Physical and occupational therapy network Confluent Health has entered into a multi-year, multi-school agreement with Learfield IMG College, one of the largest players in the college sports licensing and media rights arena. The deal will expand Confluent’s college sponsorships from a pair of individual partnerships—at UNC Chapel Hill and the University of Evansville in Indiana—to 13 Learfield schools starting this month.
Both companies declined to disclose financial details of the agreement, which does not include any services provided by Confluent Health as a typical healthcare partnership would.
By adding Appalachian State, Florida State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Oregon State, Providence College, University of Texas-San Antonio, TCU, Texas State and Tulsa alongside UNC and Evansville, Confluent Health is instead looking for exposure in key existing and developing markets as opposed to entry into their athletic healthcare systems. Norman, Okla., for example, already is home to one of Confluent’s companies, Physical Therapy Central. But on the other hand, a new, on-campus Confluent Health physical therapy facility is “quite literally opening as we speak” at App State, Larry Benz, president of Confluent Health, said in a phone interview.
While far smaller than, say, the type of national partnership State Farm has with Learfield properties, which spans more than 80 schools, the Confluent deal uniquely unlocks a new subset of emerging opportunities for those in the healthcare space. The non-traditional healthcare pact will work to convey Confluent Health’s “Keeping Fans in the Game,” messaging—a timely theme—strictly through branding and marketing efforts.
“Like sports teams, we think that healthcare is a very local phenomenon,” Benz added. “The thesis around this deal was to take our larger physical therapy practices [and] match them with Learfield schools and their fans. Many sports healthcare partnerships are around the team, giving the market the impression that you’re actually treating their athletes. This is not what this is about. The fans are our focus, getting them back in the game. Not only in terms of getting fans back to their personal, individual games—life, work, and activities—but also literally getting them to return to sports venues through restoration of activity and movement with physical therapy, as well as addressing behavioral health issues that have evolved because of the pandemic.”
The expanded relationship gives Confluent Health access to college fans in seven different states. The Louisville, Ky.-based healthcare company has 325 locations in 25 states through its extensive network of partner provider groups—its national footprint is one of the reasons why Learfield expresses confidence in the partnership eventually reaching more than the initial 13 institutions.
“Not to be overly aggressive, but the expectation is that we will be adding more schools beyond the defined properties in the deal as [Confluent’s] business expands to additional states,” said Learfield IMG College EVP of national sales Andrew Judelson. “We have a strong belief, not just a hope, that this relationship will grow. We can justify calling this a national relationship because we do think those 13 schools could be 25 a year from now.”
Learfield IMG College has had to get creative this year, with COVID-19 disrupting a number of its traditional activation and exposure opportunities for partners. As a result, the Confluent Health agreement features added elements of flexibility, Judelson explains, understanding that some “strategic” changes to markets or partners may be needed as the deal evolves. Both parties declined to disclose a specific term length for the deal or confirm that all 13 partners are locked in for its full duration, though Judelson said the arrangement will avoid a scenario where Confluent is freely adding and cutting schools from its portfolio at a high rate of turnover.
The pact also includes an emphasis on digital assets—which are seemingly pandemic-proof, unlike on-site activations—through which Confluent Health and its partner companies will receive “significant” visibility, Learfield IMG College said. Specific partner benefits and details vary by school and sport to cater to each specific market and institution without stepping on other partners’ toes.
“The core broad hospital healthcare provider category is a very pervasive, encompassing category within our world. Finding space for a subset of wellness, like physical therapy, provided opportunity for us,” Judelson said. “In some markets, [we] did not have a pathway to provide an opportunity to Confluent Health because of existing healthcare relationships. We were navigating respecting our broad healthcare provider relationships, which are very important, cornerstone partnerships, and unlocking value for our university and brand partners as we monetize a new subset category and a new opportunity within the system.”
Opportunities for new players are especially important after a year that saw a number of partners backpedal amid pandemic-induced financial struggles and few opportunities for exposure in the college athletics space. Those limitations also make it an interesting time to enter the market.
“The inventory in sport sponsorships had been damaged during COVID. That’s pretty obvious,” Benz explained. “We really believe that fans will return in major numbers to sporting events, and so in the long game—pardon the pun—these relationships are beneficial. So it’s a combination of seeing the market opportunity for us, and being the right time to partner with a leading branding [and] digital marketing company in a way that directly addresses the fans.”