NCAA | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

Keeping It Simple: Why “The Ice Bucket Challenge” Works..

It’s cheap, it’s simple, and it’s simple to understand. Those are some of the most forgotten goals for brand and marketing and PR campaigns in a world where we are all about multi-layer, multi-level complex engagement. That’s really why the Ice Bucket Challenge has worked, and helped really advance the cause and the funding for  Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a motor neuron disease that causes nerve cells to break down and die. There is no treatment or cure for what many know as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and it robs thousands every year of basic life skills, and then of life itself (including our old friend Dick Kelley, the longtime Boston College Sports Information Director who passed away earlier this year after a long and gallant fight with ALS).

In a recent piece in Inc. Magazine, Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour provided some simple tips for success. Some are probably to general and simplistic to really always be effective, bit one aligns itself well with the Ice Bucket Challenge success story. Do one thing and do it well.

The Challenge is a great example of a simple idea, forged out of chance, that has gone bigger than ever hoped. While millions have seen the Gatorade baths that coaches have gotten for years on winning sidelines, few had ever thought to take the concept and pass it along through a grassroots effort that made everyone who was involved a little colder, but winners regardless. And while the challenge has existed for several years with other charities, it was through golf of all places that this challenge was launched and got its legs for ALS.

According to several reports, on July 15, golfer Chris Kennedy did the ice-bucket challenge and challenged his cousin Jeanette Senerchia of Pelham, N.Y., whose husband, Anthony, has had ALS for 11 years. A day later she did the challenge while her 6-year-old daughter filmed her in front of their house. From there through a Facebook connection 29-year-old former Boston College baseball player Paul Frates connected to the challenge, and his friends and supporters ramped it up. It has expanded well beyond sport, but with sport as the rallying point, hundreds of athletes have taken or passed it along on all levels, and once the Kennedy Family did the challenge, Henrik Lundqvist challenged John McEnroe who challenged Novak Djokovic, and it got to LeBron James who challenged President Obama, the race was on.

The beauty is in its simplicity. There is no “portions of” donation made, all monies goes to ALS from the consumer. There is no having to buy or wear a color to support. There is no third party vendor. There is no real obligation or pressure to be involved; it takes seconds to do and it is an experience that is communal and knows no boundaries other than your own circle of friends. If you don’t want to do the challenge, or haven’t even been challenged, just make a donation to be part of the group. And by the way, donate to wherever you like, it is not limited just to ALS research. You do it, you get it, you move on in seconds.

Most importantly the millions raised, compounded by the awareness, will someday save a life, and will today give hope to millions where there may only be despair. That is the real success story; not in a “me too” viral video, but in the long-term battle for a dreaded and deadly disease.

Now can this simple program spiral to the point where it becomes white noise? Sure. Will someone go to far and create an issue for someone who does not want to do the challenge? maybe. Will there be some scammer collecting money by throwing water on people? Hopefully not. Will there be copycats trying to promise millions of dollars and vies? For sure, and hopefully at least one is successful. However before that happens maybe a corporation can join the individuals…hello Gatorade or a similar action drink? To make a massive donation or do a massive one-time 100 pct. funded maybe even without logos, to put the drive over the top before the weather gets too cool.

In the meantime, the Ice Bucket Challenge lives on by keeping it simple and by doing one thing well; a clear message in a time of complexity is a winner both in and out of sports.

Bleacher Report had a good summary of all the challenges connected to pro sports as well.

