Could Conference Naming Rights Deals Save Struggling FCS Conferences?

Conferences are looking for more revenue through naming rights sponsorships. Two FCS conferences in particular could use this revenue to secure their future.

Charleston Southern and Gardner-Webb remain the only two members of the Big South.
Source: Joe L. Hughes

The insatiable greed of collegiate athletics continues to grow in previously unimagined ways. Now, conferences selling their naming rights to corporate sponsors is a legitimate possibility. The Big 12 and Conference USA are both considering the idea to bring extra revenue to their conference.

While these two leagues hope to fill revenue gaps with naming rights deals, a pair of FCS conferences could use this new trend to save or rebuild their leagues. The Big South and WAC are two FCS leagues with uncertain futures in the ever-changing landscape of collegiate athletics.

Since the NCAA shot down the WAC and ASUN's dreams of moving the entire conference to the FBS, multiple conference members left or will soon depart. After Sam Houston and New Mexico State left for Conference USA, four other members will also leave the WAC. Stephen F. Austin and UT-Rio Grande Valley will follow fellow former WAC member Lamar to the Southland this year. Grand Canyon and Seattle will move to the West Coast Conference in 2025.

After those departures, the WAC will have seven members, four of which play football. Football is safe for now under the United Athletic Conference partnership with the ASUN. With the WAC's stability in danger, there are plenty of rumors of landing spots for the remaining members.

However, a naming rights deal could entice members to stay. A conference naming rights deal could generate enough revenue to keep the conference above the minimum amount of members needed to retain its NCAA Tournament automatic bid.

In the case of a naming rights deal, less is more for the WAC with seven schools, each school would get a substantial revenue share from a naming rights deal. While the WAC would be hard-pressed to get new members, the naming rights deal could lock its seven members in place.

The Big South could rebuild its football membership from the ground with a naming rights deal. A naming rights deal could attract the FCS's two independents, Merrimack and Sacred Heart. The Big South could use the naming rights deal to cover travel costs for each school's one venture to the Carolinas per season. Additionally, conference membership gives Sacred Heart and Merrimack access to the Big South media rights deal, giving both schools media revenue streams from two conferences, the MAAC for Olympic sports and the Big South.

Furthermore, a naming rights deal for the Big South could allow the conference to poach the Northeast Conference of their two football-only members, Duquesne and Robert Morris. A naming rights deal would only have to provide enough money to cover travel costs and exceed the media revenue Duquesne and Robert Morris get from the NEC's modest media rights deal.

Duquesne, Robert Morris, Sacred Heart, and Merrimack are all basketball schools. Extra revenue from access to another conference's media deal and naming rights gives them a monetary advantage over non-football playing schools in their respective Olympic Sports conferences. The Big South must factor this when considering selling their naming rights.

The rebuilding or stabilizing of conferences is just a surface-level end state of naming rights deals. The revenue could also increase exposure for the conference by providing the finances necessary to buy time on local over-the-air networks.

While the Big Four networks and The CW are likely out of the question, the WAC and Big South could use naming rights deals to buy time on Ion. Ion is an upstart over-the-air network beginning its foray into sports broadcasting by airing Friday night WNBA games.

The selling of conference identities to corporate sponsors is a tremendously gloomy microcosm of the state of college athletics. Still, some conferences could use this new development to solidify their future. The WAC and Big South may want to get on the phone with nationally relevant brands soon. Sadly, this move could save their conference.