The biggest college sports business news in the New Jersey this fall thus far has come from Piscataway obviously, where the Scarlet Knights are finding their way through their first year in the Big Ten across the board in sports large and small, with the loudest noise coming with their upset of Michigan two weeks ago. Whether the move to the Big 10 will benefit the conference, which touts New Brunswick as being just outside New York with every chance they get, or to the University (who should get a bigger cut of the financial pie not just for athletics but for academic programs as well, as the story goes) is up for some debate, but from a buzz and brand story the change seems to be off to a good start.
However Rutgers isn’t the only University in New Jersey with a shot at a sports business bounce. Monmouth and its football move to the Big South Conference should continue to increase its early fall presence, and its place in a vibrant community during basketball season should also continue to help its brand grow during the winter for hoops. Seton Hall’s ever-challenging position in The Big East, along with playing almost all of its games at the cavernous Prudential Center away from campus can be both a blessing in good years and a huge challenge in others, while a school like Rider can find ways to engage in the Trenton-area with business and a community that likes to support its own. Same with St. peters in Jersey City, a mid-major in the MAAC that has done well at times in drawing from the community and the ever-changing makeup around the Yanitelli Center
One program which could be on the upswing as a brand is Fairleigh Dickinson University. Spread out across several campuses, the University’s Division I sports are housed in Teaneck, with hoops playing at the Rothman center, just seconds from a slew of businesses and commuters off of Route 4. Under personable men’s basketball coach Greg Herenda, the school made some nice noise early last year by knocking off both Rutgers and Seton Hall in the same week, a rare double, but went on to have just a 10-21 record for the season. With a slew of new players, FDU should continue to improve on the court, and if so could be in a position from a brand standpoint to make some sports business noise as well.
The biggest reason is Herenda as the face of the program. A basketball lifer, the Jersey City native is one of the most respected and well known faces on the college scene, especially in the Northeast. He has used his personality to up the talent pool, but has also hit the business and student recruiting trail, hosting a weekly radio show on the schools well-listened to public radio station, WFDU on Sundays. His show has had a nice list of guests ranging from Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun to Charlotte Bobcats mentor Steve Clifford and Kentucky’s John Calipari, and no doubt the list will grow over the winter. It creates a niche, especially in the digital space, that can give the Knights a bit of an edge. Then there is the Rothman Center and the community itself. Sitting just a few miles from one of the most vibrant business corridors in the Northeast, the facility is an under-marketed sports gem for casual fans or for brands to activate against, and for families to check out hoops. Finding new and innovative ways to get the players, both men’s and women’s teams, more into the community for events and to use Herenda’s charm to get businesses and local programs to come out and support the Knights is a challenge, but also now presents a great opportunity. The sponsorships may not bring in huge dollars at first, but effective in-kind partnerships with any and all mall employees and businesses in the area can certainly raise brand awareness and can lift the profile and the opportunity of all involved. FDU also has a growing sports marketing program with tis students that could also generate even more awareness in Bergen County, perhaps the most populous county in the Northeast, if not the country, without a pro sports team to support and call its own. So why not the Knights?
Of course there remain challenges. FDU is limited on its marketing budget and staff, and Bergen County presents lots of challenges as well as opportunity to cut through the clutter. The school is still much more known as a commuter school so catching student attention to stay for games without a tradition of winning is also a challenge. However from a brand standpoint, the opportunity appears to be rising for FDU to strike. Families in the burbs are looking more and more for hyper-local affordable entertainment; brands are looking to draw more and more from a local consumer base, the digital space has created more opportunity for fan engagement, and it appears FDU has a coach willing to market and grow as well as achieve success on the court. While it’s not the Big 10, it is still a major market sports business opportunity, one which the Knights can try and seize to get their piece of the pie.
Let’s see if they can score with it this winter.