferreira said.

Learfield’s first two PSP partners were Think Social, a firm that runs Facebook promotions, and LiveU, which provides a platform for live streaming of games and ancillary events. The three PSP partners provide Learfield’s schools with the ability to reach their fans through a variety of ways, and each of them has an advertising or sponsorship component.

This also comes at a time when Learfield has brought on a national sales executive who will focus strictly on digital platforms. Branden Miller, formerly the general manager of Learfield’s Missouri Valley Conference property, will focus on digital out of Learfield’s Chicago office with Roy Seinfeld, Learfield’s executive vice president of national sales.

“The next big business we’re looking into is the entire digital platform,” including official athletic websites, Ferreira said, as well as stadium connectivity with its client schools.