The College Football Playoff will be big for brands, but it won’t be the Super Bowl

(AP Photo/Tim Sharp)
(AP Photo/Tim Sharp)

The College Football Playoff (CFP) is good for business. With big name schools (Ohio State, Florida State, Oregon and Alabama) involved, it will most likely draw higher ratings than a typical BCS championship game. Brands also benefit from having three big games (two semi-finals and one championship) instead of just one. The idea has been floated that the CFP may eventually be as big to brands as the Super Bowl. Even once brands figure out how to activate around the CFP, there are several reasons the Super Bowl will reign supreme.

As Ad Age points out, it’s tough to activate around the holidays. Every company activates around the holidays, which can take consumers focus away from sports-based branding. Consumers are inundated with advertisements, making it more difficult to engage consumers across all demographics. On the other hand, the NFL has two weeks in late January and early February for sponsors to focus on activation. There is nothing going on during that period. The Super Bowl garners such attention that engagement is at an all-time high for the NFL and its partners.

The second issue is that college football is extremely regional, while the NFL has a national reach. Yes, the four teams playing are big brands, but they are still extremely regional. Regional activations would have to be more tailored for the geographic target markets. National activations are not particularly as easy. College Football doesn’t resonate as much in the Northeast, a major market for any sport. Unless a fan attended college at one of the semifinalist’s universities, they likely aren’t as engaged as they would be with the NFL.

(Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)
(Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

There is a good chance even the casual fan knows someone on the Broncos, Patriots, Seahawks, or Packers (currently the four favorites in Las Vegas). Because these teams play on Sunday Night, Monday Night, or on Thanksgiving, the teams and it’s players are highly visible. The players are brand names. A casual fan may know Marcus Mariota, but they probably saw Oregon play once, maybe twice?

The NFL and the Super Bowl can also activate around specific players. How much more effective is a Papa John’s Super Bowl advertisement if Peyton Manning is also playing in the game. It is much more effective for Microsoft to activate around the venue if Russell Wilson is leading the Seahawks in a quest for back to back Super Bowls. These endorsement deals also create familiarity with the casual fan. As we know, NCAA athletes can not have endorsement deals period.

The College Football Playoff will most likely provide a higher ROI for its partners than the BCS ever did. CFP sponsors are also just beginning to figure out how to activate around the new event, but it will never match the branding power of the Super Bowl. It is a lofty goal, but probably isn’t possible.

Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.

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