The past year has been a success for the Big Ten Conference, at least in terms of sponsorship revenue.

The collegiate athletic conference has secured more than five new partners over the past 12 months, with a nod to companies in nontraditional categories.

New and/or recent partners include Bayer, International Truck, U.S. Cellular, Valvoline and Kraft Heinz (Devour).

The partnerships add to a portfolio that includes Libman Co. (mops), ArcelorMittal (steel) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

IEG SR spoke with Scott Bailey, general manager at Big Ten Sports Properties, about the conference’s sales success. Below, some key takeaways from the conversation.

Prospect companies in marketing footprint
With a footprint that stretches from the Midwest to the Northeast, the Big Ten scouts companies with a corporate headquarters in its marketing territory.

“One of our prospecting techniques is to exhaust, as much as we can, companies in the Big Ten footprint.”

Case in point: ArcelorMittal is based in Chicago (the home of the Big Ten Conference); Libman is based in Arcola, Ill., while Bayer is located in New Jersey, the location of Big Ten expansion territory.

The strategy encompasses companies in both traditional and nontraditional categories. For example, Bailey initially reached out to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s regional office in Detroit following the departure of the U.S. Air Force in the military category. The effort resulted in a deal with the agency’s Washington, D.C.-based headquarters.

Know your audience
After an initial meeting with Bayer reveled an interest in promoting STEM education and agriculture, Bailey took an in-depth look at the students and alumni of Big Ten schools.

The research revealed a large number of alumni in the field of science (Big Ten schools produce nearly 20 percent of graduates with a Ph. D in the country) and that six of the top ten agricultural producing states are located in the Big Ten footprint.

“We combined the STEM piece with the agriculture piece, and Bayer saw a nice fit.”

The large number of agricultural producers in the Big Ten footprint helped sweeten the deal ahead of Bayer’s looming merger with seed giant Monsanto.

Scout strategic tie-ins
The Big Ten secured The Libman Co. in part by offering a strategic platform in which to promote the company’s hardwood floor care line.

Basketball quickly came to the fore during the ideation process.

The brainstorming session resulted in a package that included sponsorship of cleaning crews and branded mops at Big Ten basketball games. The five-year-old partnership has since evolved into courtside signage and other TV visible signage.

The sponsorship has been a success. After dipping its “mop” into the sponsorship waters with the Big Ten Conference, Libman has since expanded its sponsorship portfolio to include Georgia Tech athletics, the Toronto Raptors and other collegiate and professional sports teams.

Leverage strategic partners
The Big Ten plays up locally-based retail chains when prospecting deals in the consumer packaged goods category. Case in point: The presence of Menards, Meijer and other retailers in the Big Ten footprint was a key benefit for Libman.

“The retail fit was strong for them,” said Bailey.

Leverage conference partners
Libman’s partnership with the Big Ten includes both the conference and 12 member schools—the first time a sponsor has been able to buy school and conference rights in the same deal.

Learfield Sports—the Big Ten’s multimedia rights holder—worked with client schools as well as those with whom it does not directly represent.

“Our relationships give us the flexibility to do fully integrated partnerships with both conference and school assets.”