May 17th, 2011

March Madness NCAA basketball tournament settlement worth it

USA Today

Yes, a $17.2 million check raises eyebrows.

But a leading brand strategist deems it money well spent for the NCAA, which quietly paid sports and entertainment marketer Intersport that amount last October to secure exclusive rights to the term “March Madness.”

“Think of it this way,” says Ed O’Hara, senior partner and chief creative officer of New York-based SME Branding. “Nike wouldn’t want another entity using the swoosh. Disney wouldn’t want another entity using the mouse.

“Corporations just want to have holistic control. They don’t want anybody diluting the brand, not controlling what categories the brand goes into. Some of them could be conflicting to the vision of the NCAA.”

Most in college athletics were unaware until a USA TODAY report a week ago that the NCAA had reached the eight-figure settlement with Intersport, which had retained usage rights to “March Madness” through an early 1990s agreement with the Illinois High School Association. The IHSA once shared the trademark with the NCAA, but relinquished its ownership several years ago while retaining use of the term in connection with high school basketball championships.

The NCAA considered any other use “detrimental to the trademark.”

There have been suggestions that the $17 million-plus was misplaced and would have been better used to enhance financial packages for college athletes, for instance bumping up the value of their scholarships. But O’Hara argues that the March Madness brand lends considerable value to the NCAA’s most critical source of income: its Division I men’s basketball tournament, for which television networks CBS and Turner are paying $10.8 billion over 14 years to carry.

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