The Marketing Power of College Football

The popularity of college football in the US cannot be understated. Every year college teams around the nation attract crowds that rival the NFL with the TV viewing figures to match. ESPN averaged 17.2 million viewers for the Georgia Bulldogs’ blowout win over the TCU Horned Frogs in the 2023 CFP national championship game. There are seven college football stadiums with capacities exceeding 100,000 and they are frequently sold out.

The sport has become a financial juggernaut, helping the respective schools rake in millions every year. The average annual total revenue for an FBS football program is more than $20 million with teams in the Big Ten and SEC bringing in over $35 million. It is one of the most popular sports to bet on in the US just behind the NBA and NFL. College football odds are currently favouring Georgia to retain their CFP National Championship in the coming season.

The Marketing Power of College Football
The Marketing Power of College Football

A blooming relationship

The relationship between marketers and college football has evolved majorly over the years. It has always been a great way for local and regional businesses to advertise themselves. Jennifer Davis, CMO of sports marketing company Learfield, spoke to Forbes about these opportunities and described them as “Extensions of their investment in the community”. As the sport has grown however, we have seen more and more brands with global reaches invest into conferences and teams.

Global sports brands are some of the biggest investors in college football with powerhouses like Nike and Adidas being jersey sponsors and providers of 83% of teams. Davis spoke on the value of college football advertising for global brands saying: “The value proposition depends on the advertiser and what they are trying to accomplish. If the brand has a national or global reach, they will want to know how college sports fans are the most numerous and avid in all of sports. Each brand will have their own goals, but the core of the value proposition across all is that college fans represent a numerous, attractive and highly targetable audience who love to support businesses who support their favorite teams.”

One of the biggest debates inside college sports as a whole is the payment of student athletes. The argument is, as these programs generate an incredible amount of revenue for the schools, the athletes should be paid their fair share as they would be as professionals. However, some counter with the fact that most student athletes receive ‘free rides’, and that this is a fair exchange. The arrival of big-name brands in the sport has helped bridge this gap in recent years.

College Teams

In 2021, athletes for college teams won the right to profit from their names, images and likeness. It didn’t take long for businesses and brands to see the value in these students and many signed deals worth five or six figures. Additionally, those who perhaps did not have as much of a following as top players worked with local businesses.

This past season’s CFP game had 13 brands on its roster. These were: Allstate, Goodyear, AT&T, Mercedes-Benz, Capital One, Modelo, Cheez-it, Ram Trucks, Chick-fil-a, Taco Bell, Dr Pepper, Vrbo and Gatorade. This capped off a huge year for the Power Five teams who raked in an eyewatering $557 million in sponsorship money in the 2022-23 season. This averaged out at around $8.6 million per school.

With the evolution of college sports marketing, we are seeing certain categories of advertisement gain a stronger foothold within college football. Cryptocurrency has been launched into the stratosphere over the last five years and as such we are now seeing the industry jump into the sport for marketing opportunities.

Yummy Crypto was one of the first to do so when they partnered with Dreamfield, a deal-making platform, to push through deals with the FSU football team as well as the Miami basketball program. This deal saw student athletes paid for making social media promo posts. We have also seen college football NFTs which has now coined players as ‘Crypto Athletes’.

One area of marketing we have seen decline however is beer advertisements. This is because a lot of major brewers and beer companies have now introduced hard seltzers. These lighter beverages are targeted to younger drinkers, specifically college kids, and as such they see the sport as an ideal opportunity to market their product.

College football has become one of the most marketable sports in the nation over the last few years. Not only are the teams, conferences and programs ideal for brands and sponsors, the athletes are now able to get involved too and be compensated. These trends are likely to grow even further in the near future and this can only be a good thing for the schools and sport as a whole as it continues to further its growth.

Marie Foster
Marie Foster
Marie Foster is a reporter based in UK. Marie has also worked as a columnist for the various news sites.


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