College sports are big, and are also big business. But big
in this case may be an understatement.
More than 173 million people consider themselves to be fans
of college sports, the largest accumulative number among any sport in the U.S.
Among that figure are nearly 80 million female fans, also the largest among any
sport in America.
And here are other key figures that drive marketers into
activation mode: More than 29 million fans of college sports earn $100,000 or
more annually, college sports fans are 35% more likely than the general
population to own a small business and in 2011, consumers spent more than $4.6
billion on college-related merchandise.
Those numbers are courtesy of IMG College, a division of IMG
Worldwide. IMG College represents more than 200 college properties across the
country, including the NCAA and its 89 championships. IMG College was
formed as a result of the acquisitions of Host Communications and The
Collegiate Licensing Co. in 2007, and then expanded when ISP Sports was
acquired in 2010.
Although IMG College works with college athletics across the
board, the big drivers are football and basketball-and for good reason. Through
the first five weeks of the 2012 season, college football was No. 1 four times
among all shows in Saturday night primetime ratings. And according to Kantar
Media, companies spend more than $738 million on advertising during March
Madness, second only to NFL postseason and the Super Bowl ($900
million-plus) and nearly double the ad spend during the MLB and NBA postseasons.
Among Winston Salem, N.C.-based IMG College's major
partnership opportunities are multimedia rights, licensing, events and
hospitality, marketing, stadium and arena development, stadium seating
solutions, ticketing, sales and consulting. IMG College produces nearly 30,000
hours of radio programming via 800 radio affiliates (airing primarily football
and men's basketball games and weekly call-in coaches' shows) and oversees
nearly 5,000 hours of local programming on more than 100 television stations.
IMG College is also a leading publisher of college sports publications
(including NCAA Final Four, university yearbooks and game-day programs) and the
largest manager of university athletic websites.
In addition, the organization has a stake in the Longhorn
Network along with ESPN and the University of Texas at Austin.
George Pyne has been president of IMG College sports and
entertainment since February 2006. Prior to that he spent 11 years with NASCAR,
most recently as COO.
With the 2012 college football Bowl Championship Series nearing
its conclusion and the 2012-13 college hoops season beginning, Pyne talked to
NYSportsJournalism.com about the strong loyalty for college sports among fans
and consumers and its growth in marketing, sponsorship, hospitality, stadium
and campus activations and media.
Would you compare anything in college sports to the
The Super Bowl is the Super Bowl. It is in its own category. But March Madness
and the Final Four is a major time for colleges, fans and marketers. The BCS is
major for fans and activation. If you look at the numbers on TV and the
amazing, passionate interest among fans, we consider these events to be the
Super Bowls of college sports. And, like the Super Bowl, they reach a lot of
people who are either casual fans of sports or not fans of college sports at
all. Marketers love to see that type of growth.
Has the growing number of universities changing
conference affiliation impacted your strategy?
We work with major programs nationwide, so we are not as concerned with which
conference or division they play in as fans or alumni or the media might be.
The strength for us is in the university itself. If a university feels that it
can strengthen its position by changing conferences, we work with them and use
that to the advantage of the companies with which we work.
There have been some major recent TV deals involving
college sports, including the formation of the Longhorn Network, in which IMG
College has a stake along with the University of Texas and ESPN. Do you see
more universities following that lead?
Texas is a unique school, and I think the Longhorn Network has a great deal of
value. But it's unique. It's one-of-a-kind.
Do you ever see a time when college athletes will get
paid for being in ad campaigns and activations among those companies aligned
with college sports?
That's a fair question. And I can speak as a former college athlete [captain of
the Brown University football team]. We are a service provider, so we don't
make policies for the industry. We work for the industry. That's an issue on
which we don't take a position. I will say that college sports affords students
and athletes the opportunity to go to school. Many college athletes don't end
up playing professional sports, so they are getting the opportunity to get an
education and plan for their future.
What insights and strategies are you using at IMG
College that you developed with NASCAR?
First, I will say there are a lot of similarities between NASCAR and the
marketing activations we are working on with colleges and college sports
programs at IMG College. Both have a huge, loyal fan base. And both have a lot
of potential, which marketers can use to reach consumers. Interestingly, we
have a group of key people now at IMG College who also came from NASCAR, among
them Roger VanDerSnick [senior VP, chief sales and marketing officer], Mark
Dyer [senior VP, chief innovation officer] and Andrew Giangola [VP, strategic
That said, there are big differences: NASCAR has more than
30 companies that are integrated into the property. When I came here, there
were maybe five or six. NASCAR has 75 million fans. College sports has more
than 173 million fans, and almost 80 million of them are women. Also, our
overall demographics are different from NASCAR demographics. There is strong
loyalty among NASCAR fans, but when you look at colleges, the passion is based
not only on what teams you like, but also where you attended school. That
passion is who you are and what you are.
