Photo Courtesy: Sonic

By Rieva Lesonsky

I grew up on Long Island, an area not known for its college sports teams (at least during my childhood). So it wasn’t until college when I got to Columbia, Missouri, home of the Mizzou Tigers, that I understood how very passionate people can be about college sports.

Small business owners can take advantage of this addiction in numerous ways. Obviously if you’re located in a college town, you’re aware of the numerous opportunities to market to students. But what about alumni? Some might want a taste of their college-town goodies. Others could be interested in a nostalgic visit, so if you own a hotel or restaurant, these folks are good prospects. Most colleges have alumni associations and publications—find out if they rent their mailing lists.

Another way to cash in on college fandom is selling stuff emblazoned with college logos. NCAA Snuggies blankets (both the original and copycat versions) were a big hit. It may not be as difficult as you’d imagine to get a licensing deal with a college or university, or a broader arrangement with the NCAA.

The latest headline-making entry into the college licensed market is Sonic, the national franchise chain, which introduced team logos stamped onto its hamburger buns (using food dye) in some big college markets, like Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana. According to USA Today, they’re also crafting the burgers to local tastes.

Sonic’s CMO told USA Today they expect the buns to “generate a lot of buzz.” But according to a Harvard professor of sports marketing, the buns “better taste good.”

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at, follow her on Google+   and and visit her website,, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.