By Barry Janoff
March 9, 2017: The eight members of the Ivy League trace their school’s roots back to 1636 (Harvard), the 1700s (Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Penn, Princeton and Yale) and 1865 (Cornell).
In 1954, they joined to form the Ivy League Athletic Conference. Each year since then, the winner of the regular basketball season received an automatic bid to the NCAA basketball tournament.
Despite the countless accomplishments achieved by its graduates in academia, in college basketball the eight universities have as yet to produce an NCAA Div. I Tournament champion.
The Dartmouth men came the closest, reaching the Finals in 1944 before losing to Utah.
On the women’s side, Harvard (1998) and Princeton (2015) each advanced to the second round but no farther, the deepest a women’s Ivy League basketball team has gone.
But the hoops landscape on Ivy League campuses is changing on-court and in marketing.
This year, for the first time, the Ivy League will hold a post-season tournament for the top four men’s and top four women’s teams — the last NCAA hoops conference to do so — foregoing the tradition of regular season winners getting automatic bids in favor of tournament champions winning the respective bids.
The Inaugural Ivy League Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments will be held in the iconic Palestra in Philadelphia (March 11-12), the University of Penn venue that opened in 1927 that is known as the "Cathedral of College Basketball."
Citizens Bank has signed on as presenting sponsor, joining a marketing roster that also includes Coca-Cola, Under Armour and Nike, under deals handled by JMI Sports, the official marketing rights agency for the Ivy League, hired last year to boost alliances.
Also in the mix is IMG College, the college sponsorship and media rights division of IMG Worldwide, which has alliances with Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
Games will air on TV on ESPN platforms, with the men’s championship on ESPN2 and the women’s championship on ESPNU. Westwood One, the exclusive network radio partner for the NCAA, will cover all games live.
Marketing support includes a 30-second spot, "Join us For #IvyMadness," as well as digital and social media.
Since May 2016, Paul Bamundo has been CMO for Ivy League Sports Marketing, a collaboration between the Ivy League and JMI Sports. Prior to that, he was head of business development for WPP’s sports and entertainment agency ESP Properties; and, for the seven previous years, global director of sports marketing and strategic partnerships for the Subway QSR chain.
His resume also includes director of marketing partnerships for the NBA and director of sponsorship sales for sports and entertainment powerhouse agency IMG.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Bamundo, who received his undergraduate degree at Cornell and his MBA at Penn, about the pros, challenges and marketing lessons for the Inaugural Ivy League Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments.
NYSportsJournalism.com: How difficult, or easy. was it to get companies to sign on as marketing partners for the tournament?
Paul Bamundo: Citizens Bank is our presenting partner for the Inaugural Ivy League Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments, which makes a lot of sense because of their history and tradition. They have many locations in areas where our member schools are based. Coca-Cola already has an alliance with seven of our eight schools, so they were a natural player and the right fit. They will activate mainly behind their Powerade brand near the bench areas with cups and towels. But they will also activate behind their Coca-Cola brand. And we work with JMI Sports across a number of different properties with Nike and others, and work with Under Armour, as well.
NYSJ: How did the relationship between JMI Sports and the Ivy League Conference come about?
PB: Robin Harris (Ivy League Executive Director) and the university ADs thought it would be best to put out their marketing and media rights for bid (in 2015), which JMI Sports and (CEO and founder) Erik Judson won (in January 2016). They then recruited me (in May 2016). So we have a contract with the Ivy League (and many other properties including two new deals with Clemson and Georgia) for the next decade to be their media and marketing rights partner. I am the CMO for the collective entity of Ivy League Sports Marketing working for JMI Sports.
NYSJ: Was there anything specific that motivated the Ivy League to hire JMI, and for them to hire you, and ultimately create its first post-season basketball tournament?
PB: It all came together at about the same time and was strategically planned that way. We knew that there was a crown jewel aspect for the Ivy League and for us to go out there and build the basketball tournament together. And to build the Ivy League Lacrosse Tournament (in May), as well, because Citizens Bank and Coca-Cola are also marketing partners for that. And then looking ahead to football and other sports. So the opportunity presented itself and came together, and now we are building for the future.
NYSJ: The Ivy League Conference was formed in 1954, so what were some of the challenges and rewards after all that time to getting the first basketball tournament launched?
