Navigate Research

Industry Insights

As the industry leader in evaluating and measuring marketing investments, Navigate has a wealth of knowledge in the sponsorship and marketing space. This blog shares our knowledge and insights on current events in the sports business, marketing and sponsorship worlds.

Maestas: Challenges for college sports require “independent, objective” analysis; this column aims to deliver

Navigate Research - Monday, September 16, 2019
AJ Maestas, founder and CEO of Navigate Research, a leading data and analytics firm, has agreed to write a regular column for the Hotline on the business and economics of college sports. The following is his first contribution.

The business side of collegiate athletics is unique, interesting, frustrating, fun, full of political landmines, and often perplexing to fans.

It is growing in some areas, stagnating in others, and ultimately is a space full of arbitrage opportunities and inherent risks.

Even if change can be slower on the collegiate side than the pros, it is never-ending and never dull.

For all of those reasons – and because the on-field product is also my greatest passion – I have decided to write a regular column for the Pac-12 Hotline.

My aim is to take the research, data, and analytics that my firm, Navigate Research, uses to consult in the sports and entertainment world and combine it with my experience to help inform the readers on a variety of topics that impact the universities and the programs they love.

Over the coming months (and hopefully years), this column will cover major topics and questions like:
  • What is the economic reality of someone having control of their Name, Image and Likeness?
  • Will the fragmentation of college sports into different divisions and conferences continue?
  • How does the changing nature of consumption affect college sports?
  • What can be done to optimize revenue at the university level and how does that impact fans?

I hope to engage with readers and tackle additional topics as they rise to the forefront of the regional and/or national conversation.

I’m sure there will be no shortage.

Before we dig in, I want to share a little more background about me and what I do.

What you need to know about me
  • I grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska, obsessed with baseball despite our very short summer season. We were multi-generational Alaskans which put us in a small group of locals. My grandfather was even, reluctantly, considered a pioneer.
  • Attending the University of Washington was a transformational experience — the catalyst for a life that was different from anything I could have imagined.
  • I met my wife at UW and made lifelong friends that I still travel with today. I did a lot of growing up in Seattle, and I’m still bonded to the place that gave me an unbelievable gift.
  • College athletics is an important piece of that connection. A failed attempt to play baseball in college was a stepping-stone experience that altered my life.
  • At Navigate, the research and analytics consulting service I founded in 2006, we have worked with sports teams, leagues, brands, networks and agencies from all over the world, including the NFL, NBA, Big Ten, ESPN, NRL, CAA, IMG, Toyota, Visa and Anheuser-Busch.
    • One of the joys of our work is the people and places that we get to call business. It’s part of our job to be at places like the Super Bowl or Waste Management Open annually on a competing weekend.
The landscape of collegiate athletics

College football is my greatest passion — the reason I’ve decided to write this column.

This is an incredibly challenging time, full of opportunity and risk, for college sports.

Here are these entities, these athletic departments, sitting inside universities that are not-for-profit settings and full of highly risk-averse executives.

The executives are not ill-intentioned, but they find themselves with such a broad range of stakeholders and decision makers and a risk-reward system that can get you fired for a mistake but doesn’t get you a bonus for driving revenue or progressively moving the university forward.

It’s often regressive and reactive.

The irony is that universities are supposed to be safe spaces for innovation, but they’re still opening up textbooks.

If you took a snapshot of a classroom and asked all the students to put their laptops and iPhones away, it would look no different than it did 100 years ago.

And here is where collegiate athletics sits:

To expect the two or three percent of a university’s budget that’s devoted to athletics somehow won’t be influenced by the main campus — that’s crazy.

So, the challenge is:

How do you sit in this environment that is supposed to be this, but is often this other thing, and how do you move it forward?

What you see is that it moves forward very slowly, very carefully, in a reactive way, and only after it has been triple-proven to be safe.

That’s the opposite of what this space should be.

