Billions at stake: New NCAA chief endorses ad limits

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In September 2000, following through on promises to keep his irascible men's basketball coach in check, Indiana University President Myles Brand fired the legendary Bob Knight.

In January, Mr. Brand will take over as president-CEO of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, prompting that community-including school administrators, TV networks, sneaker and apparel companies, corporate sponsors and marketers-to wonder if he'll follow through on another promise: to curtail what he feels is the over-commercialization of college athletics.

In a speech at the National Press Club last year, Mr. Brand called for wide reforms in college athletics, including limiting the dates and times games can be played, the number of TV timeouts and the amount of advertising permitted in a college arena, even on uniforms.

Corporate sponsorship is critical at many schools. University of Massachusetts Athletic Director Ian J. McCaw, whose $17 million program is far smaller than the $54 million athletic department at Tennessee, had to eliminate seven sports last year because of a $1.1 million deficit. Mr. McCaw told the Springfield (Mass.) Union-News that he now intends to ramp up corporate sponsorships, advertising and marketing.

Mr. Brand could not be reached for comment. An Indiana spokeswoman said he has no detailed plans for any NCAA initiatives at this time.

heart of the matter

But what he is suggesting cuts to the core of a multibillion-dollar business. Viacom's CBS has an 11-year, $6 billion contract that begins in 2003 for exclusive rights to the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN also cut an 11-year, $200 million deal that includes complete coverage of the NCAA women's basketball tournament. Nike, Reebok and Adidas have a virtual lock on equipment and licensing deals at colleges across the country.

Most marketers and athletic directors declined to comment. ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said, "As with any partner, we welcome and encourage ongoing discussion."

Sports-marketing expert Brandon Steiner, of Steiner Sports Marketing, New Rochelle, N.Y., said Mr. Brand's reforms would probably not affect major sports. "But there's a trickle-down effect here," Mr. Steiner said. "If they shrink the pot by cutting back on sponsors and advertiser money, all that will happen is programs like soccer and lacrosse are going to get cut."

Nike, for instance, last year struck a seven-year, $25 million deal with the University of Michigan athletic program, believed to be the richest deal in college athletics. But more than $14 million of the deal is for retail value of the equipment and uniforms Nike provides to all Michigan's sports teams. Moreover, the revenue produced by football pays for the non-revenue producing sports.

And what do they get for their sponsorship dollars?

Exposure, something Mr. Brand is looking to limit. Adidas, for instance, received more than $11 million of exposure from Nebraska's Rose Bowl appearance, according Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Joyce Julius & Associates, which specializes in sponsorship evaluation.

"He can try to limit some of those things," said a sneaker-company executive, "but he'll have a fight on his hands. And not just from us. From every athletic department in the country."

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