Rocket Mortgage sponsorship gives MSU men's basketball a new name

Michigan State University men's basketball team will soon be known as "MSU Spartans Presented by Rocket Mortgage" after a new five-year sponsorship deal with the Detroit-based mortgage lender was unveiled Thursday.

The financial terms of the sponsorship were not disclosed, but the name involving the Rocket Companies Inc. brand will start in the 2021-22 athletic season. It will make the "company synonymous with Spartan athletics," according to a news release from the university.

University of Michigan and Michigan State University basketball players warm up for the last game of the regular season at Breslin Center, March 7, 2021.

The partnership will also mean branding placement for the Detroit-based mortgage lender on TV, radio and in the university's athletic facilities for the men's and women's basketball teams as well as football and hockey teams.

"It is our hope," Rocket CEO Jay Farner said in a statement, "that our presence in MSU Athletics will make students and athletes more aware of the opportunities for them right here in Detroit with Rocket Mortgage and the many other growing companies in the city."

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Rocket Mortgage will be promoted throughout the Breslin Center where MSU women's and men's basketball teams play as well as throughout the Spartan football stadium.

The sponsorship was managed by the university's multimedia rights partner, Playfly Sports Properties, according to the university.

The men's basketball team has made eight Final Four appearances in the NCAA tournament since head coach Tom Izzo took the helm in 1995: "As presenting sponsor of our season, (Rocket's) presence will be an asset as we compete for championships," Izzo said in a statement.

Static and digital placements will be in the university's other athletic facilities, as well. Branding also will inhabit the men's and women's basketball team benches and clipboards, and the company's logos will be displayed on football coach Mel Tucker's headset.

The lender also will have a presence in radio programming for the university's basketball, football and hockey games.

The sponsorship comes after Mat Ishbia, CEO of Rocket rival United Wholesale Mortgage Holdings Corp., last month donated $32 million to his alma mater's athletic program, the largest single cash commitment in MSU history from an individual.

The former walk-on basketball player who recently became a billionaire after taking his company public in January was a member of the 2000 national championship team at Michigan State under Izzo. 

The largest portion of the Ishbia commitment — $20 million — will go toward the football program, providing resources to construct a performance zone in an expansion of the Skandalaris Football Center, including improvements to the football auditorium, expanding the weight room and creating new player lockers, informal meeting spaces as well a dining and nutrition area.

Ishbia last week also escalated his Pontiac-based company's years-long war with Rocket, the country's largest mortgage lender. He announced starting Monday, mortgage brokers who continue to do business with Rocket will be unable to work with United Wholesale, the country's fourth-largest lender.

But Ishbia on Thursday night downplayed the rivalry with Rocket chairman Dan Gilbert, another Spartan alumnus, when it comes to their alma mater's athletics program.

"I’m happy for Michigan State. Anything that is good for the Spartans is good for Mat Ishbia. I support it all," Ishbia told The Detroit News. "People think I’d be upset. I love when Michigan State gets a great sponsorship. There’s no competitive juices between me and Dan Gilbert over Michigan State. I’m a huge supporter of Michigan State in every way and if something is good for Michigan State and the Spartans, then I’m supportive of it."

That, however, did not stop Ishbia from issuing a challenge to Gilbert: "I hope Dan Gilbert, if you want to get competitive, one-up my $32 million donation and make it $33. I’d be ecstatic."

Since 2015, Rocket has sponsored Michigan State's athletic program. Gilbert is the namesake of the Gilbert Pavilion at the Breslin Center. In 2016, Gilbert and his wife, Jennifer, contributed $15 million to the university for improvement to the center, the university's Detroit Scholars Program and the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities.

The women's basketball team uses Gilbert's "ISMs," the 20 philosophies that are the foundation of Rocket's work culture that emphasizes innovation, communication and efficiency, said head coach Suzy Merchant in a statement: "The same principles that have brought business success to Rocket Mortgage, help guide our success."

Before becoming an official partner, the company was the title sponsor of the Quicken Loans Carrier Classic, the first basketball game hosted on an active U.S. aircraft carrier in 2011. President Barack Obama sat courtside as fans watched the Spartans take on the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.

The university also is seeking endowments for its head and assistant coaches to “assure that we can meet and respond appropriately to the daily standards being set for intercollegiate coaching salaries,” according to its Spartan Fund website. Naming rights start at $500,000 for assistant coaches in football, men’s basketball and ice hockey and go up to $5 million for football and men’s basketball head coaches.

"Michigan State Athletics couldn't compete at the highest levels without the support of our corporate partners like Rocket Mortgage," Michigan State athletics director Bill Beekman said in a statement. "We are appreciative of Rocket's continued commitment to the Spartans and their unwavering support of our programs."

bnoble@detroitnews.com