Guest Column By John Brody – in JohnWallStreet, by Sportico, Jan. 6, 2022

Timing, Change and the Evolution of College Sports

Today’s guest columnist is John Brody, chief revenue officer at Learfield.

Timing is everything in life.

And right now, the college sports industry is in the midst of historic and mind-blowing transformation, evolving at breakneck speed, accelerated by COVID-19. Timing matters, and so does one’s ability to take advantage of the opportunity it can present.

How has timing played a role in my career? I have been extremely fortunate to have learned and grown at incredible places at transformative times in their history. Whether it was America’s obsession with the McGwire/Sosa home run race and the creation and execution of the All-Century Team at Major League Baseball, or the landmark sale of the Boston Celtics franchise to a group of passionate local whiz kids. This pattern was also reflected in my experience in football, which included securing the iconic MetLife stadium naming rights partnership for the Jets and Giants and the subsequent positioning of the Microsoft Surface on those very sidelines. At WWE, I was privileged to be part of the epic global rise of its Women’s Division, ushered in by Rowdy Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair.

Throughout this journey, I’ve found it best to have a plan and focus on the key principles that truly matter. For me, the most significant factors include: 1) Is the content relevant to the consumer now and in the future? 2) Is leadership committed? 3) Can I make a real difference in my role? As I begin my role as Learfield’s chief revenue officer, I believe this is the most impactful opportunity of my career. Why Learfield, why college, and why now?

Over the past year, we’ve seen a cataclysmic shift within the college sports landscape. There has been change that will have lasting effects for decades, from NIL to content distribution to conference realignment to new rules tied to transfer portals. We also have experienced a global pandemic, which has forced fans and universities alike to adjust their habits and way of life. While fans’ passion for their school is timeless, what is inbounds and out of bounds, and how they consume content, has been altered.

The power of compelling content is shaping how we look at the present and the future at Learfield. It’s not just more games in more sports for women and men, it is new areas like esports and more access to what it really means to be a student athlete. The cameras, or iPhones, are omnipresent, and the fans want it that way. They want to see downtime in addition to game time, providing full access to their school and the student athletes.

College sports marketing is no longer limited to traditional gameday activation. It is now a 24/7/365 connection. With today’s technology, fans can have what they want, when and where they want it.

College is genuine and touches us all in deep and remarkable ways. Where else can you find the passion and a true cradle-to-grave fandom? Where else is the bumper sticker, face-painting or fight song an authentic reality rather than a marketing director’s dream? Pep rallies and big-game parties were invented in college, perfected on campus. College sports fans represent the largest fan base in the United States, boasting more fans than the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL with 180 million worldwide. To view the data, I’d encourage you to read through the Learfield Intercollegiate Fan Report that our team compiled.

Learfield is well-positioned, serving as the “front door” of college athletics. Our company is not only the multimedia rights holder for both Georgia and Alabama, who will compete in the College Football Playoff title game on Monday night, but we play the same role for Montana State and North Dakota State, the finalists in the FCS championship on Saturday.

While known for our footprint in traditional multimedia rights, many are unaware that we help unlock robust fan data that has enabled universities to better understand the habits and behaviors of over 30 million known fans, and more than 100 million others who peruse official athletics sites and apps. Our Fanbase solution—a comprehensive, fan-centric data and analytics platform—enables partner schools to increase engagement and unlock ways to generate more revenue. Fanbase has been successful in its first year, as our schools have experienced a threefold increase in engagement and seen consideration and purchase intent double.

What a time for brands to jump into college sports. NIL, digital/social transformation, and access to the country’s most rabid fans has led to more creativity and innovation. We were at the center of the historic football field naming rights deal between cryptocurrency brand FTX and Cal. We created new on-field assets for Dewalt, the world’s largest tool brand, which entered the college sports space for the first time this season with co-branded in-stadium football benches at 25 top schools across the U.S.

I am excited to create and execute programs for brands that excite consumers and reflect positively on our university partners. The level of sophistication, opportunity and access in college has progressed, and now is the time to truly compete against other sports leagues. I look forward to the challenge, because, of course, timing is everything.

Prior to joining Learfield, Brody held executive positions with WWE, the NFL, Major League Baseball, Wasserman and the Boston Celtics.