Academy Sports + Outdoors is breathing new life into the otherwise lackluster sporting goods category.

While The Sports Authority, Inc. and Dick’s Sporting Goods, Inc. are both active sponsors—and to a lesser extent, Foot Locker, Inc.—other players have largely dabbled in sponsorship based on the ups and downs in the economy.

In a breath of fresh air, Academy Sports has significantly expanded its sponsorship portfolio over the last two years to support its growth ambitions.

The Texas-based chain—which operates roughly 170 stores in 13 southeast and Midwestern states—is aligning with pro sports teams and collegiate athletic programs to build presence in new markets.

The company over the last three months has signed more than 10 deals in Florida, Kansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and other states.

Case in point: Academy last month announced a multiyear agreement with The University of Memphis athletics to support the opening of its first Memphis-area store.

The retailer in August inked new deals with two schools in Florida and three in Kansas.

In Florida, Academy partnered with the University of Florida and Florida State University to support its growth in North Florida. The company—which operates two stores in Jacksonville—plans to open a third in the city by the end of the year.

Academy partnered with the University of Kansas, Kansas State University and the University of Missouri to promote the opening of two new stores in Kansas City. The deals follow a new partnership in March with the MLB Kansas City Royals.

In July, Academy inked deals with the North Carolina Tar Hills and NFL Carolina Panthers, the latter of which includes title of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Field at the team’s training camp.  The company entered Charlotte in March with two new stores in the Charlotte area—one in Concord and one in Kannapolis.

As a new player, Academy looks for media inventory and camera-visible signage to build visibility and awareness. For example, the Royals partnership affords branding on dugout rails in Kauffman Stadium.

Academy activates the Royals with an on-site putting contest to generate interest in golf products. The contest pits fans against a Royals player.

“The fans get into it, and it’s a great way for Academy to promote their golf brands and golf lines,” said Wes Engram, the Royals’ senior director of corporate partnerships.

Academy this fall will activate the partnership at the grassroots level through an affiliation with the Royals Winter Caravan. The community outreach program—which features players, announcers and other stakeholders—will visit Academy outlets in cities throughout Missouri, Kansas and nearby states.

The Royals are working with Academy on a promotion that can be activated across all of the retailer’s MLB team partnerships, said Engram. Ties include the Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers.

The Royals had to carve up the sporting goods retail category to accommodate Academy, said Engram. Academy gains status as the Royals’ official sporting goods retailer while Rally House serves as the official clubhouse for team apparel.

The Most Active Sports Equipment Retailers

The Most Active Sports Equipment Retailers
* Figures represent the percentage of properties reporting sponsorship from each company.

 

Academy is supporting its college marketing platform with sponsorship of the inaugural Fox College Saturday Tour. The program is visiting stadiums where Fox broadcasts national football games.

Anita Sehgal, Academy Sports + Outdoors senior vice president of marketing and advertising, spearheads sponsorship on behalf of the retailer.

Investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. in 2011 acquired a majority share of Academy Sports.