Campus-wide sponsorship – or the sophistication of centuries-old properties

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Authors: Igor Naev, MBA and Jean-Pierre Hamel, MSc

We often see marketers develop headaches over their difficulty reaching millennials, arguably the hardest-to-reach generation of our time. Surprisingly, we see a large number of them disregard the most obvious sponsorship properties that abound with millennials: universities. Traditionally, college sponsorship was the domain of college athletic programs – what we call in our industry the university’s “front door” – but, over the past years, this model has been shifting to now encompass the whole academic ecosystem. This new trend is often referred to as campus-wide sponsorship.

In essence, this model consolidates all sponsorship opportunities on campus and reaches more heterogeneous targets, which include students, student athletes, employees and alumni. Deals generally include direct-sales opportunities, marketing rights, added-value services for students and alumni, and direct support of students. The latter can include bursaries, internships, educational programming and sponsorship of student activities.

Traditional academic sponsorship models involve several departments operating in functional silos and maintaining a fleet of various partners, sponsors, donors, suppliers, etc.  Facing systemic budget cuts, and in some cases a reduction in student enrolment, some forward-thinking universities have started to shift to a more centralised structure by launching a sponsorship office or a sponsorship executive committee.

The obvious motivation is to generate new revenue, the premise being that the university property as a whole is more valuable than the sum of its parts. Another main reason is to create value-added benefits that can enhance students’ academic experiences and work to the betterment of the campus journey. Less obvious reasons involve improving communication and relationships that will, in theory, help establish longevity.

For example, each university typically has relationships with several insurance companies, either for philanthropy, marketing or B2B purposes. Each of these partners has several points of contact with a separate set of deliverables; if one department fails or under delivers, it unintentionally impacts the relationship of another department (and in rarer cases the brand equity of the school).

From the perspective of the sponsor, campus-wide sponsorship (whether partly or fully implemented) is typically perceived as a breath of fresh air. In the old model, a sponsor knocks on several doors in order to service all of its needs. All the departments it interacts with are not equally expert in sponsorship (think measuring ROI, co-activating, etc.) nor do they have the proper resources to nurture a partnership. Therefore, a single point of contact, by way of a campus sponsorship office, is not only able to help the brand satisfy a wider breadth of needs by reaching more targets, but is also generally well versed in the nuances of sponsorship. This makes the partnership more efficient and effective for both sides.

In the US, Ohio State University was one of the first universities to adopt campus-wide sponsorship with probing results. One of its first deals was Huntington Bank, which included a $125 million entry fee ($25 million in bursaries and educational programming, and $100 million in community lending and investments). The inventory includes sales and marketing rights: for example, the bank can market products, excluding credit cards, to university faculty, staff and alumni; open a maximum of four branches on the school’s main campus; and install a maximum of 26 ATMs as part of a 10-year agreement. More recently, Ohio State University and Nike announced a 15-year contract extension that shifted from benefiting student athletes only to now including the broader student body. This $252 million deal ($116 million cash and $112 million product) also includes $15 million for university community events (student union initiatives, on-campus events, etc.) and 90 internships valued at over $1 million over the life of the contract (two per year for student athletes and four per year for students).

In the Canadian market, we see a similar interest to explore the subject, albeit a less dynamic effort. At the Université de Québec à Montréal’s (UQAM) athletics department (the authors’ university), the aim is to adopt a campus-wide sponsorship approach.

Consequently, we have been progressively rolling out both partial and complete campus-wide initiatives over the past years. This includes the retail brands Sports Experts and Lolë deals that include a variety of sales and marketing rights to students, alumni and student athletes. Another example of UQAM’s campus-wide partnerships, is a 1$ million cash deal with Newad Media. Under the lease agreement, most of the amount goes to fund graduate and postgraduate scholarships for students and student athletes. The agreement also includes advertising credits applicable to institutional promotion campaigns, and four annual internships for the school. In exchange, Newad gets exclusive advertising rights on the main campus, the science campus and the sports center, with 40 new digital screens installed, as part of a multi-year agreement

When we see marketers develop headaches over their difficulty reaching millennials, we suggest they skip the painkillers and explore centuries-old properties that are in the midst of upgrading their methods and rolling out what could become the new norm: campus-wide sponsorship.

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