in Higher Ed

Crisis & Opportunity: The future of college athletics marketing

The Gooch Pavilion on the sports fields.
Image via Wikipedia

An article from The Economist entitled “Should American tax university sports” coupled with a host of other scandals like a major university supposedly being informed of a student-athlete having possibly cheated on the SAT to qualify to attend, makes you think there’s something of a crisis in the marketing of college athletics these days.

Joe Favorito does a great job of covering stories on college athletic marketing and branding and his latest post, In his latest post, he mentioned the brewing crisis that a number of mid-major schools are having over student athletic fees to support their sports programs due to declining revenues and he makes five prescient points on college athletic branding and the future and his recommendations are spot on:

First, colleges of all sizes must learn from the best practices of minor league sports, which are able to translate every opportunity into year-round community branding and brand building.

Second, colleges should invest wisely in staff, especially in the communications and marketing areas. Effectively spending money on staff to make money back will go a long way, as opposed to the usual turnover that occurs in many places with inexperienced and underpaid staff.

Third, having a university’s athletic group in lock step with the overall school communications and marketing group is important. In many places the two groups have no contact, and the lack of open communication makes it an us vs. them workplace which makes small problems huge.

Fourth, encourage networking within the industry. Many times colleges do not consult with local professional brands or teams on best practices and resources, and by staying a part of a professional network both sides may learn and benefit from the other.

Five, prove and merchandise value to the school.

But in the midst of this turmoil, what can small, non-revenue generating college programs do to reach out to their fans? What about schools that play in Division 3 or even schools that offer athletic scholarships to students who actually have to go to class and might never step foot on a professional court anywhere except perhaps as a spectator?

Perhaps college athletic conferences need to do a better job of marketing in the communities where their teams play? Spend more money on allowing streaming of games online, rather than charging for them. I’ve seen small time athletics and it’s generally very community based, but there are some real takeaways that would allow institutions to showcase student-athletes, especially since they make up a large percentage of the population at some small liberal arts colleges.

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