ISP brings sponsors to TCU

TCU athletics is funded by more than 120 sponsors, including American Airlines, GEICO, Gatorade and State Farm Insurance, according to the 2007-08 Athletics Annual Report. But how does a company get to associate itself with TCU athletics?

Look no further than the North Carolina-based ISP Sports Network.

According to the athletics Web site, ISP Sports receives the rights to all sales and marketing opportunities associated with Horned Frog athletics, including the TCU radio network for all sports, print advertising in various athletic department publications, promotions and all signage in TCU athletics facilities.

According to the Annual Report, in the 2007-08 academic year ISP brought in $1.7 million to support athletics and is currently in the third of a seven-year deal with TCU that started in July 2006 when it took over rights from ERT: ESPN Regional Television.

The person who oversees day-to-day procedures is Rudy Klancnik, assistant vice president and general manager of the TCU ISP Sports Network.

“Anyone that wants to reach TCU’s fan is a potential partner,” Klancnik said, adding that San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, a former TCU athlete, has been a great ambassador for the university.

Klancnik said ISP looks for companies that reach out to a TCU demographic, meaning college students and alumni in the area.

“A lot of these folks are decision makers in the Fort Worth area,” Klancnik said. “When you reach them through a sign or a radio spot or a promotion, you’re often reaching somebody that has influence within business.”

Klancnik said home football games are great because Frog Alley allows good customer relations.

“We do a lot of creative stuff to get businesses face-to-face with their potential customers,” Klancnik said.

Because it is not a campus organization, ISP Sports is not guided by the Mountain West Conference and does not follow conference regulations; however, the university administration approves all partners, Klancnik said.

Kim Slawson, owner of the Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers in Bluebonnet Circle, said she has valued the partnership with ISP.

“From a TCU football perspective, when we have football games, we will expect our sales to increase 10 to 20 percent,” Slawson said.

Slawson said TCU football fans who look to eat before and after games help business tremendously.

“Especially when we have 5:30 p.m. games,” Slawson said. “We have a huge lunch business; people go out to dinner before the game, and then we also get hit after the game as well.”

Slawson said Mellow Mushroom is involved in basketball, but their big business comes primarily during the football season.

“We have a really good relationship with everybody at TCU,” Slawson said.

Mellow Mushroom has been with ISP for three years, and Slawson said she plans to remain a partner.

While restaurants can become partners, Klancnik said gambling or liquor corporations would never become partners because it isn’t something the university or sports teams should be connected with.

“If it’s a questionable client we talk to the school and try to work through it the best we can,” Klancnik said. “We want sponsors that are respectful and understand that this is college athletics and not pro.”

Klancnik said contracts are done on a yearly basis that starts in September with football and ends in the summer with baseball. Partners usually buy a two- to three-year contract so they can keep pushing their product to fans, and so they can be locked at a certain rate.

“Say you have a one-year deal and you really liked it, well what if TCU makes the Sugar Bowl?” Klancnik said. “You don’t have a locked-in year so that price is going up; we’re more valuable.”

He said ISP has only dropped a national student loan company after the company was questioned by the government. Klancnik didn’t want to release the dropped company’s name. Partnerships are usually terminated if the partner doesn’t want to renew its contract.

Klancnik said Acme Brick Co. is one of TCU’s most devoted partners.

Klancnik said because it has so many sponsors, ISP Sports may have “category specific” partners. ISP has only one airline, American Airlines, and one phone provider, Verizon Wireless, that inhibit ISP from talking to other airlines or phone providers.

However, ISP can negotiate deals with two of the same “category specific” companies for different sports. For example, Pepsi is the official soft drink of the football team, while Coca-Cola is the official soft drink of the baseball team.

ISP can partner with as many banks, restaurants and health care providers it wants.

“The challenge there is to make sure what we do for one company is really good and helpful and then for the other company is really good and helpful, but we don’t cross the streams,” Klancnik said. “We look at every company individually.”

Klancnik said TCU athletics isn’t the only thing drawing interest from businesses.

“I am competing with the Cowboys, the Rangers, the Cats, the bowl game, the Bass Performance Hall,” Klancnik said. “It’s not just sports; we compete with events too.”

As far as new sponsors next year, Klancnik said he doesn’t know what to expect for the 2009-10 athletic year, especially because the economy may not be doing well.