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Behind the scenes of the biggest Women's College Basketball matchup for next season

Inside how the Ally TipOff, between Iowa and Virginia Tech, came together...and why:

Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.

On Wednesday, the Charlotte Sports Foundation announced what should be the biggest out-of-conference game in this year’s women’s college basketball season. Virginia Tech and Iowa, both coming off Final Four runs last season, will tip off on November 9 at the Spectrum Center in the Ally Tipoff.

Major out-of-conference games and multi-team events at neutral sites are pretty common in men’s basketball, but less common for women’s basketball, with most of last year’s premier out-of-conference games occurring as part of regular home and home agreements. Large neutral site events, even for just one game, are also usually huge logistical undertakings. Between finding teams, a venue, a date, a broadcast partner, and corporate partners, building everything typically takes months, if not longer.

That wasn’t the case here. Stephanie Marciano, the Head of Sports & Entertainment Marketing at Ally, told me that “the Charlotte Sports Foundation brought the opportunity to us about a week and a half ago.” That’s a fast turnaround.

But it makes sense that Ally didn’t need a lot of time to figure out they wanted to be involved. Ally CEO Jeff Brown sits on the board of the Charlotte Sports Foundation and has deep relationships with the group’s leaders. And Ally has not been shy about wanting to make women’s sporting events a key component of their marketing strategy. Ally is already the title sponsor for the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament and Women’s Soccer Championship, a major sponsor for the NWSL, and more.

“We have 11,000 employees here at Ally, a significant portion of them are in Charlotte…this partnership made so much sense. It perfectly aligns with our women’s sports strategy. It was a no-brainer.” Marciano added.

Why is Ally throwing so much money into women’s sports marketing?

Ally isn’t an energy drink company, a fashion brand, or a gambling company. They’re a financial services company, and they fully recognize that sponsoring an event doesn’t lead to a direct, immediate ROI like other advertising campaigns might. They realize that a fan is unlikely to go to this basketball game and decide “You know what, I do want a home loan.” So why spend all this money and time on sports marketing?

Part of that, according to Marciano, is a pure numbers game. “Our women’s sports strategy is part science and part art. I’m a former basketball player at Yale, our CMO is a former college athlete. We also know there’s incredible fam demand for women’s sports, and we believe that as a brand, what is going to fundamentally change the women’s sports landscape is improving coverage and improving access to women’s sports.”

“Women’s sports have never had a problem being exciting or entertaining. The problem has been about access and coverage for fans, and we want to be part of that solution.”

But Ally isn’t investing that money just because they think it’s the right thing to do, or because they think it will help women’s sports. They also believe it makes good business sense. Marciano told me that “coming out of our ACC partnership, we’ve seen double-digit growth in brand preference, brand likability, and future intent to use our brand. That’s huge for us…given how competitive the Charlotte market is for banking.”

The exposure piece is where the Charlotte Sports Commission comes in

Executive Director Danny Morrison told me that this event was able to come together so quickly, and with the infrastructure needed to produce a high-quality event, because of the organization’s staff, experience, and connections.

The seed of the idea started after the commission put on their first edition of the Jumpman Invitational, an MTE featuring the men’s and women’s teams at Florida, Oklahoma, Michigan and UNC. Morrison thought that the organization could take the operational lessons they learned from Jumpman, and host an elite women’s event, ideally with a national brand, and a high profile team in their geographic footprint. Iowa and Virginia Tech were a natural fit.

He pointed to how supportive Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks, and Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder, were in the effort, as well as Ally. He also pointed out fellow Charlotte Sports Commission board member Fred Whitfield, the COO of the Charlotte Hornets, who helped secure the Spectrum Center for the right dates. Other executives, like Susan O’Malley, the former president of the Washington Wizards, also helped move things along.

Because Morrison already has long relationship with many of these executives, as well as with leaders at ESPN Events, and because Charlotte has a history of putting on larger events, the group was able to move quickly, ensuring the game will be held in an NBA facility, with a national, linear broadcast on an ESPN network. “We all play in the sandbox well together,” he told me.

“We want to bring events to Charlotte that have an economic impact on the region, and add to the quality of life.” On paper, it looks like this game should fit that profile nicely.

Here’s what else we covered this week:

  • The College Football Player’s Association (CFBPA) called for athletes to boycott the proposed group licensing deal for EA Sports College Football. I talked to the group, and licensing experts, and came away thinking this boycott is a bad idea for players. Here’s why. 

  • I’ve been going through dozens and dozens of coach contracts for a future database for D1.classroom next Fall, and came across several unique incentives, camp language, and more. Here are some of my biggest takeaways, from P5 football coaches to mid-major swim coaches.

  • BYU football players were reportedly frustrated with how several NIL deals went down, including a very large one with Built Bar, who later sent out additional money. Here’s what I think everybody can learn from this story, to make sure it doesn’t happen again anywhere else.

You can read every single newsletter I write, from EA Sports College Football to conference realignment, NIL to school contracts, sports history to silly goofball posts, by upgrading to a paid subscription. It’s just eight bucks a month, or $75 for the year.

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We’re going to shift into a slightly different publishing schedule for the next two weeks, as I need more time to debug and get Athletic Director Simulator 3000 ready for launch later this summer. One of my daughters is having surgery soon as well, so I’ll be taking a few days off to help her through the recovery process (don’t worry, it isn’t as scary as it sounds). I’ll be running a few freelance posts, doing some mailbags, and taking the foot slightly off the gas.

Thanks for reading. I’ll catch up with y’all soon.

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