At some point the dust will settle, Kris Jenkins, Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats will do their much-deserved victory tour, TV spots and get their keys to the city and then the sports world will move on to the next great moment. While the shot and the effort Villanova put forth to win their second NCAA title will never be forgotten, and there will be talk about increased applications, record tee-short sales and all the buzz that goes with a national title grabbed in such a spectacular way, who else can be a winner ?
The Big East Conference for one.
It hasn’t been the easiest of transitions away from football for the Conference led by Val Ackerman. A landmark TV deal with Fox drove dollars and buzz but was not ESPN, and the schools that banded together when conference realignment was out of control had to slowly forge a new identity together. They were more alike than ever before in terms of makeup, but without a showcase in front of large audiences in the fall, and many of the schools, at least in men’s basketball re-trenching (not to mention conferences like the ACC and Big Ten now moving into the major eastern markets the conference once dominated with their expansion) many were left wondering what the value proposition for The Big East would be going forward.
So with Villanova taking the title this week, the conference and its member schools not only get more revenue and a greater sense of pride, they get a new starting point from which to grow and remind brands and other partners what the conference has to offer, especially in that window when football takes a hiatus, and even in those markets like New York, Philadelphia and Washington where college football may be relevant, but certainly doesn’t dominate.
What’s the offer, Commissioner Ackerman?
A core of like-minded and similar sized schools with long traditions, many of which in urban areas where the population of the United States is heading back to, not away from; a partnership with one of the largest media companies in the world, which may not yet dominate its biggest competitor in Bristol, but one which is willing to continue to grow and push and find new ways to engage a younger demo that can be more nimble in many ways, especially in the social space; a conference whose institutions may provide brands with a more cost-effective way to engage casual sports fans in major markets than the professional teams in the same markets can do, as well as providing an entrée into the next generation of consumer still on campus; and, an attacker group of schools that may not be interested in the status quo as they were when The football-playing Big East was ruling the roost several years ago. They also now have schools, not dissimilar from the reigning national champion, that can point to success much more in practice than in theory before, and can offer brands and casual fans a way to maybe catch a rising tide of success from the ground floor up. For sure, that’s what every coach in the conference was out selling this week, and marketers should be as well.
Is it perfect? No. College football rules the national roost and has the big numbers to prove it. State institutions dominate the media landscape (bit not the biggest markets every day) and have the marketing and broadcast budgets to back up their success. However for The Big East, the light may be shining a bit brighter as spring rolls in than it was even a few months ago. Luck, opportunity and hard work can pay off, and maybe, just maybe, brand swill see the opportunity and come on board more now than before the Wildcats shocked the world Monday night.