3 Reasons Brands Are Battling To Sponsor College Sports Teams

If you follow college sports, you may or may not notice the logos of athletic brands adorning the uniforms of your favorite teams.

Whether those logos grab your attention or not, they’ve certainly come at a price. Unlike the cash you and I shell out for our footwear-and-apparel purchases, in the case of college athletics, the companies are the ones doing the spending.

And suffice it to say, we’re not talking nickels and dimes.

While many companies and the colleges on the receiving end of their sponsorship often withhold the terms of their deals, the amount of money driving a few high-profile partnerships has been tallied.

Just last week, Nike Inc. reportedly set a record when it extended its partnership with Ohio State University for 15 years, in a contract valued at $252 million.

The Wall Street Journal estimated that Nike will contribute $112 million in product and at least $103 million in cash, including royalty income, to the university.

That deal surpassed, by nearly $100 million, Nike’s $169 million contract with the University of Michigan in July 2015. Before that, Under Armour Inc. reportedly made a $90 million-plus bid to take Notre Dame from 17-year sponsor Adidas in 2014.

That’s a lot of money (in cash and product) to outfit a college team.

Which begs the question, why are leading brands so willing to invest millions in college sports?

Here are three reasons why.

Merchandising Opportunity

“Sponsoring college teams is as much a marketing play as [it is] a merchandizing one,” said Matt Powell, a sports-industry analyst with The NPD Group. “Brands want to get their logos seen in social media.”

Social media, of course, isn’t the only merchandising and marketing opportunity. College sports games — football and basketball in particular — often appear on major networks, such as ESPN and Fox Sports. This means brands have access to the millions of eyeballs tuned in to college games.

At the same time, fans who attend those games not only find themselves staring at those logos for the length of the sporting event — they also have the option to purchase their own piece of branded apparel in the university’s gift shop before, during or after the game.

“Large schools sell a lot of product, so this clearly is a sales opportunity,” Powell said.

Partnering With A Winning Team

There is a reason brands like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour aren’t lining up to sponsor that little-known lacrosse team, at a small, private college,  that’s 0-13 for the season .

“Brands want to associate with winning programs, which gives them authenticity,” Powell said.

Hence the reason larger, more popular schools with the highest ranking teams are landing the biggest sponsorships.

Securing The Long-Term Buy-In Of Athletes

A number of college athletes go on to have successful professional careers in the NBA, NFL, MLB and other organizations. Brands recognize this fact and are battling to build long-term, personal and financially-rewarding relationships with these athletes that will extend beyond their time on the college playing field.

If a brand can outfit an athlete throughout his or her college career, the logic is that the odds of nabbing that athlete as an endorser later on becomes more likely.

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