How to Score with Sports Sponsorships - Nissan Goes Big With College Sports in New Sponsorship Deal

By Paul Birdwell (

Back in September Michael Sussman of laid out some great advice on how companies can…

Brands:  How to Score with Sports Sponsorships, Michael Sussman,

….which goes to the heart of why companies spend money on sponsorships which must always be:

A Sponsorship Investment MUST Create A Return on that Investment for the Sponsoring Company

Michael Sussman in this piece lays out three steps for brands to create winning sports sponsorship:

“1.  Target audience alignment

The first, most obvious, step in establishing a successful partnership is identifying your brand's target audience, then choosing a partner that reaches your core audience.

2.  Brand image alignment

Next, marketers need to understand the brand equity of potential partners and select one that can elevate their brand.

3.  Strategic activation

“It is not enough to just be a "proud sponsor." Brands need to really tap into the spirit of the sport they are sponsoring and leverage the enthusiasm and loyalty of those sports fans.”

We here at the Roaring Fork Agency could not agree more with Michael Sussman’s three steps to create winning sports sponsorships which are rightly focused on:

Aligning the Company and Brand with the RIGHT Event


Focusing Heavily on the Activation of the Sponsorship at the Event

If companies focus on the above two things when thinking about sponsoring sporting events or any event for that matter they will end up with a more successful sponsorships that create the MUST for any sponsorship investment which is a Return on the Sponsorship Investment.

A great example of a company meeting all three of the steps in winning sports sponsorship as laid out by Michael Sussman in doing a sports sponsorship is Nissan in its recent deal with college sports:

Nissan Goes Big With College Sports in New Sponsorship Deal, E. J. Schultz,

“Nissan has locked down sponsorships for 100 colleges and universities -- from the University of Alabama to the University of Wisconsin -- in what the automaker is calling the "widest-reaching sponsorship in the history of collegiate sports."

The four-year-deal includes permanent Nissan signage in hundreds of stadiums and arenas and gives the company the rights to use school logos in TV ads. All told, the pact will cover 22 men's and women's sports at the schools, allowing the automaker to reach 22 million alumni and 188 million fans nationwide, according to estimates provided by Nissan.

Nissan did not disclose financial terms. But Jeremy Tucker, VP-marketing communications and media for Nissan North America, called it "massive and complex."

"We saw this as a white space," he said in an interview. "There is no one activating it in automotive at this scale nationally 11 months out of the year, always on."

The pact was negotiated with media rights holders for the schools, including IMG College, Learfield Sports, Fox Collegiate Sports Properties, JMI Sports and Sun Devil Athletics. The deal is not exclusive, meaning universities might still have partnerships with other automakers. "There can be others, but not at this scale," Mr. Tucker said.”  

In this sponsorship deal with college sports Nissan followed the three steps to winning sports sponsorship to a tee:

Target audience alignment – Fans of college sports align very well with Nissan’s products

Brand image alignment – The Nissan brand aligns very well with college sports fans.

Strategic activation – Nissan is going all-out on activation by having people on the ground promoting Nissan products at colleges across the country and Nissan has even produced a “Diehard Fan” app that allows fans to virtually paint their faces:

“There will be plenty of on-the-ground marketing, too. This weekend, for instance, Nissan is setting up face-painting booths at several campuses at which the deal begins immediately, including Ohio State and the University of Southern California.

All 100 schools will be active in 2016. The pact includes a sponsorship of the University of Texas vs. University of Oklahoma football game, known as the Red River Showdown. Other schools included are UCLA, Duke, Notre Dame, University of Michigan and plenty of other big-time programs.

To hype its new association, Nissan is launching a "Diehard Fan" app that allows fans to virtually paint their faces in their favorite team colors. Fans can choose from designs representing nearly all 100 collegiate teams in the new deal. The app allows fans to put virtual face paint over an existing picture or portrait. The designs were created by hand-painting them on human models and then digitally remastering them for the app.”

Kudos to Nissan and their lead creative agency TBWA, Los Angeles along with some help from the digital agency Critical Mass on the “Diehard Fan” app for creating a very unique branding campaign that during this past football season was seen and experienced by millions of fans of college sports and which will continue running into 2016.

Ad Age -

Nissan USA -


Critical Mass -

If you have any questions about event sponsorship or venue naming rights contact the Roaring Fork Agency at:

San Francisco, California – 415 730 – 4854

Seattle, Washington – 206 717 – 4854

Bend, Oregon – 541 237 – 8080

Twitter - @RoaringForkAgcy