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BYU's Winning Playbook: Maximizing Revenue Through Sponcon

Plus, why college athletics haven't maximized digital partnerships

👋 Hey, it’s Alex. Welcome back to Sponcon Sports, my weekly newsletter dedicated to sponsored content strategy in the sports industry!

The Brooklyn Nets had me dying to be in Paris this week. This afternoon they’ll face off against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2024 NBA Paris Game.

The Nets put together an all-star lineup of events in the City of Light that transported a slice of Brooklyn across the Atlantic.

On tap for the week: a Brooklyn Nets Pizzeria Pop-Up with exclusive merch drops, an Orchestral Tribute to The Notorious BIG, and a City Edition Designed by KAWS Uniform Immersive Experience.

What you have to check out is BrooklynNetsInParis.com. The visuals, flow, and interactivity of the landing page put it in the early running for the best web experience of the year!

In Today’s Edition:

  • The Success Behind BYU's Sponcon Approach 💰️ 

  • A Big Peng-Win For Dick’s Sporting Goods 🏒 

  • Our First Instagram In-Comment Poll In Sponcon 🗳️

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BYU’s Winning Playbook: Maximizing Revenue Through Sponcon

All eyes were on the college football world Monday night as the Michigan Wolverines faced off with the Washington Huskies for the National Championship.

To my surprise, I found just one sponsored post between the two teams on the sport’s biggest night. Even looking at the lead-up to the title game and the celebration thereafter, I found only two more pieces of sponcon.

This wasn’t the case just for this event, there is a lack of revenue being generated from digital assets in college athletics.

It’s shocking when you think about how there are so many teams with larger audiences than teams at the professional level and college athletics sport some of the best creative teams in the industry.

Every sport and team brings its own set of challenges whether it’s due to access, league constraints, licensing rights, and more.

I reached out to Tyson Hutchins, the Associate Athletic Director of Creative Strategy at BYU to learn more about why digital partnerships are such an untapped resource in college athletics.

We also discussed the success behind BYU’s sponsored content approach - a program that in my opinion is doing some of the best sponsored content work in the industry [and at scale!].

Note: Questions and answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

ALEX: Did the lack of sponsored content during Monday’s National Championship Game surprise you?

TYSON: It does, but it doesn't.

It surprises me because I know what opportunity there is, but also, I know how football-specific accounts are run. They usually fall under football personnel, they report to a Director of Operations or a Chief of Staff. They're far removed from the marketing group, IMG Learfield, Playfly, or whoever their partner is.

I am surprised that we continue to miss the opportunity seemingly. College athletics is different and how creative teams are structured, and how revenue is viewed.

ALEX: Was sponsored content part of the content team’s strategy since you returned to BYU in 2022?

TYSON: We're probably pushing seven, eight years now. Our sponsorship team is in-house and I think that fosters a lot of collaboration. Before, BYU was in the Big 12. We were an independent football program, and so, generating revenue, we were trying to do it every single way we could and we felt like sponsored content was a big opportunity for that.

ALEX: Has having an in-house sponsorship team been the catalyst for putting out more sponsored content than most programs?

TYSON: I think the in-house team goes a long way. Most team accounts or most college athletic departments are very focused on recruiting, which they should be and need to be. We are as well. But I think we've recognized that you can do both.

You can have great content that's awesome for recruiting, and you can have a partner attached to it. You have a lot of programs, like when I worked at Clemson where, if it wasn't good for recruiting, we're not doing it.

Sometimes I think we should do that here and then there are times where the reality of the financial situation is very relevant and we recognize the amount of money we can make. And it's a good thing. It's a positive thing for everyone for us to generate revenue.

I certainly think the revenue and recruiting and how we tow that here at BYU is a big part.

ALEX: What is BYU’s approach to sponsored content?

TYSON: We have a great relationship with our corporate sales team. There is a fulfillment role that sits between us and the sponsorship team. We have some set inventory that my staff sets and then we also try and be flexible with our partners.

If we have something that makes a lot of sense for a partner, like a piece of content about a tailgate, it should be sponsored by Traeger Grills.

We recognize how hard that is at times, but our goal is ensuring that the content doesn't have to suck. It's not just a dumping ground.

When we partner with a brand, they're rubbing up against our brand and we're rubbing up against theirs. We don't want it to be something that tarnishes when it rubs up against one another so we want to make sure that we're doing things that are strong for both sides.

ALEX: With NIL coming into the fold, do you take a page from the pro level where partners sponsor the program generally, and then by way of that, it creates relationships with the players too?

TYSON: [NIL] has changed a lot of how we go about things here at BYU. We're hyper-cognizant of players and their name, image, and likeness. We want to ensure that we're not just profiting off their name, image, and likeness without any opportunity for them to generate revenue for themselves. And so there are things where we used to do the play of the game, and now we do the plays of the game where it's a team-centric type of sponsorship asset.

Or sometimes we'll have a partner and that partner also has NIL relationships, so it works for both of us and we're able to do some cool things, but NIL has changed a lot.

You asked before what I think may be the difference [between sponcon approach of schools]. I do think NIL is a big part of why. Some schools are very weary of having robust sponsored content.

ALEX: Are there any other barriers that college athletics run into as it relates to sponsored content?

TYSON: I do think there's just a stigma around it that it won't be good. I think that stigma is tough to overcome. Coaches have a little bit of that stigma that gets in the way at times. And then NIL is certainly a barrier as well.

NIL is something that we should tread lightly with. There's real liability there and so how we go about a sponsorship with student-athletes, we should definitely tread lightly.

ALEX: What's the reaction been like from fans? Do you feel like they're complaining about sponsored content? Sometimes internal teams think fans are put off by sponsored content.

