Recently there has been a great deal written on issues with regard to college athletics…a recent USA Today piece pointed to the cutbacks athletic departments, especially mid-major schools, have to make to try and get things in line, while this past week the New York Times had an extensive piece on how college graduates looking for job opportunities face very dire odds and another on how students are now balking at fees for athletics as part of actvities, and Friday the Wall Street Journal had a piece on how the Ivies could, and maybe should, retool their athletics and give rewards along the lines of what they do for successful applicants in academia or the arts. All of this seems to be adding up to a crisis in an area…academia…where many times the mainstream looks for answers and innovation in any area of business. Even more troubling is the fact that athletics could and should be generating income and potential new media revenue streams for schools at every level, if the investment is made in finding those streams. After all, aren’t many of today's growth areas…green technology, new media, social networking…platforms created by those in or just out of school who are able to seize opportunit. So is it a case of college athletics being too unwieldy, or is it the old adage of “the cobblers feed are the worst shod” coming tru. It is probably a little of both, but there remains a great untapped opportunity in college athletics for brand building and grassroots growth. Two recent examples of untapped growth are the NCAA lacrosse championships and the ongoing NCAA baseball and softball championships. In the case of lacrosse, Memorial Day weekend saw huge crowds and excitement generated by Syracuse's overtime win over Cornell, and similar excitement at the women's and lower level championships. Yet as the season ends, so do the stories, and any brands looking to attach themselves year round to the sport through on-campus and fan activation. Similar, this past weekend saw the longest game in NCAA baseball history between Boston College and Texas, and will lead to more excitement as the College World Series moves on to Omaha, with the next level of stars of the sport coming out. Yet college baseball remains undermarketed as a spring brand, along with softball. Is it because schools only see the money train in football and hoop. Or is it because schools fail to make the investment in athletic sales and marketing due to a rift between the academic and athletic sides of most institution. It was interesting that some of the best college branding consultants, including award-winning IMG, were singled out at this week's Sports Business Journal awards for their work. IMG's biggest growth opportunity this year is creating and implementing their college consulting division, which shows the biggest schools where the branding value…and cash…is. So what are the next steps toward opportunit. 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 maketing 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. The cyclical nature of college athletics leads little time for effective communication and marketing reports that show true value and return on ROI. take the time to compile and show value added, and most importantly, make sure that those academic decision-makers are aware of the efforts invested in growing the school image. The individual college as a brand to be marketed remains valuable. Schools have loyal followings, a young, core audience looking for diverse interests, a deep data base of successful alumni, brands that have value, deep history and tremendous stories of current past and future success to be told. Mining all that and putting together effective packages, if not to make money then to defer some costs as opposed to cutting, can make college athletics the trend-setters in the future like many of their academic counterparts are trend-setters in the present.
Some other good reads…the Arizona Republic has a good look at MLB and the reasons for a lack of superstars today...the Silicon Valley Insider has a look at the true value of Facebook applications…and the blog “Real Athletes” has a good look at master blogger Charlie Villanueva of the Milwaukee Bucks.