NCAA Means Big Money

The NCAA is dominated by college football. Division I NCAA football brings in more money than any other NCAA sponsored sport and it is not particularly close. Between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, the SEC conference alone generated almost $967 million in revenue and the 2017-18 college athletics season saw $1.24 billion spent on sponsorship with football leading the way. These numbers speak to the sheer power that college football and sponsorship have in the NCAA landscape. Brands are spending big time money on college football in order to reach the fan and drive engagement with their brand. Some of the largest brand names in the world are partnered with the NCAA and the College Football Playoff (CFP) and these brands are leveraging the college football platform to generate big returns on their investments.

Some Of College Football’s Biggest Brand Partners 

Source: CollegeFootballPlayoff.com

How Brand’s Are Activating their Sponsorships

Brands have always been prominent in college football and with so much money being pumped into collegiate football sponsorship, their strategies need to have solid ROI. Being that it is illegal to partner with specific players, due to their amateur status, brands need to find other ways to leverage the college football platform to their advantage. With the rise of digital media, brands have learned to adapt and develop new activation strategies but have still managed to employ traditional methods as well. Social media is making its way to the forefront of modern promotional strategies but there are numerous activation tactics being utilized in the college football world. We will detail some of their strategies below.

Social Media – Apparel Providers 

With the rise of social media, teams have invested more in their social media presence, giving fans more content of all types, from the field to the weight room and beyond. Being social media savvy is very appealing to potential brands, especially jersey providers. At the conclusion of the 2017-18 season, Nike was the jersey provider and sponsor of 52.8% of FBS teams, with Adidas in second with 30.2%. Nike is getting a ton of exposure simply from on field display of their logo, however, teams can drastically increase the value of Nike’s sponsorship by creating high quality engaging social content about the brand. Teams will be more appealing to apparel brands if they post about team jerseys and equipment featuring brand logos. The top 4 college football teams from Power 5 conferences ranked by Hookit’s Promotional Effectiveness Score are Washington State, Ohio State, Alabama, and Washington. These teams do an exceptional job as promoters. Teams with a greater social following, high quality promotional posts, and engaging content will be more valuable than other teams. 

Images from team Instagram pages

Social Media – Brand Awareness 

We are also starting to see social media sponsorship shift to a more prominent role than other outlets, social media sponsorships are starting to become staples in negotiations in partnership deals between brands and teams. Fox Sports says that they are seeing mid six figures in revenue from their social sponsorship with the University of Southern California. Teams are utilizing a multitude of platforms to do their promoting like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and even Snapchat. Teams are creating specific posts for individual brands which is great but teams are also incorporating brand logos in athletic posts as well, such as score updates, game highlights, player statistics, and event promotions. These posts are a great way for teams to improve brand recognition. As always, teams with more followers will be very valuable due to their larger reach, however, it is not everything, teams are able to provide even more value if they can record a solid engagement rate while also maintaining proper frequency in posting and avoid crowding out brand logos. Being that some of these major programs have hundreds of thousands of followers, they could be very beneficial for brands looking to ink a sponsorship deal and open themselves up to the college football landscape. Hookit is able to tell brands and teams exactly how valuable their social media game is with quantifiable trackable and easy to read metrics.

Images from team Instagram pages

Massive TV Deals

Every year, TV deals are getting bigger with universities, conferences, and media outlets all benefitting. These TV deals are highly lucrative to the tune of billions of dollars coming out of brand marketing and media budgets. Major media deals entail more programming around some of college football’s biggest events and teams which opens up a larger platform for brands to increase brand recognition. Brands are utilizing live programming on networks like ESPN and CBS to activate and maximize their sponsorship deals. Sports Business Journal explains that in 2016, 41% of fans knew that Coca-Cola was the official sponsor of the NCAA. Whether or not that is a success for Coca-Cola is up to their interpretation, but they were the most recognized partner that year. Brands are taking advantage of the platform that college football gives them and turning it into increased brand recognition. 

Live Streaming

In this day and age, you don’t need cable to watch college football. The rise of streaming has brought new opportunities for brands. Fans can now access live games on multiple devices at home or on the go, meaning there are more eyes on screens, and, in turn, more eyes on and engagement with brand partners. With streaming, there is a whole new channel for advertisement. Many streaming services require viewers to watch an ad before being able to view their live stream, creating a whole new opportunity for brands to get in front of their target audience.

Naming Rights

Another huge aspect of college football sponsorship is naming rights, not just on stadiums, but on major events. College football is known for its bowl games and the big ones, especially, get the most viewership and attention. These major events are sponsored by some of the biggest brands in the world. The major 6 bowl games are sponsored by PlayStation (Fiesta Bowl), Chick-Fil-A (Peach Bowl), Good Year (Cotton Bowl), Capital One (Orange Bowl), Northwestern Mutual (Rose Bowl), and AllState (Sugar Bowl). These bowl games dominate television and viewership around the turn of the new year. By placing a recognizable sponsor name to each bowl game, fans begin to associate each major event with the sponsor. Many of these brands have been official sponsors for years and have become synonymous with their respective bowl games, AllState has sponsored the Sugar Bowl since 2007. This drastically increases brand exposure and recognition. In addition, these bowl games post about the sponsors on social media, engaging the fans in ways the brands never were able to before. 

Bowl logos from Wikipedia commons.

Wrap Up

College football has become a booming business that generates billions of dollars. It dominates the NCAA and sponsorship is at the heart of it all. Everywhere you look in college football, sponsorship pops up, from TV deals to naming rights and everywhere in between, major brands are capitalizing on the popularity of the sport and turning it into increased ROI. By examining some of the activation strategies utilized by major brands, we are able to see just how important sponsorship is in college football. College football is also interesting to look at because individual players cannot legally be used to promote brands, this leaves it up to other entities to do the promoting. Teams, brands, conferences, media outlets, and events are all ways brands can leverage their sponsorship to reach the engaged fan base.


Written by Garrett Mosher

Garrett is entering his 4th year at San Diego State University. He is pursuing a degree in economics with a minor in information systems and has acquired skills in business, data analytics, and marketing. As a product marketing intern with Hookit, he has learned how to analyze the effectiveness of sports sponsorships with an emphasis on how brands drive value from their ambassadors.


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