Unlike the people in Buick’s new TV commercials who are unable to identify the General Motors brand even when it is right in front of them, fans of college sports are becoming increasingly aware of the car’s status as an official NCAA sponsor.
One-fifth of the fans questioned in a sponsor loyalty survey conducted for SportsBusiness Journal/Daily by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment correctly identified Buick as an official automobile of the NCAA. That marks an increase of nearly six percentage points compared to the results of a similar study a year earlier, the biggest such increase in this year’s survey.
Buick has had success with a new TV spot where friends and valet drivers have trouble identifying the carmaker’s new line of vehicles.
“We’ve run more spots in college broadcasts this year than in the past, so we’ve had a bigger media presence,” said Chris Hornberger, national sales promotion manager for Buick and GMC. “We feel that we’ve really increased our equity in the college space.”
That equity, Hornberger said, began to grow even before this year, with spots featuring Shaquille O’Neal and Peyton Manning driving Buicks. This spring, the focus was on a self-deprecating ad. The 30-second spot, produced by Leo Burnett and narrated by actor Kevin Bacon, included a valet muttering “Buick, Buick” while repeatedly running past one, along with a woman outside a nightclub talking on a cell phone, saying “I don’t see a Buick” to her friend who is parked in one directly in front of her.
Hornberger said company research indicates that the spot is one of the brand’s most effective in a “very long time,” with consumers giving it high marks in all the key characteristics valued by a luxury brand.
Sponsorship of the NCAA tournament postgame shows on TBS and truTV (“Inside March Madness presented by Buick”) generated additional exposure, as this year’s men’s tournament included the most viewed First Four on record for truTV, and TBS netted the four best college basketball audiences ever on cable TV.
On the digital media front, a six-second March Madness-themed Vine video that paired magician Zach King with ESPN’s Dick Vitale generated 12,300 likes and more than 3,200 pass-alongs, and a YouTube-only video featuring a Buick Regal GS and a troupe of basketball dribblers has drawn more than 929,000 views.
Among the NCAA’s three corporate champions, representing the organization’s highest level of sponsor involvement:
■ Nearly 38 percent of fans identified Capital One as the official credit card of the NCAA, making it the most recognized NCAA sponsor for the second straight year. Capital One took over presenting sponsorship of Bracket Town this year from Coke Zero, and although the sponsor loyalty survey was fielded prior to the Final Four, the company incorporated this involvement in its national advertising throughout March.
■ AT&T, whose Dallas-based global headquarters is not far from Final Four host AT&T Stadium, was recognized correctly as an NCAA sponsor by one-third of NCAA fans surveyed, a slight increase from last year’s results. AT&T’s recognition rate in this year’s study was more than that of Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile combined. Among its activations, AT&T was a presenting sponsor of the NCAA March Madness Live app on Android and Windows.
■ Coca-Cola saw a year-over-year improvement of more than five percentage points in its survey results. The company this year expanded its March Madness digital activation (the Coke Zero Social Arena) into Turner’s TV broadcasts. There were Coke Zero Social Arena segments within the postgame shows each day, highlighting the forum’s trending topics and select conversations. According to a Coke spokesman, there were 5.4 million Social Arena “interactions” with the brand in March, up significantly compared to 2013.
Coca-Cola also aired seven different TV ads during the tournament.
This is the second year SportsBusiness Journal has surveyed college sports fans as part of our sponsor loyalty series. The series was established in 2007 and features similar annual studies of MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS, NASCAR and PGA Tour fans.
For this project, Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, through its Turnkey Intelligence operation, conducted national consumer research surveys among a sample of more than 400 members of the Toluna online panel who were at least 18 years old.
This year’s data was collected between March 31 and April 3, a period leading up to the men’s Final Four. Last year’s data, similarly, was collected April 1-5, just ahead of the 2013 Final Four.
Respondents were screened and analyzed based on their general avidity levels. Fans categorized as “avid” were those who responded “4” or “5” to the questions “How big a fan are you of NCAA basketball?” and “How big a fan are you of NCAA football?,” then claimed to “Look up NCAA basketball news, scores and standings several times a week or more often,” “Watch/listen/attend at least 20 NCAA basketball games per season,” and “Have a favorite NCAA basketball team.” Fans categorized as “casual” responded “3” to the same initial questions, then claimed to “Look up NCAA basketball news, scores and standings several times a month or more often,” “Watch/listen/attend at least five NCAA basketball games per season,” and “Have a favorite NCAA basketball team.”
When asked to identify official sponsors, respondents selected from a field of companies and brands that was provided to them for each business sector. Only the top-scoring companies and brands are listed in the results published here. The percentage responses listed have been rounded. The margin of error for each survey is +/- 4.9 percentage points.
Turnkey Intelligence performs research work for several college athletic departments as well as for numerous sponsors that are involved in college sports.