TYSON: I'll split that into fans and recruits.

Fans follow the Utah Jazz and the Lakers and the Broncos and whoever. They see sponsored content. They know how it works, and so there’s little pushback ever from a fan.

Two, three, four, five years ago, it was something with recruits that we had to tread lightly on, that it was a bad look for a large football account to have sponsored content. But it's just a different world now with name, image, and likeness. The student-athletes have sponsored posts of their own.

They [recruits] understand the game. And so that has been a catalyst to help normalize some of that stuff. Now with name image and likeness, as much as it's something we have to be cautious of, it's also something that's been a positive force in the sponsorship space that relates to content.

ALEX: What, if any, differences were there in your sponsored content approach between Clemson and BYU?

TYSON: I think one of the differences is we sit like 60 feet from our sponsorship team here and that flow of communication is really easy.

There’s a unity that comes with that. They can see how much effort you're putting in because they're walking by your desk and seeing those things.

We know what they're trying to do. They know what we're trying to do and being able to work through it. It accelerates things a lot.

ALEX: What have been the keys to success for sponsored content at BYU?

TYSON: Communication first and foremost. Everyone talks about, ‘someone put something on my desk and says, this is sold. We need to do it.’ We've all been there.

My recommendation is, how do you learn from that? How can you go to the sales team and say, ‘Hey, talk to me about when your sales cycle is.’ I think about our sales team right now. I'm talking to them a lot about what's coming up because their sales cycle is in the new year, then leading into the summer going into the fall for football.

We're talking to them a lot about how we want to restructure the inventory, things that may be undervalued that are valuable now because the landscape has changed and all of that takes communication.

Communication is key as well as, documentation backed up by data.

It's really easy for a partner to say, ‘I want to do X, Y, Z sponsored thing’, but when you have data backing up why that won't perform, it goes a long way.

ALEX: Any advice you would give to other college programs looking to dive into sponsored content more?

TYSON: On top of all the great stuff that we do for student-athletes and for coverage of our teams, being associated with generating revenue is a really positive thing for our department.

Sometimes that gets lost at the college level. We're support staff, as they say, and so we provide a lot of support, but we can also generate revenue. There's a tremendous opportunity to do it, and to do it well.

Look for opportunities for great content to be great from a sponsorship standpoint as well.

For example, if you have a travel cam, let's see if there's a partner that can be associated with the travel cam. That makes sense. Whether that's the airline or the restaurant providing the team meal for the charter, look for those opportunities because it's never a bad thing to be associated with generating revenue.

Sponsored Content of the Week

The Pittsburgh Penguins took a common game day activation and turned it into a great, behind-the-scenes content piece.

Dick’s Sporting Goods is the sponsor of the Pens’ Junior Starter Program where kids can skate next to a player for the national anthem.

We’ve all seen this in some form before.

The Penguins not only posted about it, they Mic’d Up the junior skater to get her POV leading up to and through the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Whether the Pens were contractually obligated to create a social post for Dick’s or not, it’s clear they put some real thought into this compared to just recording the moment from off the ice.

They found a creative solution to make it interesting for fans to watch.

  • By turning this into a mic’d up piece, we got to experience the anxiety, excitement, and glee through the eyes of the junior starter.

  • I loved how the moments on the ice, including the cheers from the crowd, were recorded in one shot.

  • Having a camera person skate out on the ice provided such a cool perspective, especially when you see how much bigger Sidney Crosby is compared to the junior starter. It almost makes you feel like a kid again.

Seeing this core memory unlocked for the junior starter resonated with the Penguins’ followers across social channels.

It generated 1.63M impressions, 74.1 engagements, and a 4.5% engagement rate.

Talk about added value not just for the partner, but the fans as well.

For more case studies like this one, give me a follow on LinkedIn where I shine a spotlight on sponsored content at least three times a week.

Steal These Ideas

Halftime Alignment presented by The Joint Chiropractic is such a clever name-partner pairing from USC Football. Could also see this used in this category for Starting Lineup posts (e.g. Starting Alignment, Starting (a)Line Up).

AC Milan is the first team I’ve seen using Instagram’s new feature, polling fans in the comments. Perfect use case here allowing followers to vote for their favorite Cover of the Month presented by WeFox. Note - you can only see this feature on mobile.

The Milwaukee Bucks’ Pride Night post immediately stopped my scroll. An A+ design capturing attention for their presenting partner, The Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin regional health network.

The animated open from the Dallas Cowboys’, Cowboys Cam presented by Seat Geek is something I’ll be filing away for future sponsored content.

Speaking of great brand integration design, I love the layout from the Boston Celtics Play of the Game posts presented by JetBlue.

What To Watch For

Working Up An Appetite: Chipotle teamed up with Strava, a fitness-tracking app, to offer customized challenges and “segments” in the Strava app to motivate athletes. The segments were running routes designed to end at Chipotle restaurants. Runners will compete to earn free Lifestyle bowls by logging the most miles they can on the routes.

Must Read: Arsenal sported all-white kits at home for the first time this Sunday as part of its No More Red campaign in partnership with adidas. No More Red was launched in 2022 to help keep young people safe from knife crime and youth violence.

Stat of the Week: Instagram Reels outperformed all other branded video content across Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, according to this year-end recap from Emplifi [h/t ICYMI by Lia Haberman]

His and H.E.R.s: The Brooklyn Nets launched a content series called Shoot Your Shot. Episode one featured Mikal Bridges and Grammy-award-winning singer-songwriter H.E.R. playing a friendly game of “N.E.T.S.” aka H.O.R.S.E. at Barclays Center.

Ravens Winning Influencer Strategy: Why the Baltimore Ravens brought comedian Stavros Halkias’s ‘Ronnie’ character to an NFL game.

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