PB: Robin did a fantastic job in laying the groundwork for the tournament before I came on board and before JMI joined. What she did was approach it from a student-athlete perspective. Realizing that in the past, in seasons where we had a tie and there was a play-in game (to determine the Conference winner, which would get the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament), it generated so much excitement among the athletes, student body, the alumni, the schools. Everybody got behind it. But it was hard to market because they had to pick a venue and sell tickets within days of the game. So she saw that having a tournament that could be planned and marketed was something that the athletes, coaches and schools wanted.
"Having a tournament that could be planned and marketed was something that the athletes, coaches and schools wanted."
NYSJ: Was there excitement building this season with players, coaches and students knowing that there would be a tournament?
PB: Definitely. If you look at Penn this season, they started the season 0-6. So in past years their hope for an NCAA bid would essentially have been over. But they had a stronger showing the rest of the season (Penn finished 6-8 in the Conference, 13-14 overall) and it went down to their final game at home. They beat Harvard and are now the No. 4 seed in the Ivy League Tournament. There was tremendous excitement throughout the season. And we’ve seen that on all the campuses. And now we have great match-ups on both the men’s and women’s sides.
NYSJ: The Tournament will take place in The Palestra in Philadelphia, which is the iconic home arena for Penn. How was that decided?
PF: The Palestra is a historic venue (dating back to 1927). The building has a great deal of basketball history attached to it. There was a lot of discussion before it was selected and there will be a lot of discussion after the Tournament. But it definitely was the right choice. I am biased, having earned my MBA at Penn. But it is such a great building. We celebrated its 90th anniversary this year. But I commend Robin and the seven other schools that were open-minded enough to say that this was the right place to hold our initial tournament. But we have other great venues at our member schools, so we’ll see where we go from here for next year and future tournaments.
NYSJ: Do you see the Ivy League Tournament eventually getting the basketball props that the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 and others have earned?
PB: I do. One of the things we like about this that in previous seasons, the team that won our regular season, this year Princeton, would have gotten their automatic bid a week ago. So there wouldn’t be any drama or discussion about the Ivy League Conference during a week when all the other schools and tournaments are on TV, in the news, generating interest among fans.
Now, there is a lot of interest not only among basketball fans but with our marketing partners such as CitizensBank and Coca-Cola and potential partners. And that interest will grow. So we’ve gone from first-in to among the last in (to the NCAA Tournament). I like to joke around with my colleagues that our tournament might draw more interest than the SEC. Does anyone doubt that Kentucky will get into the NCAA Tournament? We don’t know who from our four teams will get in until Sunday afternoon when our tournament championship game is decided.
NYSJ: And that holds true on the women’s side, as well.
PB: We have some great women’s teams. Last year, we had two teams make the NCAA Women’s Tournament when we had only one automatic bid: Penn (which won the regular season title) and Princeton (as an at-large bid). We feel that our tournament will increase our opportunity to have more than one women’s team make the NCAA tournament.
NYSJ: Having been with the NBA and Subway and other places where you worked directly with teams, marketers and sports organizations such as the NCAA, how much of your experience and knowledge did you bring to this position?
PB: Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve taken my experiences and what I’ve learned from others to the next position and built on it. I still talk with Mark Tatum (deputy commissioner and COO for the NBA), who is also a Cornell guy. That’s the fun part of it. College sports is part of the student experience and part of the educational experience. The Ivy League is on the good side of amateur athletics and doing things the right way. But at the same time, we are in the 21st century and there are platforms such as the Ivy League Digital Network that provide the opportunity for all of our student athletes to be seen by alumni, fans and their families.
NYSJ: You never know if another Ivy League team will do what Harvard and Yale did (in 2014 and 2016, respectively) by making it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament and then holding their own against top-ranked opponents (Michigan State and Duke, respectively).
PB: I graduated from Cornell, as did my brother, and I remember in 2010 when the team reached the Sweet 16. The excitement was tremendous. It obviously depends on the match-up, but I don’t think it would be much of an upset if the Ivy League representative won some games this year. We won’t know until we watch Selection Sunday who will play. But I think whoever is in is going to have a great chance, whoever they match up against. Top to bottom, our league is phenomenal.
Ivy League Brings Full Marketing Dance Card To Inaugural Hoops Tournament
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