Smaller School Tries To Make Bigger Impact…

It certainly doesn’t have all the grandeur and expectations that Rutgers move to the Big 10 this fall has, but another New Jersey school with bigger aspirations for its brand, and its football team, will make a “Big’ move this fall. Monmouth University will make the switch in football from the Northeast Conference to the Big South Conference in the hopes that more eyes, more scholarship dollars and hopefully more donations and other ancillary benefits, come upon the mid-major Jersey Shore school.
Now there was a time when the only football talked about in West Long Branch was the Giants; who trained at the school for a brief period of time. Fall afternoons were spent more on a soccer pitch and football was a distant memory; not something the school had room or reason to do. However that all changed in 1993 when coach Kevin Callahan arrived with the goal of starting football from scratch, and the plan has evolved over the years to the point where the school can now look bigger for its gridiron glory.
Monmouth’s home stadium, 3,100-seat Kessler Field will undergo a $15 million renovation and expansion that is supposed to start after this season and be ready for 2015, as the school adjusts to football life against larger scholarship schools that play in the Big South and are amongst the best on the FCS level. Coastal Carolina, with head coach Joe Moglia pouring a good deal of his own money into the program from when he was head of TD Ameritrade, has become a national power on the FCS scene, and other schools like Liberty University are not that far behind. The league brings bigger expectations, more scholarships and perhaps more of a national identity for Monmouth as college football continues to get bigger and bigger from a sports business perspective.
Now the move to the Big South won’t suddenly push the Hawks into the College Football Championship game in a few years. That usually isn’t the goal with an upgrade like this, especially in the crowded media corridor in the Northeast. Few private schools ever find bright like success at the highest levels of college football; where state schools and their larger budgets and followings rule the roost. What this move does is make Monmouth highly competitive (with additional scholarships to recruit) on the level that they want to be at. It probably also opens the door for some ancillary sponsor opportunities, hopefully some additional ticket revenue and buzz around the school, and the ability to showcase its school brand for general students in a wider area in some key states where population is growing and Monmouth may not yet be a household name. There is also the payday specter down the line for more elite FCS schools. Better recruits and a better league mean that top tier schools; even a Rutgers; could look your way when doing scheduling out of conference. Those chances to play up to a higher level rarely result in wins, but they do result in a nice guarantee check coming back to help balance the overall athletic budget, and once again gets the school some great brand exposure.
Does this move to the Big South for football come with some risk? Sure. There is cost in upgrades and travel which were less of an issue when staying in the smaller and cost controlled Northeast Conference, but the benefits of playing in the local league vs. one with higher aspirations were also limited. There is also the question of what, if any, the other Big South schools have in common on the academic or even the social side with Monmouth. That is probably less of an issue since the move is only for football, which means the core sports for the school remain with their local rivalries.
In the end, the buzz and hopefully the dollars and even the media exposure seem like a good gamble for the West Long Branch school. There has always been some solid local support on all levels for the Hawks and the program they have continued to grow, a growth which has matched well with how the school has evolved on all levels. This fall, it kicks off a new challenge on the gridiron; one which has a nice upside as their coaches, alumni and student-athletes dream bigger and try to stake their own slightly expanded claim in the growing business of college football.

Tailgating Gets More Customized…

It’s almost tailgate time on hundreds of colleges across the country, and a relatively new brand is ready to jump into the fray with a pretty unique contest.

Schwan’s is a one of the national brands IMG College has brought to multiple school properties, with some assistance from Learfield Sports in lining up key schools.  They are now kicking off a pretty cool online platform at  TailgateAtYourPlace.com  The contest highlights Schwan’s Consumer Brands’ Red Baron®, Freschetta® and Tony’s® pizzas….and has some compelling features for fans.  The new Web site is billed as a one-stop shop for all things tailgating this fall football season, including entertainment tips for hosting game-day tailgate festivities, unique college football content and trivia, recipes, contests and games with more than $150,000 in prizes. Additionally, Red Baron®, Freschetta® and Tony’s® pizza brands will have special promotional packaging tied to the sponsorship program, set to run from Aug. 1, 2014 through Jan. 10, 2015. 

The greatest part of the contest doesn’t stop with winning; the brand will customize the online tailgate to the loyalty of the winner. A Commodore in Knoxville wants no part of orange; that’s ok.  A Buckeye going to Ann Arbor? All your stuff is OSU styled, no Maize and Blue anywhere near. The attention to detail shows that the company is willing to go the extra mile to deliver not just any experience, but THE experience, to the winning consumer.

The universities included in Schwan’s Consumer Brands football sponsorship are Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Tennessee, Auburn, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky and Ohio State.

TailgateAtYourPlace.com will offer pizza lovers timely tips as the football season kicks off, as well as content to get them in a college football spirit.  Fans encouraged via a full social platform to visit daily for chances to win prizes; more than $150,000 in daily and monthly grand prizes will be awarded. Prizes include five monthly sweepstakes of $10,000 cash, a home-entertainment makeover and a kitchen makeover.  Consumers earn sweepstakes entries by playing the Instant Win Game and earning bonus sweepstakes entries by visiting areas on the site.

Not a bad way to build loyalty and expose millions of casual fans to the brands’ newest investment; the ever-growing big business in and around college football.

“Hyper-Local” Gets Another Digital Shot…

It certainly wasn’t the greatest week for Gannett, with their news of the virtual shuttering of their long form national sports platform “Sports on Earth” and the spinning off of their newspapers. However for the local sports fan, a new offering on the digital Gannett platforms could provide a nice option for additional coverage of college, high school and special event sports throughout the state, an area which news 12 and Verizon Fios have covered to various levels of success on broadcast TV, bit one which has seen a loss of hyper local coverage with the loss of an entity like MSG Varsity.

