Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Howdy, Partner

One of TigerBlog's favorite websites, not surprisingly, is goprincetontigers.com.

As TB is writing, the seven stories that rotate through the main part of the front page includes one about the women's golf team. In a solid bit of scheduling, it appears that the Tigers are headed to Hawaii for fall break.

There are also stories about men's soccer, two about women's tennis, one about rowing from the Head of the Charles and one about field hockey.

And the seventh?

It's about Princeton and its renewal of its contract with Nelligan Sports Marketing.

At first glance, it appears to be a standard-issue story: Princeton and NSM have continued their partnership, and there is some basic information about both groups and the to-be-expected quotes from Director of Athletics Gary Walters and the Nelligan leadership.

Make no mistake, though. Princeton Athletics' partnership with Nelligan is huge. It's also somewhat unique - and it raises all kinds of issues about the current state of college athletics.

Nelligan is a giant in the field of collegiate sports marketing, especially in this area. From the story:
In addition to Princeton University, NSM represents some of the elite college properties in the country, including the Colonial Athletic Association and its 12 member institutions, the Horizon League, Pac-10 Conference, Patriot League, Brown University, Cal Poly, UC Santa Barbara, Cleveland State University, Colorado State University, Eastern Michigan University, Fairfield University, Florida Atlantic University, Indiana State University, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, University of Louisville, Marquette University, Middle Tennessee State University, Missouri State University, Monmouth University, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Providence College, Rutgers University, University of Texas at San Antonio, West Virginia University, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, the Champs Sports Bowl, the Capital One Bowl and the Penn Relays.

What makes Princeton's situation unique - at least from most of the outlets Nelligan works with - is that the University's goal isn't to squeeze every last dollar out of its athletic corporate partnership. In fact, it's quite the opposite - Princeton is very resistant to over-commercialization of its product.

In today's sports world, almost anything goes as far as sponsorship. All you have to do is listen to a Yankees game on the radio (mercifully, you won't be able to do that for the World Series) to see what TB means. Everything - everything - it seems is sponsored, from the broadcast booth to the 15th out of the game to the pitching changes.

And none of this is unique. Pretty much everything in the world of sports works that way now.

Even the games themselves are affected by rules specific to sponsorship. Why else would paying customers have to sit through nine media timeouts at college basketball games (written into the NCAA rules, by the way) or, even way worse, the dreaded score-TV timeout-kickoff-TV timeout-play again for NFL games. If you've been to an NFL game in person, you see how it drags the whole game to a halt.

When Princeton plays a football game with TV timeouts, it never takes fewer than three hours. Without TV timeouts? In the last three weeks, Princeton played three home football games with no TV timeouts. Game times? Princeton-Colgate was played in 2:37. Princeton-Brown was 2:43. Princeton-Harvard was 2:48.

And the most amazing thing about all of this to TB is how the sporting public simply accepts this. TB isn't 100% sure when the idea of having media timeouts began, but there can be no doubt that the flow of games is better without them.

Media timeouts don't even take into account the bombarding of the senses that can go on at venues, with signs, announcements, sponsored promotions and the like.

Princeton is not immune to this reality of modern-day collegiate sports. Still, TB is sure that Princeton is at the low end of what it will tolerate and what it won't.

As a result, Princeton will sometimes have to say "no" to requests for sponsored elements that would bring in additional revenue. In that regard, Nelligan is a great partner.

It's been clear from the five years that Princeton and NSM have partnered that NSM has bought into this reality and actually embraced it for its uniqueness. The result has been win-win, as Princeton has been able to maintain a semblance of order while Nelligan has been able to be satisfied with the arrangement to the point of eagerly renewing.

At the same time, Nelligan has also brought Princeton forward in terms of corporate sponsorship and what the University is comfortable with in that area. This is also important, because it has helped Princeton develop strong relationships with local corporations and organizations in a business and community sense, without having to cede control of its athletic venues.

There will always be a segment of the Princeton fan base that views any commercialization as a bad thing, and TB understands that.

Still, Princeton Athletics is fortunate to have a partner like Nelligan Sports Marketing. The relationship has developed over the last five years to its current state, which is very positive for both sides, a rarity in business.

Of all the news on goprincetontigers.com in the last few days, the story about the renewal of this relationship might have been an afterthought to most who glanced at it.

To Princeton Athletics, it's huge.

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