Advertising campaigns make the world go round. They tell us what to buy, and when to buy it. They bring brands in and out of demand, and it’s no different for the world of collegiate sports.
Over the past two decades, the business of corporate sponsorships in college athletics has grown into a serious revenue generator for programs across the country, and nowhere is it more evident than at the University of Oregon.
Sponsorships and broadcasting make up 6 percent of the UO’s $93.3 million athletic budget totaling approximately $5.6 million.
From those deals, the athletic department’s sponsors are allowed to use the UO as a selling point for their products and services while also receiving exposure through print ads, commercials, billboards and on the athletic department’s website.
Some even go as far as sponsoring a coach’s victory speech, much like when Disney asks NFL players what their plans are after winning the Super Bowl, and often times are met with some variation of “I’m going to Disneyland.”
But head football coach Chip Kelly didn’t announce that he’d be taking a trip to the happiest place on earth after winning the inaugural Pac-12 Championship game last year and ended his explanation of how it felt to be heading back to the Rose Bowl with, “We’re gonna go drink some Dr Pepper and mail our Christmas presents with UPS.”
According to Craig Pintens, athletic director for marketing and public relations, “post-game sponsorships are generally owned by the rights holder. For the Pac-12 championship game, they owned the rights.”
“It does create interesting issues when sponsors conflict while hosting events,” Pintens said. “When we host an NCAA event for example, Coca-Cola is the beverage sponsor which conflicts with Pepsi.”
This season, UPS consummated its relationship with the UO by running a series of ads featuring Coach Kelly’s fast-paced offense as well as their immensely complicated uniform system.
“From time to time we have conversations about what sort of assets our partners want to use,” said Brian Movalson, vice president and general manager for IMG, the UO’s media holdings partner. “This is unique because UPS invested a significant amount of money in a campaign around their logistics, so they came to me and asked if Chip Kelly would be interested in a national campaign.”
Movalson said the exposure that the national campaign brings the University makes it a win-win situation for all parties involved. According to him, there are only a few IMG properties that have potential for a national campaign. This one fit.
Creatively, UPS worked with several agencies on their college platform to help develop their advertising, placement media and sponsorship activation.
J.W. Cannon, manager of sponsorships at UPS, said that using Coach Kelly meshed perfectly into their national “Game Changers” campaign that they’ve been doing with different figures throughout college football over the past season.
“When we look at ambassadors of our brand, we look at a number of things. For example, what kind of story do they have to tell, will they resonate with our customers and employees, do they understand what we’re trying to accomplish,” Cannon said.
“Chip runs a complex offense that is based on speed, precision, putting people in the right roles, reliability and success — all things that we attribute to our business,” Cannon said. “The Oregon story is not one that everyone in the college football world knows; we saw an opportunity here to do some really creative work and tell a story that many might not otherwise know about beyond what they see on SportsCenter.”
Cannon said that UPS’ decision to use seasoned director Joe Pytka added an extra edge of professionalism and distinction to the campaign. Pytka’s portfolio includes a number of award-winning Super Bowl commercials, the infamous 1980s PSA “This is your brain on drugs” and Space Jam starring Michael Jordan.
“Joe has worked on some of our previous campaigns in the past, and has a long history of creating great work for us and other brands,” Cannon said. “Ultimately it was done at the recommendation of our advertising agency, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the results.”
The commercial was filmed over this past summer and first aired during the Ducks 62-51 victory over the USC Trojans on Nov. 3. It played on networks nationally throughout the end of the season.
“It is a testament to our national brand and Coach Kelly that we were selected to be featured,” Pintens said. “UPS was very committed to the campaign as evidenced by bringing in a legendary director like Joe Pytka.”
Oregon’s status as a national brand has recently received praise in the discussion of how a Duck Football program might look without Chip Kelly. ESPN’s Jesse Palmer even went as far to call Oregon’s flashy uniforms and Coach Kelly household names in the coverage leading up to the Fiesta Bowl.
Other schools have had help from corporate sponsors in building their brand this season. AT&T partnered with the University of Oklahoma’s head coach Bob Stoops for a national campaign as well. Like UPS’ logistics campaign, this campaign ties back to college football and shows how social media through mobile platforms could provide recruiters with an edge for finding talent. The ad culminates in Stoops’ picturesquely shaking hands with a young player and almost works just as a good as a recruiting commercial for the Oklahoma university as an ad for AT&T.
With increasing exposure on the national stage, Oregon’s national image will continue to increase with the help of media and sponsorship deals, but a team without Chip Kelly’s face might not be as profitable for the athletic department’s partners. Without a nationally known figure at the head of the program, Oregon might not see itself in the advertising limelight for a long time.