The Ivy League is trying to sell a sponsorship to a sports championship for the first time, searching for a company to pay television production costs for its inaugural lacrosse tournaments.
The league, composed of Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton and Yale universities, the University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth College, announced in January that it would hold four-team tournaments to decide which schools get the automatic bids to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I men’s and women’s lacrosse tournaments. In previous years, the regular-season champions would advance to the NCAA event.
A presenting sponsorship for each of the men’s and women’s finals will underwrite the cost of broadcasting the game on television and probably provide the sponsor with tickets, advertising and an opportunity to entertain clients, said Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris.
“We don’t have a budget to buy the television time,” Harris said in an interview. “So the sponsor’s money essentially goes to pay the television production costs, and we’ll get some ads to sell during the broadcast.”
Television production costs for each of the men’s and women’s finals will run about $50,000, the league said. Harris wouldn’t say how much she expected to get for the rights.
Three schools — Cornell, Harvard and Princeton — have won a combined nine men’s and four women’s NCAA championships, including Princeton’s sweep of both the men’s and women’s championships in 1994.
Ivy League Appeal
An Ivy League crowd will appeal to financial services companies, automobile makers and other manufacturers of high-end products who want to reach a highly educated, wealthy demographic, said T.J. Nelligan, founder of Nelligan Sports Marketing in Little Falls, New Jersey, which negotiates marketing agreements for Ivy League schools including Brown, Princeton and Penn.
“You have to convince corporate America that this is a different sponsorship program because it’s the Ivy League,” Nelligan said in an interview. “But it has to be about more than a sponsorship or some TV ads; you have to tell them, ‘This is how we’ll help you move your products to our alumni and lacrosse fans.’”
The Ivy League can sell sponsorships to certain league events, but it doesn’t control the marketing rights or access to individual schools. School presidents oppose the commercialization of sports and haven’t given sponsors access to alumni lists or students in the past, Harris said.
“Sometimes you have to be creative when institutions are reluctant to overly commercialize their student and alumni relationship,” said Scott Becher, 46, president of Sports & Sponsorships in Boca Raton, Florida. “It’s incumbent upon the conference and its media partners to find ways that sponsors can feel good about their ability to make an impression on the fans, without compromising the ideals the Ivy League represents.”
Harris said the goal behind televising the lacrosse championships isn’t profit. It’s to allow parents and fans to watch their teams, to promoting university initiatives and to tell stories about the academic and off-field successes of student-athletes.
“It helps promote our message that we offer a good athletic experience at the Division I level for academically gifted students,” Harris said.
The men’s tournament will be held May 7 and May 9, and the women’s tournament April 30 and May 2.