The way sponsorships are bought and sold in college athletics has changed dramatically over the past three years.

The primary reason: IMG College’s 2010 acquisition of ISP Sports.

The acquisition significantly changed the college sports landscape by creating a national marketing platform similar to the NFL and other pro sports leagues. Unlike pro sports leagues, the platform affords access to intellectual property, digital assets and other team inventory.

And national brands are taking notice, some of which have never previously had a significant presence in college sports, said Roger VanDerSnick, IMG College’s chief sales and marketing officer.

The sales vet points to United Parcel Service, Inc. as an example. Prior to signing a national deal with UPS in 2011, IMG had two partnerships in the shipping category. UPS sponsored the University of Georgia, while FedEx Corp. had a partnership with Auburn University.

“Categories that haven’t had a large presence in college sports are high on our prospect list,” he said.  

More recently, IMG in late 2012 announced a partnership with Lowe’s Cos., Inc. that includes all of the 90-plus schools for which it owns multimedia rights. The deal—which includes presenting status of a mobile app and other inventory—follows national programs with The Hershey Co., MillerCoors LLC and other brands.    

Not surprisingly, other rights aggregators also are placing more focus on multi-campus deals.

“We’re making a concerted effort to get national Blue Chip sponsors,” said Roy Seinfield, executive vice president of national sales with Learfield Sports, which represents multimedia rights at 50 schools. The sales vet joined Learfield in January after heading up advertising sales at Pac-12 Enterprises.

Case in point: Learfield in February secured a 14-school deal with LG Electronics. LG—which used the ties to localize its NCAA partnership—activated the program at Best Buy stores.

The deal included Iowa State University, Stanford University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Minnesota.

While multi-market deals make sense on paper, they can potentially be a challenge to activate. The biggest hurdle: ensuring programs have a consistent look and feel across multiple markets. Some schools may have different inventory, while others may not have the staff to properly activate a partnership.

“Some schools are more proactive in how they service national deals, while others fall behind because they didn’t sell it directly. Servicing doesn’t always come naturally in collective form,” said Greg Busch, executive vice president with GMR Marketing, which helps Hershey, MillerCoors and other clients activate college sports platforms.

Below, IEG SR highlights four other sponsorship trends in the college sports space.

Digital platforms. Like other types of properties, colleges are increasingly creating new digital platforms for sponsors.

For example, Lowe’s partnership with IMG College centers around presenting status of a smart phone app for college sports fans. The app offers real-time scores, stats, player bios, photo galleries and other relevant content.  

“Reaching fans through their schools’ official social media channels, from apps to Facebook and Twitter, helps us join passionate conversations that are all about fun and memorable experiences,” said Tom Lamb, Lowe’s chief marketing officer, in a statement announcing the partnership.

Employee recruitment. In addition to reaching students and alumni, a growing number of companies are using college athletics to recruit employees.

Enterprise Holdings, Inc. has activated the NCAA with TV ads that feature employees who are former student athletes, while Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. last year partnered with the NCAA to build visibility in front of potential employees.

Multi-faceted activation programs. A growing number of companies are activating college sports to promote their corporate positioning through integrated marketing programs.  

BASF Corp. activates its new partnership with the University of Michigan Athletics to support its corporate platforms of sustainability and innovation. The program includes the Team Chemistry Most Valuable Player Award, a monthly award that acknowledges one group in the athletic department that embodies the best qualities of team chemistry both on and off the field.

The chemical giant also activates the tie with the BASF Team Chemistry Challenge, a promotion that offers students the opportunity to lessen the environmental impact of home games. Entries will be judged by the school and BASF representatives, with the two organizations distributing $25,000 to the winning teams.

“The relationship between BASF and U-M will actively engage the students and the surrounding community to demonstrate how chemistry creates a sustainable future,” said Greg Pflum, BASF North America’s vice president and general manager—Midwest hub, in a statement.

IMG College brokered the deal on behalf of the university.

B2B Platforms. In addition to consumer-facing programs, schools are increasingly offering B2B platforms that offer business back to sponsors.

For example, UPS has gained business from nearly 40 athletic departments as a result of its IMG relationship, said VanDerSnick. The shipping company also has secured roughly 20 campus-wide partnerships, he added.

IMG also has seeing more interest in unique, one-of-a-kind assets from B2B companies. Those include chalk talks with coaches, the opportunity to play a flag football game in a college football stadium and other inventory.