by Art Levy
Updated 5 yearss ago
Knowing its 10-year marketing partnership with IMG would expire this summer, the University of South Florida’s athletic department began looking for a better deal, one that would bring more revenue to the school and also boost USF’s sports brand while livening up the game experience for fans.
At about the same time, Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning — ESPN’s topranked professional sports franchise in 2016 — was looking for business opportunities in collegiate sports.
USF interviewed “more than a few” businesses in sports marketing, “and at the end of the day, after a very competitive process, it was clear that we should get together with Mr. Vinik,” says Mark Harlan, USF’s athletic director. “Mr. Vinik is the gold standard in this town.”
Eventually, the school signed a 10-year, $29-million marketing partnership with Vinik’s newly formed Tampa Bay Entertainment Properties to sell sponsorships, produce Bulls’ radio programs and bring Lightning-style entertainment to USF sporting events. For fans, Harlan says, that means they’ll experience more in-game contests, “highly charged videos” and interactions with sponsors.
The deal gives Tampa Bay Entertainment Properties 35% of the revenue from naming rights for the Sun Dome arena on USF’s campus. The arena doesn’t currently have a naming-rights deal.
In a separate agreement, Tampa Bay Entertainment Properties, which already manages the 21,500-seat Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa, will also manage the 10,411-seat Sun Dome.
Lightning CEO Steve Griggs says the ties between Vinik’s companies and USF go beyond sports. Vinik donated an acre for USF’s new medical school building downtown, and Vinik also helped USF launch its MBA program in sport and entertainment management.
“There are multiple layers of relationships and partnerships between the two entities, so the multi-media partnership just seemed to be a natural fit,” Griggs says. “When you look at the leadership of USF’s athletic program and where the sports are trending, we see huge opportunities.”
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