Education

University of Iowa opts against multimedia marketing partner

Proposal had sought 'cutting edge' program to monetize campus

Through a lucrative athletics marketing deal for the University of Iowa, partners are able to brand a wide array of gear
Through a lucrative athletics marketing deal for the University of Iowa, partners are able to brand a wide array of gear and facilities. Here, Iowa Hawkeyes teammates react on the “Mediacom Court” as the clock runs out Jan. 23 during the fourth quarter at a game with Rutgers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The UI sought proposals for a broader marketing effort across campus, but now has decided against it. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — After issuing a first-of-its-kind call earlier this year for vendors interested in providing the University of Iowa with a “cutting-edge campuswide marketing program” aimed at diversifying its resources, administrators have decided against it.

“After further review and consideration, the UI chose not to pursue this opportunity,” UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said in an email.

She didn’t elaborate on why the campus didn’t hire any of those who answered its call in January to facilitate “creative opportunities for parties interested in developing a marketing relationship with the University of Iowa.”

Beck confirmed the UI request did generate proposals, though she said the campus doesn’t release names of bidders or even the number of bidders on proposals it doesn’t award.

The proposal was not about advertising the university to the public as much as it was about capitalizing on the UI brand by partnering with entities interested in harnessing the campus’ marketing power.

The UI Athletics Department, for example, has partnered with Learfield Communications since 2006 to sell advertising at games, during weekly coach shows, on ticket stubs, news conference backdrops, seat cushions and press boxes — to name just a few.

UI athletics in 2011 allowed its multimedia marketing partner to facilitate sponsorship of the Carver-Hawkeye Arena floor.

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And the broader campus has existing, individual agreements with various athletic wear, cellular service, banking, food and coffee companies, according to bid documents.

But, Beck previously told The Gazette, a campuswide multimedia rights agreement like the one it sought would have been a first for the UI, which has been investigating an array of alternate funding sources in light of recent cutbacks in state appropriations.

At the same time the campus was investigating the marketing idea, it also was seeking a private sector partner to operate its utilities system — in hopes of securing an upfront payment that could be an endowment supporting its educational and research mission.

That prospect materialized earlier this month when the Board of Regents approved the UI’s partnership with a collaborative of Paris-based companies willing to pay the university $1.165 billion up front for the guarantee of 50 years of secure revenue.

In exchange for that upfront sum — which the UI expects to cash flow more than $3 billion over the life of the contract — the campus must pay the collaborative an annual fee while also covering its regular costs for utilities, fuel, salaries and facility maintenance.

Although the broader UI campus didn’t sign on a multimedia marketing partner, its athletics enterprise has extended its deal with Learfield through 2026 — granting that firm exclusive rights to all revenue-generating opportunities on the UI athletics website. It also grants it the right to sell ad space on game programs, electronic signage in Kinnick Stadium and Carver-Hawkeye Arena, concourse displays, coach headsets, souvenir cups, even field goal nets.

For such expansive brand access, Learfield pays the UI an escalating fee that started at $4.9 million and has grown to $6.9 million. It’s scheduled to reach $8 million by the contract’s final year in 2026.

Contracts provided to The Gazette indicate the total amassed from just the Learfield fee has topped $76 million — and that doesn’t include additional proceeds for good UI performance, like bowl game appearances.

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Learfield, according to its contract, must pay the UI half of all annually-collected gross revenue above $12.3 million, a threshold that increases to $14.6 million in the contract’s final year.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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