The Sports Business Journal story on LEARFIELD Allied, the company’s cooperative intellectual property initiative for NIL

An agreement between David McCormack of Kansas and Legacy Restaurant Group, operators of 52 Wendy’s, has been set up by Learfield’s new Allied Program.COURTESY OF HERITAGE RESTAURANT GROUP

David McCormack’s pterodactyl-like wingspan and Adonis frame spans from side to side of Wendy’s restaurant. The center for Kansas’ national championship-winning basketball team was an add-on piece on the Jayhawks’ stacked roster last season, but in the world of name, image and likeness, McCormack is a star whose storefront poster draws customers to Wendy’s locations throughout eastern Kansas.

As NIL turns 1 on July 1, perhaps the most significant development has been the use of school grades in tandem with brands and athletes in marketing campaigns like Wendy’s deal with KU brokered by Learfield’s New Allied Initiative.

“The operating model of the future must have a structure in place to maximize value for all stakeholders – student athletes, brands and universities,” said Learfield CEO and President Cole Gahagan. “It’s a top priority for us and a conversation we have wherever schools have endorsed it.”

A handful of recent deals executed by Learfield show how the media and tech giant sees the future of the college media rights space, which in the past has been dominated by radio advertising, corporate sponsorships and signage. These assets are not going away, but agreements involving athletes will become just as much a fundamental asset for the company.

Learfield continues to represent schools – 160 of them – for their media and marketing needs, including top brands such as ohio state, Oklahoma and Texas. But the more Learfield can help athletes close those deals, the more value it can unlock using the combination of athletes, brands and college ratings, Gahagan said. While Learfield can bring athletes to the table, it is still up to the athlete and the brand to execute on the terms.

Brands can spend hundreds of dollars up to five figures on most NIL deals with athletes, depending on their social media influence. University intellectual property and sponsorship deals can range from five figures to six figures, depending on the assets involved and the size of the school.

Where is the Kansas beef?

Legacy Restaurant Group in Kansas is one of the Jayhawks’ newest sponsors and one of the nation’s largest Wendy’s franchisees, owning and operating 52 stores. LRG, through an NIL agreement with McCormack, has made him a valuable and visible brand ambassador.

Wendy’s stores needed a backlash to compete with Whataburger’s association with Kansas City Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who pledged his stomach’s love for this brand.

Not a single Jayhawk could match Mahomes’ star quality, but several of them, along with KU’s brands and a sponsorship deal with men’s basketball coach Bill Self, provided a formidable marketing front. . LRG ignited the passion of Jayhawks Nation with a sponsorship deal through Learfield that tied the Wendy’s brand to KU’s late-night season-opening practice — “Late Night at the Phog” — with the Self deal .

LRG has grown from 14 Wendy’s to 52 in recent years despite the pandemic.

It was through this association that Learfield also worked with Legacy to identify opportunities with basketball players, facilitating deals with seven Jayhawks in all, including McCormack.

The agreement between Learfield and Legacy requires a contract. Legacy’s deals with seven KU athletes require seven contracts, which is why many brands have found navigating the NIL landscape an often clunky process.

Determining value in this new and fragmented space can be tricky and laborious, but more and more solutions are being found in this three-pronged equation: Athlete plus brand plus school grades.

“The three things we needed to have were IP rights, Coach Self and NIL player partnerships,” said LRG President and CEO Felix Tollinche. “They even wear the Wendy’s gear we gave them on campus.”

Tollinche was certainly concerned about player recognition, but all doubts were dispelled when he saw fans engaging with the athletes at an in-store event.

Oklahoma’s national champion softball team, superstars in its market, helped attract customers to Cavender Auto Group.COURTESY OF CAVENDER AUTO GROUP

earn on and out of the diamond

Oklahoma’s national championship softball team provided another example of how fan affinity for athletes can enhance a marketing initiative.

San Antonio-based Cavender Auto Group, a solid Texas business with more than a dozen dealerships, moved to Oklahoma in May with the acquisition of two Ford dealerships in Oklahoma City and Norman.

Over the past month, the marketing team at Cavender has been thinking about how best to introduce itself — an 80-year-old Texas company — to Oklahoma residents.