What do you see as your key strategic goals?
When I started here, [IMG CEO Ted Forstmann] wanted me to look for growth
segments. There are not many universities that generate a profit from their
sports programs, less than 20 in the nation. So business and marketing, in
particular with the football and basketball programs, is essential to generate
a revenue stream that supports not only the athletic department but can also be
used by universities in other areas. Key among our goals is to generate
business and to help the universities with which we work turn a profit. When
you look at the demographics, it is easy to see why we are so bullish on
reaching these fans and why we see there is so much upside.
What are the advantages for companies that work with
IMG College to reach students, alumni and other fans?
Instead of trying to make deals with individual schools, we have the ability to
align companies with more than 200 of the top universities across the country.
We create integrated platforms that we then bring to companies such as
UPS, Lowe's, Hyundai and others. With one buy we can give them 49 of the top
50 markets. And we also reach the largest 18-24-year-old fan base in sports.
That's quite a platform.
How important is it to these companies to reach
students, fans and consumers on a local basis as well as a national platform?
That is one of our strongest aspects. We can sign companies to a deal under
which they can work with all of the top universities nationwide, in their
region or locally. That is a major advantage for companies who want to market
to a strong college fan base without having to make separate deals along the
way. We give companies such as Aaron's, Lowe's, Hyundai, Hershey's and UPS
the ability to reach more than 172 million fans. We then work with them to
develop the best strategies in each area. And it goes well beyond marketing, of
which a strong part is the 800 radio affiliates and more than 100 television
networks with which we work. We also deal [with] such categories as licensing,
hospitality, on-campus events, ticketing and seating. And we can do this on a
local, regional and national basis in 49 of the top 50 markets.
What are some good examples of the programs activated
by IMG College?
We believe that all of our partnerships are strong and that they each bring
something unique into the alliances. Social media is changing the way companies
do business and is certainly driving the way that students interact with each
other. In August, we signed a deal with Lowe's that we believed was the first
time a company became the presenting sponsor of mobile applications from
universities nationwide and social media platforms including Facebook and
Twitter. They also became the official home improvement retailer of schools
across the nation and can activate to reach college students and fans
nationwide in other areas at these schools. Among other major recent deals, [in
August 2011] UPS signed the biggest non-network TV deal ever, which included 68
schools at which they also have exclusive category rights in shipping, freight
and logistics. And Hershey's built on its corporate partnership with the NCAA
with a deal for its Reese's brand to activate in local markets.
One of the major companies with which you work is
MillerCoors. How do you create platforms for them considering that you can't
just go out and tell college students and athletes to drink beer?
They have a very strong 'drink responsibly' platform. But our goal in working
with companies is to reach not only college students but the millions of fans
of college sports. Consumers spent more than $4.6 billion on college-related
merchandise last year and more than 29 million fans of college sports earn
$100,000 or more annually. So the size of the audience goes well beyond college
students. With MillerCoors, we work with them in off-campus destinations where
people of legal drinking age are, and also target alumni via hospitality events
and other platforms. So, for them, being aligned with college sports really
allows them to reach a huge consumer base by combining a 'drink responsibly'
message with product marketing.
Given the growth of college sports on ESPN, how
important is primetime network TV to the future of college sports?
If you go back five or six years ago, college sports on Saturday night
typically were on ESPN. And they still are on ESPN. But now they are also on
ABC, Fox, NBC, CBS. So it's not uncommon to find two networks with a game each
Saturday night during primetime. So there can be three broadcasts with Saturday
night primetime games and games on ESPN. I once tried to aggregate the ratings
of all the games on a Saturday night, and we do a lot of research. It's
Where is the college sports network growth coming
Mostly conferences. The Big Ten has a network. The Pac-12 has a network. I
believe that the SEC will soon have a network. And that will only increase the
value of the universities in those conferences because the exposure of college
sports today has never been higher. And it's increasing.
Why is that?
There are 600 college football games broadcast every weekend. College football
was the No. 1 rated primetime program among all shows in four of the first five
weekends this season. And the strength of that statistic is that just four of
the 600 games were on national TV during each of those weekends. Who knows how
many millions of people are watching? The number is incredible when you think
about how many people are actually tuning in. There are more than 33 million
people watching on a Saturday primetime. And that's really a small slice of
consumption on Saturday night. You can't even accumulate a total figure. It's
impossible. If there were only three college football games played on a
Saturday, you could measure it. But there are hundreds. The size of this
audience is massive, and that's what we bring to marketers, and why marketers
want to activate.