The vertical partnerships group sought to connect sport-specific stakeholders to create resource efficiencies, explore increased exposure options and test revenue-partnering opportunities within a singular sport. The project challenges the current model where most Olympic and Paralympic sports' rights are bundled with football and basketball agreements, limiting exposure, commercial opportunities and broader stakeholder engagement.

Several stakeholders contributed to the vertical partnership work – including individuals from Evolution Media Capital, Learfield IMG College, the Big 12 Conference, the Pac-12 Conference, USA Track & Field, USA Field Hockey, USA Volleyball, USA Gymnastics and U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Properties/LA28. As part of the project, a survey was issued to college-centric NGBs to determine their willingness to lend staff, infrastructure and/or resources to partner in administering NCAA championships. One-hundred percent of NGBs responded with an interest to partner on this work.

In addition, with the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games being contested in 2021, stakeholders expressed the importance of facilitating coverage on school and conference channels. Highlighting ties to the Olympic and Paralympic movements to local school communities would cement the important role school programs play in developing elite athletes. From this work, With that, energy around championships partnerships and resource-sharing became the group's focus areas.

Recommendation 1: Establish partnerships to achieve greater efficiencies within NCAA championships

Partnerships across NGBs, the USOPC and NCAA could preserve and enrich the NCAA championship experience by paving the way for new revenue streams, creating operational efficiencies and broadening awareness. This can be achieved through partnerships across the youth, college and elite levels to vertically elevate the sport. Specifically, NGBs and the NCAA should explore (1) championships hosting partnerships, (2) championships efficiency partnerships and/or (3) auxiliary partnerships. Pilot concepts are intended to increase operational efficiencies, open revenue opportunities and increase exposure while enhancing the student-athlete experience.

The USOPC Think Tank vertical partnerships group also encourages NGBs and cities to engage in long-range championships planning, which has been demonstrated in sports like softball (Oklahoma City), baseball (Omaha) and tennis (Orlando). Year-over-year championships in designated cities create a passionate fanbase and elevate community commitment in the sport.

table of detailed vertical partnerships recommendations

View the Google Docs version of the postseason collaborations opportunities table.

Championship-based partnerships across NGBs, the NCAA and the USOPC may streamline resources while engaging the youth, collegiate and elite landscapes. Short- and long-term collaboration areas may include (1) event staffing and logistical support, (2) securing venues, (3) event promotions, (4) combining college events with NGB national team/youth events. 

These NGB/NCAA championship collaborations may directly enhance the athlete experience while increasing national interest in each sport. A study with the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee is underway to assess the financial impact of these core concepts.

Recommendation 2: Pilot mechanism for content sharing to facilitate Olympic and Paralympic sport coverage

The content sharing pilot and national recognition program will increase national-level storytelling and boost local and national support of Olympic and Paralympic sport programs. With the immediate opportunity to bolster  awareness around school ties to the Olympic and Paralympic movements during the 2020 Tokyo Games, the following pilot efforts and partnerships were constructed:

  • Image sharing: The NCAA piloted an imagery share to provide Games photography to schools to cover their student-athlete performances in Tokyo. This first-of-its-kind pilot included real-time request/fulfillment of both U.S. and international athletes.
  • Journalism collaboration: The USOPC piloted a content-sharing program whereby journalism and graduate students covered the Olympic Games; all written content was sent directly to schools to use editorially and natively on their channels.
  • Information sharing: Schools and conferences were provided with college footprint data, storylines, team announcement information, post-competition results and a school medal leaderboard to aid in their Games coverage.
  • National storytelling: Short public service announcements were made regarding the USOPC’s Olympians Made Here and Paralympians Made Here campaigns, which were shared with NBC for use in national and school markets.

The 2020 Tokyo Games provided schools the opportunity to celebrate their U.S. and international athletes competing in Japan, bringing notoriety to their school communities and athletics programs that support Olympian and Paralympian development. The piloted effort also provided an avenue for athletes to celebrate their schools while in Tokyo – shining a spotlight on the programs that helped them become the people and athletes they are today.

The content sharing effort was successful and positively received by schools and conferences, as demonstrated through post-Games surveys. Social media efforts to promote the Olympians Made Here and Paralympians Made Here campaigns garnered strong participation from schools, conferences, NGBs, fans, Team USA athletes, athletics directors, commissioners and school presidents. Additionally, the Tokyo Games forged new partnerships to facilitate greater coverage and storytelling.


  • NGB leaders are eager to collaborate on NCAA championships in the short and long terms. As part of the sport-specific sustainability efforts, championship collaboration concepts were crafted for the sports of track and field, gymnastics and field hockey. The men’s volleyball community also drafted a letter of support for expansion of their championship.

  View the NGB championship collaboration survey results: PDF | Google Docs
View the track and field championship concept: PDF | Google Docs
View the gymnastics championship concept: PDF | Google Docs
View the field hockey championship concept: PDF | Google Docs
View the men’s volleyball championship advocacy letter: PDF | Google Docs

  • The USOPC Think Tank recommends a revamped Team USA collegiate recognition program to spur competitiveness among schools by celebrating Team USA’s collegiate ties. View the Team USA Collegiate Recognition Program overview: PDF | Google Docs.


Ray Anderson Arizona State headshot

Ray Anderson
Arizona State University
Vice President for University Athletics

Don Bruce University of Tennessee professor

Don Bruce
Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee
Professor and Faculty Athletics Representative

Lauren Crandall, Wake Forest University

Lauren Crandall
Wake Forest University
Olympian (Field Hockey)

Bubba Cunningham North Carolina headshot

Bubba Cunningham
University of North Carolina
Director of Athletics

Brett Gorman USRowing headshot

Brett Gorman
Director of Coaching Education and National Team Coach

Jim Knowlton UCLA headshot

Jim Knowlton
University of California, Berkeley
Director of Athletics

Erin McDermott Harvard athletic director

Erin McDermott
Harvard University
Director of Athletics

Kathleen McNeelly NCAA headshot

Kathleen McNeely
Senior Vice President of Administration and CFO

Sho Nakamori headshot

Sho Nakamori
Stanford University
Former National Team Athlete (Gymnastics)


Val Ackerman Big East headshot

Val Ackerman
BIG EAST Conference

Sandy Barbour Penn State headshot

Sandy Barbour
Pennsylvania State University
Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics

Greg Byrne Alabama Headshot

Greg Byrne
University of Alabama
Director of Athletics

Sean Frazier NIU athletic director

Sean Frazier
Northern Illinois University
Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics

Jessica Heims headshot

Jessica Heims
University of Northern Iowa
Paralympian (Track and Field)

Chaunte Lowe, 4-time Olympian

Chaunte Lowe
Georgia Tech
Olympian (Track and Field)

Caroline Rebello Evolution Media

Caroline Rebello
Evolution Media
Capital Managing Director

Sierra Schmidt Michigan headshot

Sierra Schmidt
University of Michigan
National Team Athlete (Swimming)

Max Siegel USATF headshot

Max Siegel
USA Track & Field