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Northwestern Mutual Scores NCAA Partnership

CBS, Turner Sports broker corporate sponsorship for insurance company

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Northwestern Mutual has brokered a deal through CBS Sports and Turner Sports to become an official corporate partner of the NCAA, representing the life insurance, wealth management and retirement-planning services categories.

The Milwaukee-based firm replaces The Hartford, which wrapped its eight-year partnership with college sports’ governing body in December.

The Northwestern Mutual pact extends through 2014. Its partnership with the NCAA provides exclusive marketing and promotional rights in the three relevant categories, as well as usage of all NCAA-approved trademarks and logos.

While financial terms were not disclosed, the average corporate partner invests around $7.5 million per year for the rights to team up with the NCAA.

Now in the initial stages of activation, the partnership will tip off on the national stage as the curtain goes up on the 2012 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. Northwestern Mutual will serve as presenting sponsor of the first four March Madness games on truTV, a premium that includes in-game graphic enhancements and custom vignettes.

The Road to the Final Four begins March 13-14 in Dayton, Ohio.

Over the course of the first four broadcasts of the 2011 tourney—the first to be shared by CBS and Turner under their 14-year agreement—truTV averaged 1.15 million viewers. All told, last year’s big dance was the most watched since 2005, averaging 10.2 million total viewers.  

Along with the presenting sponsorship of the early games, Northwestern Mutual will also buy :30s and :60s throughout the three-week tourney, which airs on CBS, TNT, TBS and the aforementioned truTV.

In what marks the company’s first coordinated effort to promote the full range of its financial services on a national stage, Northwestern Mutual will roll out new creative devoted to its wealth management and retirement planning offerings.

“This is all part of a concerted effort to introduce our investment products and services to a much wider audience,” said Conrad York, vp, marketing at Northwestern Mutual. “For years, ‘the Quiet Company’ was a defining part of our marketing plan. Well, we’re no longer going to be the quiet company.”

In addition to getting out the word on its financial-planning expertise, the media exposure is designed to reinforce the company’s recruitment efforts. Currently staffed by 7,000 financial representatives, Northwestern Mutual is looking to hire another 2,000 reps in 2012.

“The event-based strategy lines up really well for us,” said Chad Dern, director, brand and advertising at Northwestern Mutual. “The association with the NCAA offers a greater opportunity for our reps to do community outreach.” The perks of the partnership include on-site hospitality at all 89 NCAA championships, including March Madness, the College World Series and the Frozen Four.

York said the investment also may be seen as an extension of Northwestern Mutual’s ongoing support of higher education. Since 2007, the company has donated more than $11.5 million to higher education institutions.

CBS/Turner are still on the lookout for a replacement for State Farm, which ended its six-year association with the NCAA in 2011. According to Will Funk, svp of NCAA partnerships and branded programming within Turner Sports Ad Sales, conversations with a number of perspective property/casualty specialists are ongoing.

“We’ve repped the NCAA’s brand management for the last 10 years,” said Chris Simko, svp, CBS Sports Sales and Marketing. “The level of customization that’s available to the corporate partners and the value of associating with the NCAA make the clients who invest in these long-term alignments really stand out from those who just come into the tournament on the TV side.”

Naturally, no one is discounting the value of the traditional media buy. According to Kantar Media estimates, the first year of CBS and Turner’s association was a lollapalooza. The two media partners generated $743.4 million in March Madness ad sales revenue, up 21 percent from $631.8 million during the 2010 tourney.