The Biggest Advertisers Behind College Sports

Saying college sports are big business is like saying the sun is a big star. The amount of money changing hands is easily in the billions of dollars every single year. A major block of this money is advertising revenue. Advertisers drool over the college sports fan base of 172 million people, who need to buy insurance and cell phone plans and potato chips and cars and clothes and beer and hundreds of other products they haven’t realized they need yet. These companies are the ones most intent on making sure their product is the one you covet.

  1. UPS:In August 2011, United Parcel Service signed a massive, multi-year deal with marketing firm IMG College, the Big Ten, and the Pac-12 to market to 68 schools across the country. The unprecedented deal buys the company TV and radio spots, signage at events, online ads, in-game promotions, and hospitality at big-time sports schools like Ohio State, Florida, Texas, Michigan, and Georgia. Believed price tag: $25 million a year.
  2. Nike:It would be easier to find a college that doesn’t have at least a small advertising deal with the world’s biggest sports company. The Swish uses a considerable amount of its $2.4 billion advertising budget on college sports, and not just football. It barely raises eyebrows for a school to announce a deal for Nike to outfit every single one of its sports teams. From the slew of one-off jerseys to balls to helmets to shoes, Nike’s deep pockets have dug even deeper roots into college athletics.
  3. AT&T:In 2011, 10 years after becoming the official wireless service provider of the NCAA, AT&T dished out millions of dollars “in the low eight figures” to continue that relationship for three more years. Ma Bell has also shelled out to affix its name to the front of the Cotton Bowl game, Texas Tech’s Jones Stadium, and the annual Texas-Oklahoma football game, now known as the “AT&T Red River Rivalry.” The newly revived Nation’s Football Classic — a matchup between historically black colleges Howard University and Morehouse College — will also bear AT&T’s name for several years. And the company topped all advertisers during the 2011-2012 bowl games, with $10.3 million spent.
  4. Allstate:Get used to seeing a lot of those “Mayhem” commercials this college football season. Allstate is a huge advertiser in collegiate sports. March saw the company become the official insurer of March Madness for the next several years, to the tune of an estimated $15 million each year. Come September, more than 70 football teams will be kicking field goals into nets emblazoned with the “Good Hands” logo. At the end of the season, two lucky teams will land a berth in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, a naming right Allstate has owned since 2007 for an estimated $18 million a year.
  5. MillerCoors:There have been rumblings in years past about getting beer advertisements out of NCAA sporting event broadcasts, but those rumblings have been drowned out by the sound of cash registers going off. In a recent landmark deal similar to that of UPS, MillerCoors signed a deal to sponsor 23 schools including Arizona State, California (not the state), Clemson, and Penn State (oops). Sources put the cost at $10 million per year.
  6. Coca-Cola:You knew they’d pop up somewhere on this list. With a $2.5 billion annual advertising budget, Coke has ample bucks to make sure its name is splashed around college campuses and events. There’s their partnership with the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics to recognize student athlete community service. The Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team. The Coca-Cola Golf Invitationals. The Coke Zero NCAA March Madness Social Arena. The soda-maker leaves no stone unturned unmarketed.
  7. The Home Depot:Flip on ESPN any given Saturday morning this fall and you’ll see football experts breaking down the day’s college matchups at a giant desk stamped with a large “Home Depot” logo. The home improvement group’s sponsorship of College Gameday is no doubt hugely profitable and hugely expensive: a single Saturday’s worth of exposure is estimated to be worth $1.15 million. Home Depot also gets its name out there through the Home Depot College Football Awards and the Home Depot Coach of the Year Award.
  8. Gatorade:You’ll never see a college athlete drinking a Coke during a game, but you’ve seen many drink a Pepsi product. From its very start, Gatorade was bound to college sports, the result of efforts by University of Florida scientists to keep Gator football players from dehydrating. The result was a sports beverage that now serves as the official drink of 70 Division I athletic teams. The Pepsi division obviously has a good relationship with IMG, as it recently teamed with the marketing firm to become the “Official Sports Performance Nutrition Sponsor” of IMG Academies, where 800 student athletes train.
  9. Under Armour:Although Nike’s annual revenue is about 20 times larger, the college sports market is so big there’s been plenty of room for rising player Under Armour to gain an advertising foothold. It’s been able to get its logo onto jerseys at Auburn, Hawaii, South Carolina, Texas Tech, South Florida, Boston College, and Maryland, the latter via a five-year, $17.5 million deal. From 2009 to 2010 the company doubled its college sponsorship outlay, from $78 million to $167 million. And with events like its Under Armour Elite 24 Game and Under Armour/Hunter Mahan Championship, UA is trying to create loyal customers before high school stars hit college.
  10. Muscle Milk:One of the fastest-growing advertisers in college sports is this sport nutrition beverage made by parent company CytoSport. Nearly 30 schools now have deals in place with the company for Muscle Milk products in return for signage and promotions. For example, at the University of Oregon, the mascot celebrates a touchdown with pushups on a platform bearing the Muscle Milk trademark. Other heavy hitters like Texas, Syracuse, and Florida State also have deals that involve Muscle Milk “ambassadors” promoting the brand at college sporting events. Each partnership is guessed to cost the company from six to seven figures.