ADWEEK: Come Super Bowl Sunday, Will the University of Phoenix Regret Its Naming Rights Deal?

Career College Central Summary:

  • When the expected 184 million viewers tune in to Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1, they'll see more than just the Seattle Seahawks face off against the New England Patriots—they'll see one of the newest, most technically advanced stadiums in the United States. And just below that stadium's retractable roof, bolted to its metallic skin, viewers will see a name in huge red letters: University of Phoenix.
  • You've probably heard of the school. It boasts the biggest enrollment of any private college in the country, with some 308,000 students (a 2011 figure from the National Center for Education Statistics). People enrolled in courses at the University of Phoenix need not travel to the headquarters in Arizona; most of the instruction takes place via the Web or at one of 130 "learning centers" in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The school does not have a traditional campus, nor does it have any sports teams. It does, however, have a great deal more money for marketing than many colleges, because the University of Phoenix is a for-profit institution.
  • That fact may explain why, in 2006, the school was in a position to part with $155 million to put its name over the stadium door.
  • Of course, back then, that deal didn't raise as many eyebrows as it's likely to now. Thanks to a period of intense scrutiny that started with a Senate investigation of for-profit colleges that began in 2010, the for-profit educational sector has come under considerable fire in the last four years, both on Capitol Hill and in the media. An array of critics has alleged that schools like the University of Phoenix turn out comparatively few graduates while saddling enrollees with crushing student-loan debt. And that raises a prickly question: Will this high-profile naming-rights deal, one that will bring the University of Phoenix Stadium into millions of American living rooms, backfire as a piece of marketing?
  • "I'm sure they're having anxious moments right now," speculates Abu Noaman, CEO of academic marketing consultancy Elliance. "They've already gotten reprimanded by the Department of Education, saying you're taking a disproportionately large share of federal aid, not graduating enough students, and [the graduates] aren't finding the jobs you're promising them. The question is: Why is [the University of Phoenix] squandering money on a sponsorship instead of serving students and graduating more of them?"
  • The school did not respond to Adweek's requests for an interview, but the University of Phoenix has had no shortage of media attention already. In 2006, it made headlines when it inked the 20-year, $154.5 million naming-rights deal for the Arizona Cardinals' new stadium. "This is the first time a National Football League venue has been named after an educational institution," said Brian Mueller, then-president of Apollo Education Group, the publicly traded corporate parent of the University of Phoenix.

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