Russell Signs Integrated Deal with ESPN, ABC on College Football

For its return to television after five years, Russell Athletic is going deep into college football.

The apparel maker is doing advertising's equivalent of the big drive toward the end zone, not only launching a major print, online and TV campaign but signing on with ESPN and ABC Sports for a major sponsorship of college football's Bowl Championship Series.

The bowl sponsorship includes 30-second spots in-game on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 and during the bowl games in late December and early January. It also includes several branded opportunities, including the "Russell Material Player of the Game" on ESPN games beginning in September and regular "Road to the BCS" customized vignettes. Terms of the deal weren't announced.

The deal came about after Russell came up with more money for the campaign and asked its creative and planning agency, WestWayne in Atlanta, for recommendations. Judy Popky, vice president and media director, said WestWayne and Russell wanted to explore opportunities that were in line with Russell's core strategy. The timing and Russell's interest in aligning itself with college sports led them to ESPN and ABC Sports.



"They put together a customized package that really tied into our objectives," Popky said.

WestWayne's campaign for Russell targets heavy sports-minded individuals, people who live and breathe sports. They may have played or coached high school and college sports, participated in intramurals and pickup games, or are just avid fans. Popky said the Russell brand pursues the purity and integrity of sports, avoiding sports properties where it's not about the fun.

"Our whole campaign is about bringing the fundamentals back to sports. College sports has that pristine feeling left to it," she said.

Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN-ABC Sports customer marketing and sales, said all the pieces fell into place on the Russell/BCS deal and most, if not all, of the networks' properties are being used.

Russell has ads in ESPN: The Magazine, spots on ESPN Radio and an online segment that could include commercials using the new ESPN Motion technology.

"For the right idea and the right concepts, we can do a very sophisticated, integrated marketing concept that is designed to achieve a variety of goals for both parties," Erhardt said. It's not just a media and marketing relationship, either. Russell and ESPN/ABC are partnering to sell BCS-branded merchandise.

"We strive for that," Erhardt said. "The more that you can create a value proposition that ties the media entities and ties the customer into a relationship that is stronger, the better off you are. We felt the BCS brand was a brand that could be enhanced."

Russell Athletic can't compete at the same measure as a Nike, though it wants its name and authentic nature in front of its target audience. So it's very excited to be able to embed itself into such a set of top sports properties, Popky said.

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