Varsity Greens: Lessons Learned From Texas High School Naming Rights Deals
BY ADAM GROSSMAN
Everything is bigger in Texas, and high school stadium naming rights deals are no exception. A recent The Dallas Morning News post highlighted how Independent School Districts (ISD) in Texas now command millions of dollars over the term of naming rights agreements for their venues. While these deals should drive significant value for partners, it is likely not for the reasons that most people expect in two ways.
First, “bigger” can be misleading when it comes to these deals. Conventional wisdom is likely that larger naming rights agreements are signed because Texas high school stadiums are more expensive and have a larger capacity than other high school districts throughout the country.
Yet, what is “bigger” is typically what happens outside of the venue. For example, the 12,000-seat Children’s Health Stadium at Prosper ISD is a featured stadium in the post. While 12,000 is certainly a large number of seats for a high school venue, it is a relatively small audience size as compared to the amount of people consuming high school sports content in traditional, social, and digital media channels
We highlighted the importance of reach outside the venue when evaluating naming rights deal in a previous post examining the Cleveland Browns partnership with FirstEnergy. In this example, we used our Social Sentiment Analysis Platform (SAP) to show how FirstEnergy generated new earned media impressions when national, regional, and local news outlets covered the Browns. In addition, celebrity influencers (in this case WWE Superstar Mike “The Miz” Mizanin) posted content about FirstEnergy that resonated extremely well with targeted demographics.
Having unique ways to increase engagement with a company’s customers leads to the second way that Texas high school naming rights deals can have a “bigger” partnership impact. A question B6A often receives from high school or youth sports practitioners is how can our organizations attract partners if companies can sponsor larger professional, collegiate, or high school properties to obtain reach.
Our response is to implement the concepts central B6A’s Corporate Asset Valuation Model (CAV) and its focus on the fit and engagement in addition to reach to communicate partnership value. In particular, high school naming rights deals can deliver significant value on fit and engagement metrics.
B6A conducted research using our SAP platform to help prove this case. We found that high school sports activations can disproportionally reach both parents and children in higher-income families as compared to what companies reach on their own or through other types of activations. We also have seen targeted-high school and youth sports content generate as much as 99% higher engagement rates than social media posts from large properties such as ESPN.
Engaging the right people in the right way with the right message that will help generate lifts in revenue and brand goals is now equally, if not more, important than reaching the largest numbers of people for many companies. More specifically, high school sports fans are more likely to be customers of the regional and local companies that most frequently partner with high school districts. High schools should use data from naming rights deals to prove this case in similar ways to what was described in the previous paragraph.
That is not to say the audience size is not important. As Market Street Sports Group President of Sales Jeff Bertoni states in the post, "We've been able to sell [high school] stadiums for 10-year deals, anywhere between $15,000 and $20,000 a year. You have kind of a unique situation going on in Texas, where they're getting multimillion-dollar deals for their sponsorships of their stadiums." One can argue that the unique situation being described by Bertoni is the ability for Texas ISD’s to reach a larger number of people as compared other high school districts outside of the state (i.e. Texas high school sports are “bigger”).
The reason to think this is what Bertoni means is that other high school districts outside of Texas do have similar capabilities to reach targeted demographics using partnership activations common in naming rights agreements. They cannot, however, compete on audience size as Bertoni articulates. The takeaway is that high school naming rights in many geographies are now likely undervalued assets given that they are primarily priced on audience size rather than also including fit and engagement metrics that partners are increasingly prioritizing in these types of deals.