This spring and summer, perhaps more than any other offseason, the Pac 10 Conference and its schools have made headlines that have transcended game coverage across the nation. Whether it was the continued controversies surround USC, the expansion and shift of schools, television contracts, Bowl alliances, coaching shifts, the Pac 10 has grabbed its share of headlines. The latest came this week, when Commissioner Larry Scott announced the latest national plans to grow the face of the conference, completed with a rebranding plan and vision and plans for a larger east coast presence for the conference (designed by Ed O’Hara and his team at SME), which because of its geography, continually lags behind overall exposure in the winter to conferences like the Big East, Big 10 and ACC in the mind not just of sports fans but of marketers and sales folks on Madison Avenue.
The thought is that by bringing the Pac 10 periodically to New Yor.wit. media days and events, promotions, more targeted branding with East Coast alumni, the schools and the conference can rise in the eyes of the casual sports fan, brands and TV partners. Will it wor.? Hard to say.
There are a number of issues as to why the program will have its challenges. The first is the general marketplace. The cities of the northeast, and its casual fans, have traditionally not been ardent college football followers since the demise of schools like Fordham, and Georgetown and NYU in the early 195.s. Yes Boston College and Rutgers and even Maryland are the exceptions, but they are big exceptions. The competition for discretionary dollar leaves the pageantry of college football to other areas and those in the cities, even alumni who may flock to bars to follow on select Saturdays, would much rather make an occasional trip to alma mater than to stay in and watch en masse. Does that create opportunit.? Maybe. But it is not opportunity that has not been grabbed before. The Pac 10 will also face the obvious issues of being way out of physical sight and usually way late at night on an already crowded Saturday in the fall. It is an issue that has confounded a sport like NASCAR for years. They know there are followers, they know they activate, but without a regular presence in the marketplace it is next to impossible to harness that passion consistently in those markets. No track, like no school, means a really tough go no matter how compelling the product.
Another issue is even in the college base itself. Yes there are groups of alumni who can recruit friends to activate, watch and enjoy. But in the east those groups are much smaller for Pac 10 schools than anywhere in the country. Without the numbers, it is even harder to make the dent and find the influencers consistently.
Now what makes sense is the effort to bring the brand and the schools to the forefront, and find partners on all levels of business who may not have looked twice at the Pac 10 before for their advertising dollar. Hearing the stories and creating some kind of consistent buzz back east can keep the brands and the schools a little more top of mind. It also makes sense to engage media with every possible story angle from every possible school with a local tie in the northeast. There are probably hundreds of promotable stories through mainstream media, blo9gs and alumni sites that can be told, but that takes a strong commitment from sports communications staffs that are probably overtaxed servicing the media that are already co9vering a myriad of sports in market. Still that push for awareness is worth the effort to build brand.
It also will make sense to bring teams of all sports in market for local competition from time to time, showcasing athletes and schools and giving those in market a sense of what Pac 10 athletics and student-athletes are all about. An increased presence of alumni influencers will also help grow the brand, and make Pac 10 more relevant on Madison Avenue.
There will be many detractors who will say that the Pac 10 should concentrate on fishing where the fish are, and can still grow their footprint and strengthen their relationships with brands out west, especially with their new schools. That too has to be done. However to be a true national brand one must engage people, fans and partners on both coasts in every way possible, so the Pac Ten effort is certainly with merit for trying. Whether it succeeds will be another story.