Authenticity key for Home Depot-‘GameDay’ deal

Authenticity key for Home Depot-‘GameDay’ deal


Thinking about inevitability, and wondering which will come first: A scandal fueled by NIL money, or one from an entity involved in sportswashing?

“He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.” — Charles Dickens

The Home Depot will celebrate its 20th anniversary as lead sponsor for ESPN’s “College GameDay” on Sept. 3, when the three-hour Saturday morning show sets up shop on Ohio State’s campus for the 21st time. The seminal college football preview program has done more than 400 broadcasts headed into Year 36 and has been to every campus of football notoriety.

Former ESPN sales and marketing chief Ed Erhardt’s recollection is that the deal started with a casual conversation with former Home Depot EVP John Costello during a party at a New Orleans Super Bowl. The football demos were attractive, but the appeal of “Game Day” to the nation’s largest home improvement retailer was more about the day of the week.

“You sell a lot of stuff on Saturday, right?” Erhardt asked. It wasn’t long before Costello asked if Home Depot could build the set. Discover had been the “Game Day” presenting sponsor for the two prior years, but had never established a solid connection, and it wanted more surety as to where each week’s telecast would originate.

Costello saw enough potential that Home Depot’s initial deal was for three years. It wasn’t long until prospective ESPN clients were asking for “something like Home Depot got,” a request which hasn’t ceased. On the eve of the 20th anniversary, Disney is calling “College GameDay Built by The Home Depot” its most enduring sponsorship within sports or entertainment. My colleague Michael Smith also noted how Home Depot ramped up its hospitality over the years of sponsoring the show, and invited manufacturers and vendors to “GameDay” sites.

Authenticity key for Home Depot-‘GameDay’ deal

Home Depot’s sponsorship of “College GameDay” will have its 20th anniversary this season

Costello pointed to the authenticity around the sponsorship that has allowed for such longevity. “It just made sense to any viewer and every Home Depot customer,” said Costello, now serving on the board of directors for a number of private and non-profit concerns, including Yellowstone Forever and CANVA. “It required considerable flexibility, because usually you don’t know where the next one is going to be until the Sunday or Monday before. But we had enough confidence in the concept that we signed a multiyear deal right away.”

Home Depot VP/Integrated Media Melanie-Babcock-Brown echoed Costello’s thinking. “It reaches our core customers and that’s stayed true for 19 years,” she said. “It’s just given us great connectivity and as the love for college football has grown, so has the reach.”

Over the years, Home Depot has tied in to its grilling and tailgating offerings and offered samplings of power tools on site. Other than building the set each week, Home Depot — with considerable help from longtime agency Octagon assisting from the start — tied in with experiential elements on site as well. Then there was the in-store support, including appearances and clinics, along with social media and digital support.

Home Depot is commemorating the anniversary during Week 0 with a season preview “GameDay” telecast this Saturday from its Atlanta HQ, which will include a giant orange hardhat, around 3,000 employees (wearing either company orange or their favorite college fanwear) and an on-air appearance by CEO Edward Decker.

The show’s on-air talent has been so involved over the years in supporting creative that the gang is now inseparable from Home Depot orange. Home Depot hardhats are seen as frequently on-site on Saturday mornings as college T-shirts. Home Depot also was the first with the “Built By’’ designation, rolling out the unique presenting sponsor moniker on Aug. 30, 2003, at Ohio State.

After so many shows over the years, many interviewed for this story were hard-pressed to single out their favorite episode. Longtime ESPN marketer Rob Temple, now CEO at FishBait Solutions, cited Steve Spurrier’s first game as coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks in September 2005 as his “best-ever ‘GameDay’ atmosphere.” Also memorable was the show’s first trip to Oxford, Miss., in October 2014 for what was, at the time, a matchup of undefeated Ole Miss and Alabama. “One of the wildest shows ever, with Katy Perry tossing corn dogs, and the upset of Alabama,” remembered Temple.

Longtime ESPN exec Rob Temple recalled Katy Perry’s appearance among his “GameDay” highlights

At a time when agency relationships are more fragile than ever, and the average CMO tenure at a top brand at 40 months, any marketing platform enduring as many years as the Home Depot-ESPN deal can be considered a minor miracle — especially when one of the participants often doesn’t know where next week’s show will be staged until the Sunday or Monday beforehand.

“Operationally, it’s a challenge, but we’ve always had Octagon helping with that and keeping it fresh for all these years,” said Theresa Palmieri, VP for Disney advertising and sports brand solutions. “It’s proven to be an authentic voice for college football fans and that’s attracted fans and sponsors. It feels like we and Home Depot have always recognized there’s something special about it, and we’ve been able to keep it fresh.’”

Said Costello, clearly a proud parent: “The No. 1 reason it’s lasted this long is simple: It worked. It became more sponsorship than media, like a league deal. It quickly differentiated the brand, and drove traffic and revenue, while also energizing employees and customers. And it’s still doing that.”

  • Sponsorship for boxing promoter Top Rank is up triple digits from last year, notes SBJ’s Adam Stern. Top Rank CRO Brian Kelly expects to have a spirits deal completed by next year at the latest, with QSR and insurance as categories he’s also keen to fill. Current sponsors include Bud Light, Boost Mobile and Advance Auto Parts.
  • Anheuser-Busch’s status as the official beer of the NFL is the most-recognized sponsorship in sports, according to the 15th annual Sponsor Breakthrough studies fielded over the past year by MarketCast. SBJ research director David Broughton went deep on the results of the study for this week’s magazine.
  • Southern Company is renewing its sponsorship of Tour Championship, extending its deal with the PGA Tour finale in Atlanta through the 2027 tournament, reports SBJ’s Eric Prisbell.
  • College football season is here (well, with Week 0 at least). The team at SBJ Atlas has a handy list of each Power 5 school’s apparel provider below.
Alabama (SEC) Oklahoma State (Big 12)
Arizona (Pac-12) Ole Miss (SEC)
Arkansas (SEC) Oregon (Pac-12)
Baylor (Big 12) Oregon State (Pac-12)
Clemson (ACC) Penn State (Big Ten)
Colorado (Pac-12) Pittsburgh (ACC)
Duke (ACC) Purdue (Big Ten)
Florida State (ACC) Stanford (Pac-12)
Georgia (SEC) Syracuse (ACC)
Illinois (Big Ten) TCU (Big 12)
Iowa (Big Ten) Tennessee (SEC)
Iowa State (Big Ten) Texas (Big 12)
Kansas State (Big 12) USC (Pac-12)
Kentucky (SEC) Vanderbilt (SEC)
LSU (SEC) Virginia (ACC)
Michigan State (Big Ten) Virginia Tech (ACC)
Minnesota (Big Ten) Wake Forest (ACC)
Missouri (SEC) Washington State (Pac-12)
Ohio State (Big Ten) West Virginia (Big 12)
California (Pac – 12) North Carolina (ACC)
Florida (SEC) Oklahoma (Big 12)
Michigan (Big Ten) UCLA (Pac – 12)
Boston College (ACC)  
Arizona State (Pac – 12) Mississippi State (SEC)
Georgia Tech (ACC) NC State (ACC)
Indiana (Big Ten) Nebraska (Big Ten)
Kansas (Big 12) Rutgers (Big Ten)
Louisville (ACC) Texas A&M (SEC)
Miami (FL) (ACC) Washington (Pac – 12)
Auburn (SEC) South Carolina (SEC)
Maryland (Big Ten) Texas Tech (Big 12)
Northwestern (Big Ten) Utah (Pac – 12)
Notre Dame Wisconsin (Big Ten)

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