He has entered into talks with Learfield, which represents Oklahoma’s media rights. As talk of a corporate sponsorship progressed earlier this month, the dominating Sooners softball team won the Women’s College World Series title and their immense popularity around Norman became more apparent.

“They’re a phenomenon,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “They caught everyone’s attention.”

The Learfield sales team at Norman suggested that Cavender include appearances by the OU softball team at dealerships to attract customers for autographs, photos and social media content. OU softball appearances helped seal the deal with Cavender.

Norman’s dealership hosted its first OU softball appearance on June 18 and the players showed up in their full uniforms, which added to the spectacle.

NIL transactions for OU female athletes exceeded the number of transactions for male athletes a week ago.

Express Success to Columbus

Express, a clothing brand Columbus-based has taken a different route for its NIL agreements and Ohio State sponsorship. The brand first sealed its deal with two Buckeyes football players, signing quarterback CJ Stroud and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba two months ago and only recently relying on state sponsorship from Ohio.

When Express signed Stroud and Smith-Njigba, a press release announcing them as Express’ first athlete endorsers had to be careful not to mention Ohio State as the brand did not own the rights to the Buckeyes’ intellectual property. Instead, Express called them Columbus College Football Players and they were dressed in jackets and jeans.

Since then, Express has obtained the intellectual property rights from the university through Learfield’s local sales organization in Columbus. Express will now be able to include Ohio State brands on its marketing materials and step inside the Horseshoe for photo ops, adding a layer of authenticity to its planning.

“We picked Jaxon and CJ to share their perspective on how personal style contributes to their confidence,” Express CMO Sara Tervo said in an email exchange with Sports Business Journal. “The goal of this partnership is to create and share contacts that highlight our men’s assortment. While they look great in their OSU gear, it’s their approach to off-court fashion that we’re after.

Schools are back to school the image

As it became apparent in the last half of 2021 that college intellectual property would become vital to athlete marketing, Learfield attempted to position itself with a new program called Allied, which was announced in December.

Until then, the standard procedure provided for a separation of church and state. College athletes ran their own commercial business, but they could not show up in their team gear unless the sponsoring company paid the school grade usage fee. This made for a fairly limited selection of potential mates for the athletes.

Learfield Allied was designed as the first program to make it easier for brands to find marketing opportunities with athletes and college intellectual property.

Still, schools were reluctant to get involved in player deals due to liability concerns. If an athlete’s deal goes wrong, will the school be responsible?

It changes. Most schools believe in getting more involved in athlete marketing, not less.

“They basically opened up intellectual property rights opportunities for student-athletes and businesses to come together,” said Gene Smith, DA of Ohio State. “Athletes in the NIL space cannot use our logo or other brand assets without it. What it does is improve opportunities all around.

What Learfield has discovered in the first six months is that its Allied program is truly “standard IP business practice,” said Solly Fulp, executive vice president of business development.

“Allied’s goal is to increase support for student athletes, increase their opportunities, and protect the school’s intellectual property rights,” he said. “We’ve been connecting brands with schools’ intellectual property rights for 50 years and now they want that connection to be amplified with student-athletes. It will be a fundamental asset, just as we see the digital panels, TV, radio and video. »

Learfield then launched Allied+, a new program that places a sales manager on every campus that enrolls, such as Oklahoma and Ohio State. These new positions, which are being filled by Learfield, will be specifically assigned to finding NIL opportunities for athletes and brands.

Oklahoma’s Allied+ was filled by former OU running back Rodney Anderson, who has already identified two potential NIL deals for the Sooners.

This is the direction NIL is taking in Year 2 – more deals that bring academic IP and athletes together as market stakeholders seek to unlock the value of these deals.

“It’s interesting,” said OSU’s Smith. “The original working group that studied NIL took the route of greater school involvement early on. And we walked away from that approach when we should have taken it. Now we have to go back and find what that means; do you have more school involvement? Marketing and media rights holders should have more flexibility with our student-athletes. We just have to understand what that means. Can we put in place agreements without actually negotiating them? These are the kinds of questions we need to answer. »

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