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Company boosting universities

Allstate kicks off nationwide donation program

Oxford and Hattiesburg — “There’s the snap. The kick is up, and it’s good!”

That’s what the folks at the University of Mississippi (UM) and the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), as well as the American Red Cross and those they are trying to assist in recovering from Hurricane Katrina, are hoping to hear a lot of during the collegiate football season.

Why? Because Allstate Insurance Company has kicked off a new program through which it will donate scholarship funds to Ole Miss and USM for every extra point and field goal made, at both home and away games, during the current collegiate football season. And Allstate will also make a donation to the American Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund for every successful field goal try.

Northbrook, Ill.-based Allstate, which is the nation’s largest publicly-held personal line insurer and holds total assets of $149 billion, is also counting on being a winner in the program. All participating universities will sport a ball catch-net behind the goalposts embossed with the company’s name and “Helping Hands” logo. Allstate is banking on positive exposure — and leads — from demographic groups that have not been previously targeted.

“We were looking for a way to leverage the strength of our brand and combine it with our (Bowl Championship Series, or BCS) sponsorship,” said Jonathan Ruchman, manager of sponsorships at Allstate. “What better way to do that than to become part of the game itself.”

Scoring points

UM and Southern Miss are two of more than 40 universities around the country participating in Allstate’s field goal net program. Allstate will donate $300 to the schools’ general scholarship fund for every successful field goal, and $100 for every extra point made. The insurance firm teed up the program for the first time this collegiate football season, and according to Ruchman, represents a first-of-its-kind program for Allstate, which has been involved in sports promotional activities for years.

In addition to UM and USM, other participating schools include the University of Houston, University of Alabama-Birmingham, Vanderbilt University and University of Memphis. Other schools were offered the opportunity to join, but declined for a variety of reasons. Some had sponsorship deals with Allstate’s competition. Others simply don’t allow any promotional materials in their stadiums.

All of the schools faced one challenge, however, and that was accommodating the ball net itself.

Ruchman explained that the Allstate-embossed nets, made and marketed by Dorna Sports, are actually two nets in one — a smaller, center net with Allstate’s name and logo and the larger, surrounding net. This requires stronger rigging, and some universities simply couldn’t provide the needed extra support. (Ruchman added that many of those schools and others have since contacted Allstate wanting to participate.)

This all took time and delayed the launching of the campaign. “We’ve been working on this for about a year-and-a-half,” Ruchman said. “We wanted to launch it last year, but it required more time. It’s a very complex program.”

It’s also very expensive. Ruchman preferred not to reveal the price tag of the campaign, but called it “very significant.” It’s BCS sponsorship requires a media buy with ESPN, and that alone is not cheap.

According to the company, through the first five weeks of this collegiate season the insurer has awarded more than $80,000 to the partnering schools. In addition and in support of the net program, Allstate is conducting the “Field Goal Fan-tastic” tailgating tour. Prior to each game, fans have the opportunity to kick field goals through scaled-down goalposts, which also feature miniature Allstate-embossed catch-nets. One participant is chosen at random to attempt a 20-yard field goal on the field at halftime of the game. If successful, the selected kicker wins $6,000.

Calm after the storm

Just as Allstate was set to launch its new net program, along came Hurricane Katrina. In the storm’s wake, Allstate quickly decided to augment the program to assist in the recovery efforts.

In addition to contributions to the participating schools’ general scholarship funds, Allstate is also donating $1,000 for every successful field goal to the American Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund. Through week five of this football season, the company had made donations to the fund totaling $200,000. Ruchman estimated that the total donations for the season to hurricane relief could run as high as $800,000.

In addition, Allstate underwrote the September 10th game between LSU and Arizona State, which had to be moved from Baton Rouge, La., to Tempe, Ariz., due to the effects of Katrina. All proceeds from the game, which topped $1 million, went to the American Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.


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