Off the Shelf vs. Do It Yourself
The typical approach to identifying sponsorship opportunities is like buying Nike shoes at a store- you look at the different styles to find one that meets your specific need (e.g., running, training, or basketball), has desirable attributes (e.g., color and style), and fits within an acceptable price range. If all these criteria are met and the style is available in your size, you have yourself a new pair of shoes, er I mean new sponsorship. Unfortunately, not all sponsorship opportunities can be secured by purchasing off the shelf; one or more variables unique to the buyer's situation makes ready-made sponsorship deals an awkward fit. When this occurs, a company does not have to abandon sponsorship, but it has to take a different approach to securing partnerships.
An example of how to take a do-it-yourself approach to creating sponsorship opportunities is the recent deal announced by Zaxby's. The Athens, Georgia-based chicken restaurant has more than 500 locations, primarily in the southeastern United States. Zaxby's has tapped the emotional appeal of college sports in a creative way that allowed it to achieve a good geographic fit between universities sponsored and markets with Zaxby's locations. A recent deal with 25 universities made up of schools in the Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten Conference, Big 12 Conference, Conference USA, and Sun Belt Conference includes Zaxby's being dubbed "The Official Chicken of College Sports." This designation is creative... literally. Such a sponsorship category does not exist in terms of being sold by the NCAA or any other body. But, it exists now because Zaxby's has declared its brand the Official Chicken of College Sports. Returning to the shoe analogy, Zaxby's has done the equivalent of visiting NikeiD.com to craft a product that best fits its needs and wants.
Zaxby's Deal Scores
The Zaxby's deal is beneficial in multiple ways. First, Zaxby's was able to be selective about which schools it partnered with in this deal. The collection of 25 universities is strategic not only as the markets where they are located match up well with Zaxby's footprint, but two major universities in each state are included in the deal for all states except one (South Carolina). This approach is preferred to buying official conference sponsorship deals because Zaxby's had more control over which markets it could impact with this deal. Second, pinpointing specific universities can be better than blanket league or conference deals in that if there are no Zaxby's restaurants in markets where a conference university is located there is little chance to influence consumers- they would have a hard time eating at a Zaxby's even if they wanted! Third, Zaxby's gets around the clutter created when a sports property has an inventory of sponsorship categories to sell. Rather than being a corporate name on a sponsor roster, Zaxby's bought independence by forging its own deal to be the Official Chicken of College Sports.
For a regional brand like Zaxby's, a selective market approach to entering into sponsorship deals is an effective strategy. A customized product, one tailored to meet the specific criteria of an individual customer, potentially delivers greater value than a standardized product made for multiple customers. The Zaxby's sponsorship deal with 25 universities might inspire other brands to forge a unique position with college athletics, one that does not require buying off the shelf from the NCAA or a conference.
Atlanta Business Chronicle - "Zaxby's Gets Sponsorship Deal with 25 Universities"