ESPN Inks Dr Pepper as First Mega-Sponsor of the College Football Playoff Series

Soft drink brand will present championship trophy

ESPN has signed on Dr Pepper as the first official Championship Partner of the College Football Playoff series, which kicks off on Jan. 1 in Pasadena and New Orleans.

Analogous to the NCAA’s Corporate Championships program, the CFP Championship Partner designation represents the highest level of sponsorship and activation. While financials were not disclosed, conservative estimates put the investment at around what one might expect to pay for a title sponsorhip—about $35 million per season.

(Unlike the six major feeder bowls—Rose, Orange, Sugar, Cotton, Fiesta, Chick-fil-A—the new CFP championship game will not be backed by a corporate sponsor.)

“This is the biggest sponsorship deal we’ve done,” said Dr Pepper's evp of marketing, Jim Trebilcock. “This will be our version of the Super Bowl.”

Per terms of the deal, which extends through 2020, Dr Pepper also will serve as the presenting sponsor of the new College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy. Dr Pepper had sponsored the BCS Championship trophy going back to the 2010 title tilt, so its alliance with the CFP trophy provides a sort of through-line between the old regime and the new.

“Dr Pepper has been a supporter of college football for a very long time, and that continuity is important to us,” said Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Championship. “They’ve established and maintained a brand that is dignified but also appeals to young people, and that aligns with everything we are as an organization.”

Long-term relationships are especially important to Ed Erhardt, president of global customer marketing and sales at ESPN. “They’ve been with us a long time. This isn’t the case where a brand manager suddenly woke up and said, ‘Hey, I want to get in on this,’” Erhardt said. “We’re all working together to build something from the ground up that we think will be unprecedented. We’re looking it as the last great American sports championship.”

The CFP totem, which will replace the 45-pound Waterford crystal football that had been presented to the winners of the now-defunct BCS National Championship Game, is still in the design process. It is expected to be unveiled later this spring. 

Because ESPN and the CFP are building an iconic sporting event from scratch, the network will whip up interest in the trophy by way of trotting it out at high-profile in-season and bowl games. It also will be featured during select installments of ESPN College GameDay

The trophy will be presented to the winner of the inaugural CFP Championship Game on Jan. 12, 2015, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.  

The establishment of the four-team playoff system replaces the 16-year compromise that was the BCS. As such, for the first time, college football will crown an unambiguous, definitive champion, one that will be determined by on-field performance rather than polling. 

Along with its long-term commitment to the CFP series, Dr Pepper also has agreed to sponsor ESPN’s SEC Network, which is slated to launch on Aug. 14. The beverage giant simultaneously re-upped as an official sponsor of the powerhouse athletic conference.

“We’ve been partners going back to the 1990s, and in terms of the level of competition, there’s nothing like SEC football,” Trebilcock said. “If you’re not going to a game, you’re watching on TV if you’re in one of those states. It’s just so much a part of what people do in the fall … and as it happens, those happen to be some of our higher per capita markets.”

In scheduling the playoffs for New Year’s Day, ESPN will look to own the categories that are natural endemics to the annual tabula rasa. “Auto, financial planning, weight loss, tax preparation. This is a great way to position ourselves at the beginning of the year,” Erhardt said.

ESPN is the fully integrated sales organization for all media and activation around the CFP series.

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