Old Rivalry, New Sponsor

Longtime rivals Duke and North Carolina have come together to lure a lucrative new sponsor.

By Staff

Athletic Management, 13.2, February/March 2001, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1302/bbrivalry.htm

As longtime athletic adversaries, the University of North Carolina and Duke University have never needed an extra incentive to defeat the other. The rivalry between these neighboring schools—located only 20 minutes apart—runs as deep as each team’s blue blood. But a new three-year $1 million sponsorship from Carlyle & Company Jewelers has added a little kick to the storied competition.

It comes in the form of the Carlyle Cup, a program-wide competition sponsored by the Greensboro, N.C., based jeweler. Now in its first year, the Cup pits the Blue Devils against the Tar Heels in head-to-head competition across 20 varsity sports.

When the dust clears, the program that outperforms the other will have the distinction of being able to call itself the better all-around athletic program for that year. As a token of the achievement, the overall winner will take possession on the Carlyle Cup for the following school year—an English-made sterling silver and enamel urn designed exclusively for the competition.

While the broad scope of the competitive series is a great marketing idea in itself, the dual-sponsorship element proved particularly effective in wooing Carlyle & Co. “I think it’s the first joint marketing agreement between Duke and Carolina that’s ever been done at this magnitude,” says Art Chansky, Associate General Manager of Tar Heel Sports Marketing in Chapel Hill. “And there’s no question that we wouldn’t have gotten Carlyle at this level if we hadn’t come together.”

The collaboration was less a result of original intent, admits Chansky, and more an idea that evolved. “I had met with people at Carlyle to find out what their goals were for a sponsorship, what markets they wanted to reach, and what their strategies were,” Chansky says. “In that meeting I learned that they’d sold some of their stores, but retained all their upper-end stores. So, they wanted to reach a high-end target audience.

“But the president and CEO, Russ Cohen, who’s a Carolina graduate himself, did not want to do a traditional sponsorship,” continues Chansky. “He wanted to do something that differentiated Carlyle from typical sports advertisers.

“So I came up with the idea of a competition between the two schools. I contacted Duke and we put together a preliminary proposal. Instead of going back to Carlyle and pitching them a Carolina-only sponsorship, or Duke going in and pitching a Duke-only sponsorship—which is the way it’s been done in the past—we came back and said, ‘Would you be interested in a competition between the two schools, and we could call it the Carlyle Cup?’ And they jumped all over it.”

“It was appealing because the audiences attracted to those two schools’ sporting events are really a great match for our customer demographic,” explains Peter Bruck, Marketing Manager at Carlyle & Co. “Their alumni really get behind their sports, so it was a terrific opportunity for us.”

The winning athletic program will be determined by a specially formulated points system. A total of 48 points are up for grabs, with 14 sports valued at three points each and six sports at one point each. A team wins the point(s) for its sport by having either the better record in that season’s Duke-Carolina face-offs, or by placing higher in the conference tournament or NCAA standings (as is the case with golf, cross country, track and field, and fencing).

“It took us about two months to hammer out the formula for how sports would be counted,” says Steve Kirschner, Carolina’s Assistant Athletic Director of Media Relations, who worked with Mike Sobb, Duke’s Director of Sports Promotions, to come up with the final tally system. “There was a lot of negotiating between us, and we probably went through seven or eight formula proposals before we got one we could both agree to.”

The biggest obstacle came as a result of the two programs’ differing athletics funding philosophies. “Duke preferred to not include the sports in which they don’t fund scholarships,” says Kirschner, “and we understood that. Carolina, on the other hand, was interested in having as many sports as possible involved in the Cup competition. We felt that to put together a program that would highlight Duke vs. Carolina and not include certain sports would be a slap in the face to those teams.

“In the end, nothing was left out,” Kirschner continues. “Sports that Duke doesn’t fully fund are weighted a little less—so Carolina could feel that it was an inclusive competition while Duke wouldn’t feel it was at a competitive disadvantage.”

As part of the sponsorship agreement, the two schools are promoting the Cup competition through their Web sites, radio play-by-play broadcasts, radio coaches’ shows, television coaches’ shows, and press releases. In addition, Carlyle Cup banners appear at each athletic meeting between the schools, and Duke is using the scoreboards and video boards in its football, lacrosse, and soccer stadiums to promote the challenge series.

“In January,” says Chansky, “we’re kicking off an in-store promotion where fans will be able to register their prediction of the final point standings. Those with the right final score will be entered in a drawing to win a trip for two to the ACC men’s basketball tournament or a $3,000 Rolex watch.”

Several of the games have also had further special promotions. “For instance, this year at the Duke-Carolina football game, we had a field-goal kicking contest that was co-sponsored by Carlyle and watchmaker Tag Heuer,” Chansky explains. “A couple of fans walked away with $3,000 watches by kicking the ball through the uprights at halftime.”

Although only one athletic department will ultimately be named Carlyle Cup winner, both programs agree that the real winners will be their Olympic sports teams, which are receiving more recognition through this competition. “It’s a good way to raise public awareness for sports other than our football and men’s basketball teams,” says Kirschner. “Hopefully, the Carlyle Cup will provide Duke and Carolina fans with a little more incentive to follow things like the men’s soccer games and field hockey matches. Already, when the local media reports on games, there’s a little more coverage because the teams are also competing for Carlyle Cup points.

“It’s also making our athletes feel a little bit more competitive,” he adds. “They think, ‘Hey. We’re not just playing for ourselves, but we’re playing for the field hockey and basketball team later down the road.’ So the Cup creates a little more inter-departmental camaraderie, which I think is a positive thing.”

For a new event, all sides of the arrangement agree that promotions and fan interest are going well. “We really think it’s going to take three years to get good exposure and for the media to start talking about the Carlyle Cup as not just a corporate package, but as a part of the culture,” says Bruck. “But we’ve noticed that starting to happen a little bit, and we’re quite pleased.”

One place the buzz is starting to manifest is on the Internet. “We’re seeing interest in the Cup reflected in the message boards and chat rooms on UNC’s and Duke’s athletics Web pages,” says Chansky. “Some of the people on those sites are aware of the competition, and we’ve seen some long threads of conversation going back and forth about it.

“For example, before the football game this year,” Chansky continues, “there was a message from a Carolina fan on one board saying, ‘We need to win this football game to push us up to 16-1, because we’re really going to need those points going into basketball season.’ And that says to me that these fans are really getting what this competition is about.

“But, like anything else, the Carlyle Cup will take time to catch on. After all, who really knew much about the Sears Directors’ Cup when it first started? It just picked up interest and momentum as it went along, and now it’s a very respected thing. So we think over the course of these three years, and beyond, the Carlyle Cup will be extremely popular and well known among the Duke and Carolina families.”