With baseball, golf and tennis now in the rear view mirror for 2015, hockey and hoops just starting and MLS entering its deeper drive into the playoffs; football, and college sports (with college basketball starting this coming week) really take center stage, and this past week Nissan made what is perhaps the most expansive push to embrace a fractured space amongst a wide swath of Universities than has ever been attempted.
The idea really started two years ago, when IMG built a partnership allowing Nissan to connect with college fans through its association with the Heisman Trophy. An on-site activation program grew into a multi-year partnership with IMG schools, including use of school IP, digital and social media, print, radio, and on-site activation. The program worked, and IMG then helped Nissan build a business case to greatly expand its position in college sports through a 100-school deal, which the car company is tying to its “go big” marketing strategy.
The program covers marquee schools within Nissan’s new college footprint, including programs such as Arizona, Arkansas, Baylor, Ohio State, Florida, Georgia, Harvard, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Oregon, South Carolina, Syracuse, TCU, Tennessee, UCLA, Washington, and West Virginia. However it also goes deep on some second tier and mid-major programs like Princeton University and some historically black college and universities, where Nissan will be athletics’ largest sponsorship ever.
These deals will provide the brand with official auto status at 64 of the 65 schools in the power five conferences and will be active as soon as next year. For Nissan, the programs are an attempt to better package and activate on a hyper-local level with colleges and Universities as well as their alumni and students and parents, something which can be difficult to do even with the best of national deals. Connecting with dealers who are key members of the community with programs tied directly to a local school gives the partnership much deeper ties than an overarching national campaign, which can reach a wide audience but may not be as well targeted to a local consumer. By having that overarching presence with the College Football Playoff, the NCAA and March Madness (through their Infiniti brand), Nissan will be able to activate and engage on multiple levels and through every possible medium, something which is essential if you are trying to communicate to a mainstream consumer and someone at a younger age who has a very strong affinity to alma mater.
From a size standpoint, Nissan’s program surpasses the activation State Farm (90 schools), Allstate (82 for football) and UPS (70 schools) has, and uniquely positions the company in one of the most valuable categories in sports, automotive, across a national landscape. Will every activation in every market work coming out of the box? Probably not, but the deals set Nissan up to be a unique test case in what can be done large and small in the big-time world of college athletics as they attempt to own a category and drive away with some big wins, revenue and brand exposure.