IMPACT ON SAMPLING AND SUPPORT
Are you more or less likely to consider trying a product/service if that product/service is an official NCAA sponsor?
|Unaffected or less likely||52.0%||56.5%||61.5%||74.5%|
Are you more or less likely to consciously support a company by purchasing its products/services if the company is an official NCAA sponsor?
|Unaffected or less likely||51.0%||54.0%||62.5%||68.5%|
Are you more or less likely to recommend a product/service to a friend or family member if that product/service is an official sponsor of the NCAA?
|Unaffected or less likely||54.5%||56.0%||68.0%||72.0%|
SPONSORSHIP SIGNIFICANCE AND ASSESSMENT
Subject: How much more likely are fans to consider purchasing/using an NCAA sponsor’s product/service if they are aware of the relationship?
To read: 28 percent of NCAA basketball fans said they would be more likely to consider purchasing consumer electronics from a company that is the NCAA’s official sponsor in that category if they knew which company had that designation. That response rate increased to 53 percent when considering only those fans who correctly knew that LG is the NCAA’s official consumer electronics sponsor.
|CATEGORY (NCAA SPONSOR)||AMONG ALL NCAA FANS||AMONG NCAA FANS WHO CORRECTLY IDENTIFIED THE SPONSOR||DIFFERENCE|
|Consumer electronics (LG)||28%||53%||+25 pct. points|
|Casual dining (Buffalo Wild Wings)||28%||48%||+20|
|Life insurance/financial advisory services (Northwestern Mutual)||11%||26%||+15|
|Shipping services (UPS)||49%||63%||+14|
|Wireless service (AT&T)||47%||61%||+14|
|Rental car (Enterprise)||28%||41%||+13|
|Soft drink (Coca-Cola)||66%||77%||+11|
|Credit card (Capital One)||36%||45%||+9|
Subject: What brands do fans think should be NCAA sponsors?
To read: 66 percent of NCAA basketball fans said they think Coca-Cola should be an NCAA sponsor compared to 40 percent who think Pepsi should have such a partnership. Those numbers became 77 percent and 29 percent, respectively, when considering only those NCAA basketball fans who correctly knew that Coca-Cola is the NCAA’s official soft drink.
|AMONG ALL NCAA FANS||AMONG NCAA FANS WHO CORRECTLY IDENTIFIED THE SPONSOR|
|NCAA SPONSOR/COMPETITOR||RESPONSE RATES||DIFFERENCE||RESPONSE RATES||DIFFERENCE|
|Coca-Cola/Pepsi||66% / 40%||+26 pct. points||77% / 29%||+48 pct. points|
|Buffalo Wild Wings/Fox & Hound||28% / 3%||+25 pct. points||48% / 2%||+46 pct. points|
|Allstate/Nationwide||39% / 22%||+17 pct. points||60% / 16%||+44 pct. points|
|Reese’s/Snickers||37% / 35%||+2 pct. points||57% / 25%||+32 pct. points|
|UPS/FedEx||49% / 44%||+5 pct. points||63% / 33%||+30 pct. points|
|Enterprise/Hertz||28% / 22%||+6 pct. points||41% / 15%||+26 pct. points|
|Buick*/Chrysler||16% / 14%||+2 pct. points||36% / 15%||+21 pct. points|
|Capital One/Chase||36% / 28%||+8 pct. points||45% / 29%||+16 pct. points|
|AT&T/Verizon||47% / 47%||0 pct. points||61% / 46%||+15 pct. points|
|Northwestern Mutual/New York Life||11% / 13%||-2 pct. points||26% / 13%||+13 pct. points|
|LG/Samsung||28% / 44%||-16 pct. points||53% / 41%||+12 pct. points|
* Both Buick and Infiniti are NCAA sponsors in the automobile category, but only Buick was featured in this element of the survey.
Notes: Fans could select both the official sponsor and the competitor if they chose to do so. The listed companies were selected by Turnkey for consideration in the survey file.
Which of the following is an official sponsor of the NCAA?
|Bank of America||6.5%||7.5%||6.0%||3.5%|
|I’m not sure||37.5%||37.5%||46.5%||52.5%|
Capital One edged out Coca-Cola as the most recognized brand in the survey for a second consecutive year. The company produced a series of commercials that aired during the men’s basketball tournament starring analysts Charles Barkley and Greg Anthony. Beyond basketball, the company title sponsors the annual Capital One Bowl game in Orlando and the Capital One Cup, given to the nation’s top-performing athletic programs.
|I’m not sure||31.0%||38.0%||47.0%||51.5%|
Coca-Cola is the NCAA’s longest-standing corporate champion (since 2002) and boasts a collegiate client list of more than 100 conferences and universities. The company this year for basketball ran two contests from February through April: The Coke Zero NCAA GR8 Fans Sweepstakes and the 2014 Coke Zero Bracket Challenge.
