Notre Dame reportedly weighing bids for commercial sports rights

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The University of Notre Dame, which calls itself “the most powerful and recognizable brand in college athletics,” is considering offers for the sale of corporate sponsorships and licensing agreements, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Indiana university is one of only a few big-time sports schools that still manages its own commercial rights, which generate tens of millions from television and media deals and from companies that want to advertise alongside the Notre Dame brand.

Recently, Notre Dame asked for bids from companies that would pay the school to, essentially, resell some of those rights. The university has narrowed the candidates to JMI Sports, Learfield, Legends and WME/IMG, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the bidding process is private.

Representatives for the companies declined to comment. Scott Correira, president of Notre Dame Sports Properties, which currently manages the Fighting Irish’s commercial rights, referred questions to Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick and his deputy, Jim Fraleigh. Neither returned emails and calls seeking comment.

Other big sports schools have sold their commercial rights for close to $10 million a year. The University of Oregon, for example, recently agreed to extend its deal with IMG College for $9.5 million a year.

But Notre Dame is offering a more limited opportunity. The school’s approach to advertising is muted, with few commercial advertisements in Notre Dame Stadium. It also has its own television deal with NBC, and according to one of the people, broadcast rights won’t be included with the rest of the commercial rights.

Companies still flock to the gold helmets of the Fighting Irish, whose football team has won 11 national championships. The university’s current sponsors include Bank of America Corp., Delta Air Lines Inc., Nissan Motor Co. and United Parcel Service Inc.

According to Collegiate Licensing Company, a unit of WME/IMG, Notre Dame ranks third behind Alabama and Texas in licensed merchandise sales among the more than 100 athletic programs CLC works with.

Notre Dame already has close ties to at least three of the remaining bidders. Fighting Irish football games are broadcast on the IMG Radio Network. Legends, which is owned by the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys, was retained to market new premium seats for the university’s $400 million expansion of its football stadium. Learfield was recently purchased by Atairos Group, a private equity company backed by Comcast Corp., which owns NBC.

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