marketing strategy a college athletic department. I a couple pages discussing background research a typical college athletic program, a school marketing increasing communities involvement ticket sales.
Most universities have intermural athletic programs. However, there is a wide variation in terms of the funding, success, popularity and approaches between these programs, spanning from Division I powerhouses to relatively noncompetitive Division III schools. Regardless of the nature of the program or the school, athletic programs can be powerful marketing and publicity tools for academic institutions. Alumni donations often increase after a successful season, as do applications from more competitive students. Also, success tends to breed success in athletics: the more successful and highly-promoted the program, the more top athletes will be inclined to apply to the school — the more top athletes are drawn to the school, the greater the likelihood of athletic success in the future.
For example, when Northern Iowa beat number one-ranked Kansas in the NCAA basketball tournament this spring, the Northern Iowa athletics website drew 1.5 million page views that month in March, three times the monthly average; the Northern Iowa Panthers’ annual athletic fund drive went up 20% (about $1.1 million); and enrollment is projected to increase as much as 10% this fall — even though Northern Iowa did not win the tournament (Logue 2010). To increase the profile of a program, in other words, there is no substitute for success on the court or the playing field. “There is a number of research studies out there that tend to show when a school’s football or men’s basketball team has sudden success there is some correlation to increased admissions applications,” notes Chad McEvoy, associate professor at Illinois State of sports marketing (Logue 2010). Football has even more of a statistically noteworthy effect upon alumni donations and application figures. “The impact is more immediate in football because high school seniors are in the process of choosing a college in the autumn. Most have already decided by the time NCAA Tournament play begins” although success can still influence juniors and several years of prospective students in the future, who may remember watching the nail-biting upset victory of Northern Iowa over Kansas (Logue 2010).
Of course, it might be protested that not many schools can ‘bank’ on beating the number one seed in a major tournament as a way of gaining national attention as a Cinderella school. However, Northern Iowa’s example does highlight the importance of recruiting top athletic talent, particularly for popular spectator sports like football and basketball. Regionally, of course, the most popular sports will vary — in the icy Midwest and New England, ice hockey is quite well-attended, although not in the rest of the nation. In the South, football is king, while the Midwest is often described as basketball-obsessed. Regardless, it is difficult to generate community support and interest if the top sports do not garner much attention in the press and they do not consistently win.
However, even when the sports teams are not strong, it is important for the school’s marketing team to tell a positive story in its press releases. The ‘story’ might be of a team rebuilding itself, after several lackluster years; the story might be of team members with interesting or impressive histories of overcoming seemingly impossible odds: regardless, people must care about the team, because of its record or for other reasons, to want to come to games.
For students, attending athletic events is often an important source of stress relief from busy schedules of finals and work. Commitment to attending athletic events may vary from school to school: at some institutions, such as Duke University, students will camp out for tickets to various events. At other schools, getting students to fill the stands may be a challenge. Northern Iowa was credited with having an aggressive marketing team that made sure to fill stadium seats with students, long before its NCAA upset victory. Having cheering spectators is motivational for the athletes, and creates a good impression for prospective athletes that they will be supported at the school.
However, while marketing the big spectator sports is important for colleges, it is important not to forget other aspects of the program when fostering community relations. Smaller sports, such as soccer, for example, are very popular because so many children play these games growing up. Offering to give a clinic to a local school in a sport can generate positive press for the university’s athletic program, and draw attention to overlooked sports such as soccer, lacrosse, and softball, that are frequently played at a high school level.
More general aspects of fitness should also not be forgotten in terms of their ability to market the program to the wider public. Extending discounted gym memberships to the community is one way to attract people to the campus, and get them interested in physical fitness and the athletic program at the school. Athletes can also volunteer to engage in community service that promotes wellness, such as health screening and informational seminars given for free: this shows that athletes are ‘giving back’ and are not simply selfishly focused upon their own athletic goals.
Competitive success and generating community goodwill must be the cornerstones of marketing any athletic program. Spirit-related activities such as parades, cheerleading, and more traditional aspects of sports marketing should not be forgotten, of course. But to generate a longstanding, loyal audience of fans, regardless of whether the school is successful or not, demands generating an emotional commitment from alumni, students, and other spectators. Recruiting of top talent must not be neglected, but an enthusiastically-supported team is a powerful recruitment too.
Logue, Andrew. March’s madness gives players, program at Northern Iowa a boost. USA Today. August 22, 2010. Available November 21, 2010 at http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/mensbasketball/mvc/2010-08-22-northern-iowa_N.htm
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