Northwestern Mutual Bets Big On NCAA Sponsorship

Financial company Northwestern Mutual is covering March Madness like a blanket with a new multifaceted sponsorship. The firm’s media shop, Publicis Groupes' Spark, helped orchestrate the package, which includes everything from traditional advertising to underwriting a local charity road race.

One element features a video series called “Team Confidential,” which will provide fans with an inside look at teams from the Selection Sunday announcement of participating tournament schools through practices and the games.

CBS Sports serves as producer for the video series, which will air on and the sports Web site Bleacher Report.

"We are entering the third year of a four-year partnership that now covers all 89 NCAA championships, though March Madness is the marquee event," says Chad Dern, director of brand and advertising, Northwestern Mutual.

This past weekend, for instance, Northwestern Mutual sponsored an NCAA Wrestling tournament. "This [partnership] is a good fit. We like the overall message of the NCAA to help student athletes. We love that the audience is mainly college-educated and a good balance of male-to-female ratio. It also allows for our local offices to get involved [since the games take place all around the U.S.]," says Dern.



Content is a key focus, particularly when it comes to hoops. One of this year's March Madness sponsorship highlights is a 30-minute program that will focus on planning for the future in the context of college basketball. It takes a look at the role that preparation, style and execution play in a coach’s success and will include exclusive and unseen content from conversations conducted by CBS Sports analysts Greg Anthony, Clark Kellogg and Bill Raftery.

The program -- hosted by Ernie Johnson -- airs April 5 at 2:30 p.m. (ET) on CBS Sports.

Coaches are also showcased in a series of short videos that document their efforts during the season. The videos are branded and feature coaches discussing various issues relative to preparation and planning and will air in-game during the tournament on TBS, TNT, truTV and CBS.

Northwestern Mutual will also serve as a presenting sponsor of the first four games on truTV, played March 18 and 19 at University of Dayton arena in Dayton, Ohio. Northwestern Mutual will share exclusive content on its Facebook page during the Final Four that showcases the planning that has gone into the championship, such as the creation and construction of the court floor by Connor Sports, the basketballs by Wilson and all of the preparation done by the facilities team at AT&T Stadium.

One primary difference with this year's campaign can be measured in seconds. "We switched to 30-second spots from 60-second"units, says Dern. "It expands our presence and broadens our reach [by being able to air more spots during a game]."

These ads are also basketball-themed. "This is the first year our creative is custom tailored to the tournament,” he says. Thus, the ads will air the networks carrying the games -- CBS, TNT, TBS, and truTV. There are also significant Web and mobile elements.

The company’s  sponsorship also activates local initiatives. On Friday, April 4, the company will serve as the presenting sponsor of the 2014 Coaches vs. Cancer Coaches Huddle, a fundraising event in Dallas attended by former and current NCAA basketball coaches. The benefit will support the American Cancer Society’s pediatric program.

The next day, April 5, the Northwestern Mutual Road to the Final Four 5K will benefit pediatric cancer research through the American Cancer Society. Northwestern Mutual is also presenting sponsor for the 4Kay Run in Nashville around the Women’s Championship. The walk is held in honor of late NC State head women's basketball coach Kay Yow. "This is the second year of our involvement with the 5K race," says Dern.

Total TV ad revenue for the National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) Division 1 men's basketball tournament surpassed $1 billion for the first time in 2012 -- making it larger than any professional post-season sports championship, reports Kantar Media.

1 comment about "Northwestern Mutual Bets Big On NCAA Sponsorship".
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  1. Thomas Hering from PSP Sports, March 18, 2014 at 1:11 p.m.

    It's refreshing to see a well planned sponsorship program with full integration and activations. The use of branded content as described is creative and should be effective on the various media platforms, including some Social. Great use of marks and personalities and event tie-ins.
    The only thing missing is a print component with content to support the on-site events.
    Kudos to Spark and client NM, well done.

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