SPORTS MARKETING: Kraft Scores ‘Slam Dunk’ Partnership With NCAA, CBS Sports

Kraft Foods’ U.S. Snacks business has teamed up with the NCAA and CBS Sports as an Official NCAA Corporate Partner, in an agreement covering several of the CPG powerhouse’s brands, among them Planters, Ritz, Oreo and Wheat Thins. The partnership encompasses promotional and marketing rights for the NCAA and all 88 of its men’s and women’s championships.

Under the deal, the brands will become the NCAA’s official Cookie, Nut and Cracker partners via in-store promotions and with a major advertising buy on CBS Sports starting this month with the network’s exclusive coverage of the “Road to the Final Four.”

Describing the collaboration as “a slam dunk for Kraft Foods,” Stephen Chriss, senior director, marketing alliances at the Northfield, Ill.-based company, added: “It gives us an opportunity to connect our delicious snack brands with key audiences in a big way.”

Kraft Foods snack brands will now be highly visible before, during and after NCAA championships events. Among the planned marketing initiatives are new product sampling, contests, promotions and college-themed displays in retail stores.

“Having Kraft Foods on board as part of the NCAA team is a win for everyone involved,” noted Peter Davis, director of corporate alliances at Indianapolis-based NCAA, a membership-led nonprofit association of colleges and universities supporting academic and athletic opportunities for over 400,000 student-athletes at more than 1,000 member colleges and universities. “Associating with well-known brands like Planters, Oreo, Ritz and Wheat Thins helps increase awareness and build excitement for all of our NCAA sports and the fans who support our student-athletes and championships.”

According to Chris Simko, SVP, CBS sports sales and marketing, and director, CBS Sports Properties Group: “This is exactly the kind of integrated promotional partnership that has become synonymous with CBS Sports’ NCAA corporate marketing program.”

The inaugural sampling program during NCAA March Madness will feature Wheat Thins snacks and two of Kraft’s latest snack items, Ritz Munchables pretzel crisps and Planters Flavor Grove almonds and cashews. Additionally, consumers can follow Mr. Peanut’s Road to the 2010 NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis by becoming fans of Mr. Peanut on Facebook. Once they’ve done that, they can enter for a chance to win tickets to the 2011 NCAA Men’s Final Four in Houston.

Over the past five years, Kraft has launched several strategic, high-profile sports marketing initiatives, including NASCAR and the U.S. Open, to promote its snack brands. In January of this year, the company revealed that Oreo and Ritz are the official cookie and cracker of NASCAR, and began sponsoring Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman.

“Showcasing our big brands on big stages takes our marketing and merchandising to new heights, providing perfect venues to elevate our equities, reach new audiences and promote new products in unique ways,” explained Chriss.

Oreo has joined forces with celebrity athletes Eli and Peyton Manning, and Venus and Serena Williams for its Oreo Double Stuf Racing League campaign, and recruited sports analyst and football great Tiki Barber for its recent Ritz “Tailgate” ad.

The NCAA’s official Corporate Champions include Coca-Cola, and the organization numbers Hershey among its other Corporate Partners.
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