Selling State


Jacks market athletic success with new firm

SDSU is a Division I university and now they’re starting to look, sound, and feel like one too.

In January, the athletic department and Learfield Sports, a collegiate sports marketing firm, reached a 10 year, $12.5 million deal to outsource SDSU’s athletic marketing efforts to a company that has extensive experience working with more than 50 athletic institutions. The two have combined to form “Jackrabbit Sports Properties,” which will be in charge of selling media rights, advertising and marketing on behalf of SDSU.

To simplify, JSP operates with their own staff and operating budget. They contact businesses throughout South Dakota and the United States that essentially want to create a connection between SDSU’s fans and alumni and businesses. The Jacks plan to do that through radio, television and internet advertising, along with print, hospitality and in-stadium sponsorships.

Unofficially, it’s part of the athletic program’s larger growth plan that could potentially go hand-and-hand with new athletic facilities.

“Given the economy and the changing nature of sponsorships, it was important for us to get some guaranteed revenue out of corporate sponsorships and it is far greater than what we were bringing in on annual basis and we were able to get growth out of that and help ourselves financially,” Jackrabbits Director of Athletics Justin Sell said.

For Learfield, it was a chance to get into South Dakota and work with the largest university in the state that still had untapped potential. SDSU has a strong foothold in the region but likely would have struggled to build a presence with any national brands without a firm like the Dallas-based company on board.

“SDSU was an attractive opportunity for Learfield Sports because there were already great business partners in place but we also knew that there is a significant amount of potential to grow this, specifically with those ag producers,” JSP general manager Brad Poe said.

That ag impact was on hand for start of the football season. On Sept. 3, Case IH had a combine parked west of the Dykhouse Student-Athlete Center near the Backyard, a perk of JSP’s new deal with the agricultural equipment company. Inside the stadium, advertisements bordered the east sideline, pitching various seed companies’ products, banking and medical care.

“One thing that they can do better than what we can do internally is they have regional and national contacts, that when your talking about national firms, are able to sit down and deal with them in a way that we just wouldn’t be able to,” Sell said.

Both Poe and Sell have pointed to the growth of the Jackrabbit Radio Network, which broadcasts football and men’s basketball around the state through seven affiliates stretching from Belle Fouche to Watertown, as the most visible early sign that Learfield Sports is spreading SDSU’s sports.

“By having those national sellers talking about SDSU, that opens opportunities with firms that had never considered a relationship with SDSU. Now they’re hearing it and seeing value in it and they know that the school in South Dakota that will give them the most exposure is SDSU,” Poe said.

Poe, who has experience working at the University of Idaho and San Jose State University, said that SDSU is closer to the former because both are the “biggest game in town” and their respective state’s land grant institution. The move allows SDSU to refocus some of their personnel back to in-house duties, most importantly, selling season tickets and fundraising.

Their in-state neighbor, USD, also recently became a partner with Learfield and while the two schools will renew their athletic rivalries this season, both SDSU and USD are working together to build relationships with companies throughout the Midwest. Both have been in talks about creating a series that would tie a corporate sponsor and charitable organization in with the SDSU-USD football rivalry game in 2012, similar to the “Cy-Hawk Series” between Iowa and Iowa State.

Regardless, the new deal for the Jackrabbits will only grow athletics visibility both in South Dakota and beyond.

“The ability to market our program statewide and regionally is really important and working with them allows us to be wired in with a much bigger network,” Sell said.