The Oregon University Student section during the playoffs.

Sponsored Student Section

Posted on Dec 30, 2014 · 4 min read

While popularity may not be as apparent during the college years, student athletes definitely rule the school and have the student body watching their every movie. As a marketer, these athletes seem like the perfect people within a college or university to have sponsored so they can share the love of a product with the entire student body. But unfortunately, as most of us know, giving basically anything to a college athlete beyond their pre-accepted scholarship is a big no-no and can lead to serious consequences. Because of this, marketers are still left stumped on how to reach a student population, who have made it very clear that they have no interest in being advertised to in any way.

Well, this year Taco Bell and ESPN got creative on how to market to students through college sports, without involving the student athletes – sponsored student sections at the first ever college football playoffs. This means that for the first time ever there will be an official student section, in hopes of building an energy within the bowl games’ and a remembrance of what it’s like to be a student college football fan.

Along with building an energy within the student sections at the bowl games, Taco Bell will also be creating 1,000 person student sections at every game, awarding each school (at the two “play in” games and the National Championship game) 500 tickets for students. These tickets will be located in the lower parts of the stadium, and free of charge to students.  Distribution of the tickets was done through each school’s normal ticketing system so all students had a fair chance at receiving a ticket. Here is the commercial for Taco Bell and ESPN’s sponsored student sections that you might’ve seen on tv once or twice, it might even feature one of our favorite schools…

While it is not uncommon to see students carrying around sponsored gear like sunglasses or spirit shirts, this is the first time that a company has actually sponsored the student section. I think Taco Bell is on to something with completely sponsoring the tickets and that this could become the new norm of how companies are reaching out to students and how they can spread the word about their new products, without using athletes. Not only are students a huge portion of the consumers at Taco Bell (don’t act like you didn’t eat Taco Bell during your college days!), but being generous and offering this exclusive deal to students also create a positive image of their company in student’s minds.  “It’s an important time for us to make a great impression.  Taco Bell wants to play the role of the friend who can get them access to things.  We won’t just stop with a ticket to the game.  We’ve reserved a section for them at a concert the Zac Brown Band is playing the day of the National Championship Game.  We’re not only going to give them food at the game, but we’ll create a Taco Bell road trip kit for them to begin enjoying from the moment they’re notified that they’ve received a ticket,” Taco Bell’s Bortz explained. Taco Bell’s Brandt said, “We have a broader strategy to move people who enjoy Taco Bell from being just fans of our food to being our friends.  We want them to consider Taco Bell the cool friend.” If your company wants to take the Taco Bell approach and offer a special promotion or deal to students, here’s a great way to start.

Since I will be watching the games from the comfort of my own home, it will be interesting to see where Taco Bell logos will appear in the student section and what their “student section sponsorship” really includes.  Of course, I can’t end this blog without giving a shout out to my alma mater and the majority favorite team among the SheerID employees in the Eugene office, who just happens to be in the playoffs – GO DUCKS!

Madeline Boehmer by Madeline Boehmer