In a somewhat low key news release this past week, the University of Denver Division of Athletics announced a new 10-year sponsorship deal with Centura Health, a large health care system located here in Colorado. But, make no mistake, this burgeoning sponsorship, called “major and substantial” by one University source, is a key victory in sustaining athletic success at DU.
This is yet another behind-the-scenes win for Athletic Director Karlton Creech and his sponsorship team.
The Centura deal provides DU the short term monetary benefits of sponsorship but also suggests longer-term strategic possibilities as a partnership. The alliance over time could be as valuable to DU as UCHealth’s partnership has been to the Denver Broncos, or perhaps as valuable as Sanford Health’s long-term support has become to the Summit League and some of its member schools, especially in the Dakotas. And, the Centura benefits could extend well beyond athletics to other areas of the University of Denver.
health care network includes 17 hospitals, eight affiliate hospitals, health neighborhoods, health at home, urgent care centers, emergency centers, mountain clinics, 100+ physician practices, clinics and Flight for Life Colorado. Local hospitals include Porter Adventist Hospital (closest to the DU campus), Littleton Adventist Hospital, St Anthony Hospital and OrthoColorado in Lakewood.
DU Athletics, like most Division I schools, does not realize a profit on its overall sports program. While DU hockey does bring in more revenue than the program costs to produce, other DU sports programs will likely always cost more than they generate in revenue (and hockey will never generate enough revenue to offset the cost of all DU’s programs). As a mid-major without football or major conference basketball, the Pioneers operate without significant TV sports revenue or associated conference payouts enjoyed by big schools in major conferences.
Accordingly, DU is increasingly reliant on strategic partnerships (now totaling over $2 million annually) to sustain athletics, as costs continue to rise. At DU, overall athletic costs ultimately must be offset by university subvention, student fees, sponsorships, coaching endowments (hockey, lacrosse), ticket sales, concessions, parking, merchandise, and donors. Replacing the departure of Coors as a key athletic sponsor with Breckenridge Brewery and the recent addition of Safeway supermarkets were critical sponsorships additions that allow DU athletics to help off-set operational costs.
And, the benefits flow both ways. Many health care organizations are in massive growth mode, as the baby boom generation enters their prime sickness years, healthcare is now pushing 20% of US GDP. Expanding their sponsorships to reach new audiences, including millennials and Gen-Z, is a good business move for Centura. DU’s affluent private school community (and fanbase) is a very attractive target audience within a saturated Denver market. Additionally, by becoming the “Exclusive Health Care Partner” for DU Athletics, Centura also creates a defense against other competitive health care systems who also may also covet the DU market over the next 10 years. By aligning with DU, there are also tremendous brand benefits that Centura can leverage, as DU casts its own halo as the oldest and arguably most prestigious university in the region.
Sports sponsorships form a logical link between healthy lifestyles, health, and health-care. And in the future, the NCAA will allow sponsors to use athletes’ images and even compensate athletes for said use. Centura could, over the next 10 years – as NCAA likeness rules become increasingly modified – even advertise a story(s) of treatment and recovery of a DU athlete(s).
Short term, Centura Health will claim naming rights to the Ritchie Center commons area (the West lobby), which will now be called “Centura Health Commons”. The ticketing entrance for all main sporting events, this commons area will highlight the University of Denver alumni who now serve in various roles throughout the Centura Health organization. You will also see the Centura name and logo at hockey, basketball, and lacrosse games, as well as gymnastics meets. In the summer, Centura will sponsor the DU Summer P.A.S.S. Camp, a weekly sports and wellness summer camp for children aged 5-11.
Over time, the associated link between the two brands should benefit both organizations. Add in areas of mutual interest to include sports medicine, orthopedics, clinics (on campus – for athletes and non-athletes), aging, preventative care, internships and links to DU professional schools such as law, business, education, and social work. The connections, if managed right, could inextricably link the two entities as brand partners, to the benefit of each.
In a world of continuously rising costs, it is great to see DU aligning with key partners such as Centura Health, to help offset them.
Top photo credit: Porter Adventist Hospital