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Volume 20 No. 41
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Pilot Flying J dives deeper into college football with SEC, ESPN

Following last year's Battle at Bristol, Pilot Flying J has returned to college football.
Pilot Flying J, the chain of travel centers, had so much fun with the Battle at Bristol that the company is coming back to ESPN and the SEC this season with another big marketing investment in college football.

The Knoxville, Tenn.-based company bought its first major sports sponsorship last year when Pilot Flying J acquired title rights to the Battle at Bristol, a game between Tennessee and Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway. The event drew 156,990 fans in the giant bowl, dubbed “The Last Great Colosseum,” setting a record for the largest attendance at a college football game.

“That’s where it all started,” said Whitney Haslam Johnson, Pilot Flying J’s chief experience officer. “We had great success with that and thought an SEC sponsorship would be a great next step.”

Pilot Flying J has 750 travel centers nationally, and 275 of them are in the SEC’s footprint across 11 states, providing the company with further incentive to construct a media and sponsorship package with the SEC, SEC Network and ESPN. Terms were not released by Pilot, which is one of the nation’s largest private companies.

Working with Charlotte-based agency Bespoke Sports & Entertainment, Pilot Flying J negotiated a deal to become the official travel center of the SEC. Ad buys on SEC Network, the ESPN-owned conference channel, and ESPN’s college football are built into the agreement.

Pilot Flying J worked with Bespoke last year on planning for the Bristol game.

The brand will be the presenting sponsor of “SEC Nation,” the SEC Network’s Saturday morning game-day show, on three occasions throughout the 2017 season.

With the SEC deal, Pilot Flying J will activate in the SEC FanFare at both the football championship game in Atlanta and the men’s basketball tournament in Nashville.

This year’s campaign is expected to be an extension of the 2016 brand repositioning, which focused on enhanced Wi-Fi, cleaner restrooms and a new mobile app. ESPN last year incorporated Pilot Flying J into a brand campaign that featured college mascots stopping at a travel center on the road to the College Football Playoff. Talks about a similar road-to-the-CFP spot have begun, although nothing is firm yet.

Former Tennessee football player and current Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is CEO of Pilot, the largest operator of truck stops in North America.