AdExchanger: First off, what is Learfield’s role in college sports marketing?
JENNIFER DAVIS: On the one hand, we work with hundreds of schools of varying sizes across the country, and we also work with national brands – like Unilever, Snickers, and Kellogg’s – and local brands – as an agent of local insurance or car dealers – to connect them to fans at our partner universities.
We work in direct partnership with schools to create their official sports websites and we can place media on these outlets or on social networks. In stadiums and hotels, we do experiential marketing.
We provide programmatic offers using proprietary fan data. We are an editor in that sense. We’re also a media company that delivers creative and original content to affiliate radios, streaming services, video, and media. We basically do everything outside of linear broadcasts.
And we can bring these branded messages directly to a fan using the Academic Notes and Intellectual Property as part of the license agreement.
What exactly do you mean by “first party data?” “
This is the data we see from our direct involvement in the management of the school’s sports site and social accounts. A big chunk is the ticketing transactions. [Editor’s note: Learfield has its own ticketing subsidiary for school athletics and performing arts called Paciolan.]
Is the programmatic offering you mentioned relatively new?
It has been around for a year but, unsurprisingly, it has grown very strong over the past couple of years.
We find that the brand sponsors we work with are doing more and generally having success, so they use our programmatic extension.
We are not a DSP, but there are ways for us to access these exchanges using our data or for a brand to do so with their platform.
What makes our service unique, I think, is the ability to do a holistic, integrated marketing effort for a sponsor so that they don’t just get their message across on match day, but every day.
What’s the deal now that NCAA athletes can sign marketing and sponsorship deals?
There are several types of intellectual property licenses in the field of sports.
One is around the commodity. A branch of our company called CLC deals specifically focuses on college licensing. sold on a jersey or have their name, image or likeness used in a video game or on a collectible card.
A great opportunity is the use of intellectual property and promotions in local and national advertising and in channels where people watch or listen to games.
The grandes écoles and universities have already concluded licensing agreements for their intellectual property. It’s a chance to bring student-athletes into these sponsorship opportunities, which is a powerful combination and a precedent in professional sports where these brands often operate as well.
What do you mean by “a precedent in professional sport?” “
Professional athletes have long had the right to use their name, image and likeness and to endorse brands. This means that there are established practices that allow a sponsor to engage with both a professional athlete and the team they play for and the league.
If you want Russell Wilson to sponsor a campaign, you’d rather have him wear a Seahawks jersey than a white t-shirt. This requires a conversation with the team, as this is their IP.
It’s similar to what we’re doing here. But previously, schools didn’t have a way for student athletes and brands to use these brands and logos in campaigns.
Are there any particular brands or schools here?
On the brand side, the adoption so far has been that of existing sponsors. They know the value and get more from their existing investments.
As for schools, even at the time of the June announcement, we already had Florida State, University of Florida, University of Kansas, Louisville, St. John’s University, Syracuse, Utah and Wisconsin. They all wanted from the get-go to connect sponsors and athletes, and more to sign up every week.
These schools want to protect their intellectual property and are careful about it, but they also want their student-athletes to be successful on and off the field.
It comes down to recruitment and image. If Wisconsin student-athletes can earn money through sponsorships and be recognized for themselves, this is a big factor for a high school athlete choosing between universities.
We find that schools really encourage student-athletes to be as successful as possible.
What are sponsors looking for in terms of ROI or attribution?
They vary widely. More and more, some are looking for impressions and conversions. We’re also seeing a great deal of importance placed on engagement in their campaigns, like if there’s a call to action in an ad, for example, or if people are entering a raffle. There are measurable things that brands incorporate for this purpose.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have customers who are motivated by their belonging to the community. Supporting the preferred school of a target audience creates welcome or loyalty opportunities, which are less directly measurable.
We conduct needs assessments with brands to understand their motivations and what success would look like to them. Some might prioritize awareness while others might want to encourage product sampling.
Each business follows its own path.
This interview has been edited and condensed.