The opportunities are incredible, and that explains some of the things we’re going to address in my forthcoming columns.

We’ll talk about revenue, including revenue for student athletes. It’s not a dirty word, even in a not-for-profit scenario, if it’s serving the ultimate mission.

If you can maximize revenue and apply best practices, that money could serve the mental and physical well-being of the student-athletes.

It could serve to further their education, to protect them in the future from some of the risks they will take, to train them for their roles as a parent or spouse and to be a contributing member of society.

All these things are lagging because college athletics is inside a risk-averse world, which, I should add, is highly fragmented.

How do we move forward to an inevitable future with so many constraints and controls?

When I say inevitable future, I don’t mean that’s necessarily the right place. A solid argument could be made that college athletics should be what it used to be: pure amateurism.

But forces are pulling it toward economic maximization, toward parity and fairness, toward serving the constituents that don’t have a strong voice, the student athletes.

When you hear the public debate about college sports, it’s often from a very biased viewpoint: Someone uses anecdotal evidence to tell their story.

My goal with this column is to represent the material points on either side, backed by objective, independent, third-party insights that will allow readers to draw their own conclusions.

Even if people weren’t promoting their own agendas in the public dialogue, there are a lot of strongly held beliefs that we at Navigate don’t feel are accurate.

This is also true of professional sports, which are commercially a decade or more ahead of collegiate athletics — and pro sports itself is often five or 10 years behind the regular business world.

The plan for this column

We want to take on these major topics and more:

  • What is behind the drop in attendance?
    • Ticket prices and start times are often cited as the reason, but we’ve done extensive research that reveals larger challenges such as traffic, transit and the opportunity cost of time in exchange for the value of what fans are getting in return.
  • Increased benefits and pay for college athletes.
    • What is the economic reality of someone having control of their Name, Image and Likeness? And what does it mean to attract and retain student athletes with the changing legal landscape?
  •  Will the fragmentation of college sports into different divisions and conferences continue?
    • Navigate is often a consultant to universities and conferences on realignment.
  • How does the changing nature of consumption affect college sports?
    • In an increasingly digital world, there are only so many hours in a day. We’ve found that the average fan will spend about eight times as much time reading about their team, posting on social media and interacting with others than consuming the product itself.
  • What can be done to optimize revenue at the university level?
    • There is not a level playing field when it comes to multimedia rights, fundraising, ticket sales, licensing, and concessions.
    • We aim to answer what your university should be doing to compete at the highest level.
  • Rising recruiting investment and socio-economic factors.
    • (We’ll address this topic in advance of the early-signing period in December.)
All the time, we see beliefs held in public that are in direct conflict with data.

Navigate is in a rare position in the middle of the industry: We’re in position to look at what the reality is today and in solid position to predict the future.

Every day, I learn something new that debunks what I held to be true in the past.

Beliefs should evolve over time, and we want to be a catalyst and have a voice to hopefully influence the national debate.

Follow Navigate on Twitter: @Navigate_Res
To contact AJ Maestas directly, email

Navigate Research Appoints Alexa (Linger) Huchingson as Chief Revenue Officer to Fuel Growth

Navigate Research - Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Navigate Research Appoints Alexa (Linger) Huchingson 
as Chief Revenue Officer to Fuel Growth

CHICAGO, IL. – September 11, 2019 – Navigate Research, a trusted advisor to leading brands and organizations in sports and entertainment, today announced the promotion of Alexa (Linger) Huchingson as the company’s Chief Revenue Officer (CRO). In this newly created role, Huchingson will be steering sales efforts of the organization.  She will oversee business development, sales strategy and client experience. 

Over the last four years, Huchingson served as Vice President of Business Development at Navigate. Through Huchingson's dedication to deepening relationships, she consistently excelled beyond her sales goals and grew business by over +300%. Before Navigate, Huchingson spent four years at IMG College managing all partner activation, as well as new business development. 