|I’m not sure||42.5%||44.5%||50.0%||62.0%|
The automotive category features two NCAA corporate partners: Buick and Infiniti. In March, NCAA.com and Turner Sports introduced a redesigned NCAA Sports app with Buick as the presenting sponsor. As for Infiniti, 48 NCAA basketball coaches took part this year in the fourth annual Infiniti Coaches’ Charity Challenge, a contest in which fans could vote for their favorite coach and his charity.
|I’m not sure||48.0%||51.0%||62.0%||61.5%|
LG’s March Madness activations were focused mainly on the Final Four in North Texas. The LG Coaches Cook-Off paired local finalists from four Dallas-area schools with NCAA basketball coaches in a cooking competition. The LG Fan House display at Bracket Town also highlighted LG-branded products for fans.
|I’m not sure||42.5%||50.0%||53.0%||62.5%|
In February, Reese’s introduced a line of peanut butter cups with basketball-themed designs that would be sold nationwide throughout the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Reese’s once again was title sponsor of the Reese’s College All-Star Game and Reese’s Final Four Friday during the Final Four festivities. The Hershey Co. brand also ran a tournament contest that featured eight Reese’s products in a bracket with fans voting for their favorite.
|I’m not sure||36.5%||41.5%||48.5%||54.0%|
Allstate, which partners with almost 80 NCAA universities nationwide, has been an NCAA corporate partner since 2012. The company also partners with the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association to name the Allstate NABC and WBCA Good Works Teams, recognizing college basketball players for their community service.
|Buffalo Wild Wings*||36.0%||38.5%||25.5%||25.0%|
|I’m not sure||40.5%||41.5%||53.0%||54.5%|
In its second year as an NCAA sponsor, Buffalo Wild Wings touts itself as the “official hangout” of March Madness, filling the NCAA’s casual-dining category. Fans this spring could take part in the Buffalo Wild Wings Blazin’ or Bust Challenge at www.BDubsOrBust.com. Beyond basketball, the restaurant chain is the title sponsor of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Its activation efforts come at a time when Burger King is newly associating with the NCAA as well, signing on last fall as a corporate partner in the quick-service restaurant category.
|U.S. Postal Service||5.0%||6.0%||5.5%||4.0%|
|I’m not sure||38.5%||42.0%||52.0%||51.5%|
UPS has been the official logistics partner of the NCAA since 2010. Earlier this year, the company teamed with Stats LLC for an enhancement of its UPS Team Performance Index for college basketball, a program that measures offensive and defensive efficiency for all 345 NCAA Division I men’s and 340 NCAA Division I women’s basketball teams. UPS used spokesman Greg Anthony for an effort to get fans to use the program to build their tournament programs this spring, with the offer available via ncaa.com/ups.
|I’m not sure||44.0%||45.0%||50.0%||57.0%|
The Ultimate Pick Up Moment Bracket Challenge, this year’s tournament-based contest for Enterprise Rent-A Car, showcased videos of the NCAA tournament’s all-time moments in a 16-team bracket. Fans could log onto a Facebook page for the contest to vote for their favorite March Madness moments. Participation prizes were awarded during each round, with the grand prize being a trip for two to the 2015 Final Four in Indianapolis. “The Shot” made by Duke’s Christian Laettner in the 1992 tournament was the fan-voted winner of the contest.
|LIFE INSURANCE/FINANCIAL ADVISORY SERVICES||2014||2013||2014||2013|
|I’m not sure||52.0%||59.0%||65.0%||67.5%|
On the eve of this year’s Final Four, the NCAA and Northwestern Mutual announced a renewal of their agreement that will keep the company on board with the NCAA through August 2020. The company will continue as presenting sponsor for the First Four games of the men’s basketball tournament and for ESPN broadcasts of other NCAA championships. As part of the new deal, Northwestern Mutual also will be the new presenting sponsor of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic championship game, airing on Turner Sports. The company also has received exposure through the “Northwestern Mutual presents Planning for Success” and “Team Confidential” marketing efforts, which promote the benefits of planning through a behind-the scenes look at how teams prepare for the tournament.
|I’m not sure||35.5%||39.0%||45.5%||48.5%|
Dallas-based AT&T in July signed a naming-rights deal for Cowboys Stadium, the venue that hosted this year’s Final Four. AT&T Stadium also has played host over the past year to the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic and the Cowboys Classic season-kickoff game. Throughout the men’s basketball tournament, AT&T aired a commercial for the brand’s AT&T U-verse coverage that featured Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and former NBA players David Robinson, Dikembe Mutumbo and Michael Finley. The company last fall signed on as the official wireless sponsor for the Pac-12 Conference, adding to a conference sponsorship roster that includes the ACC and SEC.
* Official NCAA sponsor