The Civil War, the annual rivalry contest between Oregon and Oregon State, a game that already features two sponsors, just picked up another big-name deal this week. As The Oregonian reports, Wells Fargo, one of the nation's largest banks, just inked a deal to sponsor the contest between the Ducks and Beavers. Good for the state of Oregon, their two major universities tied into a "Catch the Community Spirit" program to help grow the brand of the game and get people excited about the showdown.
How this plays out is going to be quite interesting. Wells Fargo joins PacificSource Health Plans and Northwest Ford Dealers as the individual-game sponsors. Unlike the other two, small scale, regional sponsors, Wells is a national brand. The bank has a strong presence from places from New York to Charlotte, and, of course, they are headquartered in San Francisco. Linking up with the Civil War is more than just the company serving its local customer base.
Sponsorships are not new to collegiate athletics, especially in football. Every team has its own shoe deal, it has its own "official wireless provider" and its own local deals with car dealerships, restaurants and the like. Bowl games have title sponsors; they have for quite some time, as a corporation teams up with a city and a couple conferences to help put on a show. We are also seeing the start of regular-season title-sponsored games. The Chick-fil-A Kickoff and Cowboy Classic are both contests that come to mind. However, The Eddie Robinson Classic, the Pigskin Classic and the Black Coaches Association Classic are games that have come and gone.
Throw in "The Gathering Ireland," the presenting sponsor of the Emerald Isle Classic between Notre Dame and Navy, and you can see that sponsorships are not rare in college football.
Small sponsors are always going to be around the game. That's how you build community goodwill, work on small-scale advertising and keep plenty of the business in the community. Title sponsors have long been reserved for bowl games and season openers. Now, if Wells Fargo's play is to insert itself as a top-billed title sponsor, we could see another game-changer in college football.
Rivalry games are big business. AT&T presents The Red River Rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma, the artist formerly known as The Red River Shootout. The Civil War now has Wells Fargo in its pocket. In a landscape where cash money is the driving force, signing individual-game sponsorship deals can be another source of revenue.
The most interesting part about this will be how closely rival factions are willing to work together to maximize their money. Clemson, a school playing catch up to South Carolina from a revenue standpoint, would be growing the Gamecocks' dollars through a sponsorship while trying to get their own money. Within a conference, a la "The Civil War" and "The Red River Rivalry," things are easier, as the money coming in is a bit more parallel, from television and bowl-revenue standpoints.
Pay attention to this aspect of things. Right now a limited number of schools are truly maximizing the use of title sponsors for their big games. As getting money becomes increasingly paramount and other revenue streams are maxed out, adding sponsorship is another avenue to grow the cash in the coffers.