“Alexa has every trait you want in a CRO. She’s smart, hard-working, thoughtful, and people gravitate towards her in rooms big and small,” said Jeff Nelson, President of Navigate Research.  “What’s even more crucial for a business like ours – she has a genuine desire to listen to our clients, craft solutions that will help them succeed, and then contribute to the work as our team delivers.”

“From the day Alexa joined Navigate, she has been an integral part of our evolution from research firm to strategic consultancy, and we are thrilled to have her leading our sales efforts.”

About Navigate Research

Navigate Research is a trusted advisor to leading brands and organizations in sports and entertainment. We are experts in applying business intelligence - through our research and analytics – to measure and value marketing investments, guide major decisions and create strategic partnerships.

Based in Chicago, Navigate provides clients with the insights and consultation necessary to achieve their objectives through best-in-class capabilities. Navigate has measured the impact and ROI of hundreds of sponsorship deals and has valued billions of dollars in sponsorship transactions on behalf of brands, properties, universities and agencies.

Gen Z, Millennials & Sports

Navigate Research - Wednesday, August 28, 2019

By Ally Corbin

Who is Gen Z, and why does it matter that we define them?  Why do generations need to be labeled in the first place?

Generations Defined

Before thinking of Gen Z, or any generation, it’s important to understand the value of labeling generations and why we define groups of people in general. 

People are fascinating – we are all creators, consumers, investors, life-long learners, critical (or not so critical) thinkers, and we’ve been doing such activities since the beginning of human existence.  New and advancing technologies have paved the way for how we gather and share information, but at the core of communication, we’re all doing the same thing to varying degrees, and we’ve been doing so for centuries.  Pending the time period in which you grew up, the way you create, consume, learn, and think are different than your predecessors thanks to technological advances, yet the goal or impetus is usually the same (e.g. communicating across distances, keeping yourself occupied, earning money, etc.).  Generations are a means to group people together by birth years to simply understand them as a collective. 

Generations are typically defined by birth years grouped together of 15-20 years; sources vary with exact dates, but the table below helps to establish general time-frames in which we think about modern Western generations.

Generations, Socially Speaking

From a social science perspective, generations are defined as a cohort who experience the same significant events, thus shaping the way you view the world at a given point in time – e.g. new inventions, modern technologies, war, noteworthy crises, etc.  Generations are beneficial to help individuals relate to other human beings, and they’re also beneficial for businesses to make strategic decisions to reach targeted audiences. 

Entrepreneurs, brands and organizations, are usually seeking ways to better understand patterns of people – how people exist, what they like or don’t like, what motivates them, where they can fill gaps or assist pain-points, etc.  These patterns can be simplified into three categories: (1) time (2) talent and (3) treasure.  

Understanding this information helps businesses inform the bottom line.  The way someone spends their time, talent and treasure is dependent upon their age and life experiences.  It important to understand nuances that exist between generations to ensure the bottom line reaches all audiences. 

Without getting specific, it’s clear that Millennials likely navigate life differently than members of the Interbellum Generation.  It gets tricky, however, when generations border one another.  This is where Gen Z comes into play.  We asked ourselves, “How do Millennials differ from Gen Z?”  And since we’re in the sports and entertainment industry, we also wanted to know, “How does Gen Z fit in to the sports landscape?”

Gen Z Interest 
Many people over the age of 45 tend to think anyone under the age of 30 are Millennials.  The term Millennial has taken on more meaning than the true generation definition – there is stigma with the term that relates to “young people” who are “lazy” or who are treated more leniently than the previous generation, and thus their choices, assumptions and behaviors are different (or less than appreciated by older cohorts).  That topic is a good one, but not so much meant for the purpose of this blog.  Our goal of going deep on generations is to understand the emerging workforce cohort, which are Gen Z, who are  different from Millennials.  

