Nissan partners with 100 universities in 'unprecedented' athletics brand deal

The four-year agreement gives the brand a dominating presence in college sports for years to come

Nissan is putting its game face on.

The automaker has struck what it is billing as the "widest-reaching deal in the history of collegiate sports" to become an official sponsor of 100 colleges and universities nationwide and a supporter of select NCAA Championships. 

The agreement gives the brand a nearly ubiquitious presence at college campuses nationwide, including 64 out of the 65 schools in the Power Five conferences. (It excludes Michigan State, which has a longstanding partnership with GM.)

"Nissan will have a presence at all sporting events, 11 months out of the year. Nearly every week that college sports are played we'll have something going on on campus unique to Nissan," said Jeremy Tucker, vice president of marketing communications and media at Nissan North America.

University stadiums and arenas will display ads for the brand, and 1,100 local Nissan dealers will participate in the campaign. Sponsored scholarships and sports equipment will also be included.

"We created a custom playbook for each one of these schools to allow the dealers to go through market by market and leverage all of the media they currently place, in addition to new media that we're purchasing as a part of this deal that will be encompassing television, radio, digital, social and assets from their local college," Tucker said. "So we get access to the mark, the colors, the slogan, and we can bring that not only to the Nissan brand level, but all the way down to the dealership level for them to activate."

Part of Nissan’s "go big" marketing strategy to create "unforgettable" moments such as Nissan’s return to the Super Bowl last season, the deal covers 22 men’s and women’s sports and reaches thousands of student-athletes, 22 million alumni and 188 million fans across the nation.

The partnerships with the individual schools were orchestrated by OMD, Tucker said, while Zimmerman structured the activations and worked with local dealers. "It's been a tremendous effort by both of these agencies," Tucker said. TBWA/Chiat/Day will be involved in the advertising messaging in the future, he added.

The deal began as an expansion of Nissan’s partnership with the Heisman Trophy Trust and last year’s Heisman House campaign, which involved 11 schools and a single sport. "People lined up out the door waiting for hours to experience the event and meet the Heisman winners," Tucker said, prompting Nissan to "take it to a whole new level beyond just football."

"It's one thing to do the deal and spend the money on it, and everybody can logo-slap and do that," Tucker said. "It's another thing to create an experience that hits hearts and minds and creates an unforgettable fan experience."

The deal — which SportsBusiness Daily in September estimated to cost the company anywhere from $100,000 to $400,000 per team (a claim Tucker called "speculation") — required Nissan to negotiate with the media rights holder of each school, including IMG College, Learfield Sports, Outfront Media Sports, FOX Collegiate Sports Properties, JMI Sports and Sun Devil Athletics.

An official corporate sponsor of NCAA Men’s Basketball, Nissan will also receive rights to activate at select NCAA Championship events.

To help celebrate its new school spirit, Nissan is also releasing an augmented-reality "Diehard Fan" app that gives fans the ability to virtually paint their game face using their phone or tablet.  Available for free from the App Store and Google Play, the app allows users to select from thousands of game faces that represent nearly all of the 100 collegiate teams that are participating in the sponsorship program.  

A 30-second spot from Critical Mass, which created the app, promotes it with past Heisman winners Troy Smith, Eddie George and Tony Dorsett. The ad will run on social media, but Tucker said he hasn’t ruled out appearances on other platforms like television in the future.

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