HBCU Elevate Launched to Drive Revenue for Athletic Departments

Last Updated on January 19, 2024

HBCU Elevate Launched to Drive Revenue for Athletic Departments

The sports marketing company Playfly Sports is launching a new initiative called HBCU Elevate, which aims to directly connect leading brands to Historically Black Colleges and Universities nationwide.

With a single deal, a brand can activate with 10 HBCU athletic departments and their surrounding communities.

Playfly executives said the HBCU Elevate program focuses primarily on HBCUs in mid- to large-sized markets, home to schools steeped in history, passion and tradition. HBCUs participating in the program include Bethune-Cookman, Coppin State, Edward Waters, Florida Memorial, Lane College, North Carolina A&T, Savannah State, Tennessee State, Morgan State, South Carolina State and select championship events staged by the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

“We can go to the sponsors and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a turnkey opportunity at these HBCUs, in great markets that you want to be in…A vast majority of the money goes back to those HBCUs. So, they can do more of what they want to do and fulfill more of their mission. The early traction from the brands seems to resonate.”

Kris Kassel, Senior Vice President, Growth & Innovation at Playfly Sports

More than 82% of the net sponsorship revenues – minus direct expenses to fulfill the deal – will go to the schools and the minority-owned agency, the Leon Frank Agency, that Playfly is partnering with on the HBCU Elevate initiative. The agency is an experiential marketing agency that specializes in the HBCU landscape.

Revenue from HBCU Elevate will be split evenly

The HBCU Elevate program intends to drive new revenue to the athletic departments. Revenue amassed from brands will be split evenly among the 10 HBCUs unless extenuating circumstances exist. For instance, if a school does not have a football program, and thus doesn’t participate in the football inventory, it could alter the revenue distribution model.

Additionally, each participating HBCU in the HBCU Elevate prorgam will also receive custom insights packages to help drive smarter decision-making, creative assistance for digital and static assets and career development programs. That includes access to the annual Black Student-Athlete Summit, where there may be opportunities for sponsors to be integrated as well.

Playfly has asked schools for a one-year commitment to prove the concept, which takes stakeholders through the football and men’s and women’s basketball seasons when they plan to activate. Playfly is also upfront with schools, telling them that they are asking sponsors for multi-year commitments and hope schools will want to participate beyond the HBCU Elevate initial year.

Renewed interest to reach this ‘important demographic’

Founded in 2020, Playfly is a fast-emerging company with capabilities that include multimedia rights management, media and sponsorship activation, valuation, consulting, custom advertising creative, digital content production and more. Playfly executives said HBCU Elevate reflects its continued commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

“This opens up new opportunities for strategic partnerships and growth for universities that generate over $14 billion in economic activity each year…There is a renewed interest by brands in reaching this important demographic, and HBCU Elevate provides first-of-its-kind, on-the-ground access across the HBCU game day, where fans are engaging with the teams they love.”

Christy Hedgpeth, Playfly Sports President

Kassel said this is a win-win for brands and universities.

Benefits include a suite of student-athlete, administrator and university resources. And from a brand perspective, Playfly had been hearing that they have a heightened interest in working with HBCUs but didn’t necessarily possess the “bandwidth” to go out and cut a variety of individual deals. This addresses that pain point.

Kassel said the focus is on attracting large, mainstream brands that aren’t controversial on a college campus. Because schools already have many traditional partnerships, such as apparel or beverage deals, they intend to avoid those lanes. They also plan to avoid brands in the alcohol or gambling sector. The latter of which has drawn recent criticism and prompted new guidance from the American Gaming Association. In March, the AGA updated its Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering, prohibiting college partnerships that promote, market or advertise sports wagering activity.

“These will be mainstream, a lot of consumer products, a lot of consumer-facing brands.”

Kris Kassel, Senior Vice President, Growth & Innovation at Playfly Sports

Rich traditions going back more than century

The array of activations will include a mix of traditional athletic inventory, starting with activating around football and men’s and women’s basketball during the 2023-24 academic year. For example, there may be 10 football signs that are similar to traditional athletic inventory. From there, Playfly will customize the partnerships, assuming the responsibility of developing particular media opportunities or social media content. They could develop mini-documentaries through Playfly’s creative division or create a specific social media content series that Playfly would push out through schools’ social platforms.

Beyond that, there will be an assortment of on-the-ground activations, such as if the sponsor has a mobile app that it wants to take around to select events. Additionally, Playfly will explore cultural integrations on campus for sponsors so that brands can enjoy exposure during events, such as homecoming, band competitions or a variety of festivals that are campus hallmarks.

When asked to assess the opportunity for HBCU Elevate to deliver exposure for brands working with schools outside the FBS, Kassel said, “These are certainly universities that have a rich tradition going back 100, 150, 200 years in some cases. They have fan bases that are very passionate, and that’s been something we’ve heard from brands is the challenge of getting on campus. Because, again, these brands don’t have the bandwidth to go cut a lot of individual deals. So, they may have done a conference deal in the past, which is fine. But it doesn’t get them on the individual campuses. But there are also media packages that cover these games. So whether it’s an ESPN package of HBCU games or various webcasts, things like that, there is an ever-expanding group of media covering these events. Our sponsor will certainly benefit from that.”

‘Nothing but enthusiasm’ on HBCU campuses

Another benefit of HBCU Elevate, Kassel said, is that Playfly will provide schools with insights into the habits of their fans and donors. That allows administrators to use these tools when they pursue local sponsorships or philanthropic gifts. And Playfly wants to develop programming for up-and-coming HBCU administrators by tapping into its cadre of athletic directors who have expressed an eagerness in mentoring rising HBCU administrators.

Playfly expects some brands to jump on board with the HBCU Elevate program in the next few weeks. Looking toward the future, Kassel acknowledged that some very small markets may create a challenge to fold into this model. But as Playfly finds success with this initial 10-school portfolio, Kassel hopes more schools will raise their hand and want in and more brands will dictate additional markets that Playfly may expand to.

So far, initial enthusiasm for HBCU Elevate among the 10 schools has been strong.

“They’ve been a little surprised that we don’t want anything upfront from them,” Kassel said. “We’re not looking for upfront dollars from them. We’re asking for a time commitment of some period of time to be a part of the consortium, help us prove the concept and launch it. But there’s nothing but enthusiasm on the campuses.

“These athletic directors have hard jobs. They have constant stretching of resources, so anything that can bring additional financial resources to help them do what they do, I think they’re enthusiastic about. I think we’ve, in many ways, eliminated all the reasons that somebody would say no to this program.”

Kris Kassel, Senior Vice President, Growth & Innovation at Playfly Sports

Source: ON3 Media

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