There are quite a few details that exist on Gen Z from other research and exploration, but little information exists when it comes to how Gen Z engages and prioritizes sports.  We chose to conduct a Gen Z study to start to peel back the onion on what makes Gen Z unique and proactively understand how our industry can connect and motivate those in Gen Z to consider sports higher on their preference list.

Navigate Gen Z Study Details
Understanding the nuances among a large group of people is a tall feat.  It’s important to understand our Gen Z study is the first of many, with the initial round meant to scrape the surface to inform the next round of investigation.  Our study was designed to gain input from Gen Z and Millennials, focusing on understanding Gen Z  and comparing their behaviors and preferences to Millenials.  Earlier this year (2019) we surveyed 500 members of Gen Z (ages 13-23) in the U.S. as well as 500 Millennials (ages 24-36), posing nearly 40 questions to both groups.  

What Topics Were Measured?
Before diving into sports and asking the burning questions of, “What leagues do you like most?” or “How often do you watch?” we felt it was important to have context with their interests and what grabs their attention in general.  

We asked about...

  • The local connection to the team(s) nearest the city in which they grew up
  • How they identify as a general fan
  • How they became a fan
  • Their overall rankings of leagues, attributes associated with leagues 
  • Watching and attending habits 
  • Sports content engagement (from TV to microsites)
  • Platform preferences
  • Predictions for the future when it comes to watching and attending

We ended the study on a lighthearted note, asking Gen Z to describe their generation to someone in the Millennial cohort, and we ask the same of the Millennial group to share their perspective to Gen Z.

What Did We Find?
We’re excited to unveil our findings over the coming months, including a macro approach of what we found with Gen Z and sports overall, as well as providing details within pro and college specifically and how the conclusions can provide guidance for decision making.  

As a teaser, it is safe to conclude that Gen Z are not as passionate about sports as Millennials, but there is opportunity to increase their focus by integrating elements that are higher on their priority list.  Pro sports come in at the number 5 (out of 12) overall spot among Gen Z interests.  

35% of Gen Z consider themselves ‘interested to very interested’ in pro sports compared to 48% of Millennials.  We have theories as to why the differences exist, including sports playing history, influence (or lack thereof) by their parents, and increased avenues that can/do grab attention of ‘kids these days’.  Additionally, as much as Gen Z are different from Millennials, there are several overlaps and subtleties that make the groups tricky to differentiate.  

Stay tuned for more insights from our Gen Z study as well as a guest blog post from our Gen Z Consultant, Grace Masback (rising Junior at Princeton University). 

Navigate Research Welcomes Al Connor as Head of Strategic Partnerships

Navigate Research - Tuesday, April 02, 2019


Navigate Research has announced that Al Connor has joined the company as Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnerships.  Connor comes to Navigate with 20+ years of sales experience in the sports and media industries.  

As SVP of Strategic Partnerships, Connor will lead Navigate's property sales and naming rights division which has successfully helped secure deals for properties such as the University of Washington – at the time, the largest naming rights deal in college sports – and most recently the Chicago Fire and their jersey partnership with Motorola.

"I have long admired the best-in-class research, data and analytics that Navigate brings to the partnership space and am thrilled to be able to help them achieve success with some of the biggest deals in the industry," said Connor.

Prior to joining Navigate, Connor was Vice President of National Sales at Learfield, where he worked with top-tier college sports properties across the country selling their major entitlements and sponsorships to national brands such as State Farm and AT&T.  Connor also enjoyed a long and successful sales career in the Television business serving in executive leadership positions with CBS, WGN, and KRON-TV in San Francisco.

About Navigate Research

Navigate Research is a trusted advisor to leading brands and organizations in sports and entertainment.  We are experts in applying business intelligence – through research, data, and analytics – to measure and value marketing investments and guide major strategies and decisions. 

Based in Chicago, Navigate helps clients determine the value of their partnerships and understand how they are performing. Navigate has measured the impact and ROI of hundreds of sponsorship deals and has valued billions of dollars in sponsorship transactions on behalf of brands, properties, universities and agencies.