The new offering is called “Jersey Sports Rant,” and it will be hosted by longtime area voice Joey Wahler, who consumers in New York may recognize from places like MSG Network and News 12, and have heard on WFAN and WCBS radio for years.  The digital offering  debuts Monday. Aug. 18, streaming live video Monday through Thursday from 6:30 to 7:00 p.m. Wahler will host the show from the new Asbury Park Press newsroom in Neptune, bringing in personalities with Jersey ties via digital connection, and in some cases in person. The audience will be asked to interact with the show through social media platforms and by a live chat box on the screen. Consumers can access the show live or through a daily archive on Gannett’s five New Jersey newspaper websites: app.com (Asbury Park Press), mycentraljersey.com (Home News Tribune/Courier News), courierpostonline.com, dailyrecord.com and dailyjournal.com, giving some great added value to those news site’s subscribers, and helping to give the Gannett papers statewide a more unified presence in the local sports conversation.

The goal of “Jersey Sports Rant” is to provide a state-specific platform to discuss the sports news of the day; from Rutgers and the Big 10 to minor league baseball to the casino industry to high school sports, with a mix of coverage and discussion about the professional game as well. In addition to being a nice addition to the news sites, it can provide much-desired video that can drive traffic, and in theory, brands and dollars back to fund the project. This works in many smaller markets, can it work in a large market like New Jersey?

While not venturing outside the studio at first, the show will look to spread its wings with event content and news of the day as well; making it much more than a stagnant “talking head” with calls just coming in. Video and guests can drive conversation and engagement, something which sometimes gets lost in New Jersey sports as the talk is controlled by the professional sports across the rivers in Philadelphia and New York.

Will “Sports Rant” find an audience to make it viable and desirable to advertisers? That will take time to build, but studies do show that the consumer today loves hyper-local engagement and unique content. In this crowded environment it may be a challenge, but it is one that Gannett looks like it is willing to take on as it tries to find new ways to engage its subscribers and grow its base.

Let the story pitching begin.

Yogurt Takes A Dip Into Colleges; Hummus Next?

Hummus and Yogurt, smart brand fits for the college marketplace, and both now have really started their engagement through athletic branding.

This week, Chobani announced a 17 school partnership through IMG College to engage with colleges through athletics on a broad platform; from digital and game promotions to health awareness campaigns, sampling and access to athletes. The launch schools include Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon, Texas, UCLA and several others, and more comes at a great time since the NCAA’s rule change allowing universities to serve student-athletes unlimited meals.  Yogurt as a healthy choice makes great sense, and Chobani taking the broadest activation platform with some large programs is a great next step. It certainly won’t be the mega-deal for income that beer will be as more schools start opening up the taps at games, but from a messaging and branding standpoint the yogurt play hits on many levels.

Then there is  hummus, growing as fast as any in the snack food category. Major brands are investing millions in the chick pea snack, combined with their own crackers and pretzel brands that fans are accustomed to, and dropping in various flavors to make hummus as appealing and healthier than your standard nachos or other dips on game day.  The growth at retail in large ethnically diverse metropolitan areas has been tremendous, and now the key hummus brands are looking to extend more into sport by dipping crackers into various partnerships. Last winter Olympian Tim Morehouse and his quest to bring of all sports, worked with the Sabra brand to create a “Fencing In The Cities” program as a way to promote active lives for young people in urban areas, and Sabra was a great fit. The brand has also partnered with the NFL to be the official dip of the league, but investing and activating at the level to break through with one of the most elite platforms on the planet can have its challenges. So how about hummus on the college level?

Like yogurt, hummus plays well on college campuses as a snack alternative. It can fit really well with student-athletes at the training table and can have much more of a cost-effective activation at mid-major schools. Maybe not Michigan, but how about Harvard-Yale to start?  For schools looking for great messaging and healthy lifestyles with brands looking to break through in snacks, hummus could match yogurt as a great fit.

Let the healthy dipping begin.

Oregon Gives Their Fans The Sweet Smell Of…Buns

If you are a fan, no matter what, your team is going to stink at some point. It’s part of the ups and downs of the game; you win some, you lose some. However if you are a fan of the University of Oregon Ducks this year, every time you pick up a hard ticket for a football game, you will be reminded of a smell of a different kind.

In an era where hard tickets are becoming a thing of the past, and collecting stubs has become a quaint hobby rather than a rite of passage for sports fans, the Ducks took a fun and sponsored turn with their football tickets this fall.   Oregon IMG Sports Marketing GM Brian Movalson’s and his cohort on the ticketing side, Jason Harris, came up with an idea to add a little scratch and sniff to their hard tickets as a way of providing some extra buzz and value to the Ducks fan experience.

Now it’s not like the folks in Eugene have been quietly sitting back with regard to enhancements in and around the athletic teams. From 30 foot long Heisman banners in New York to funky uniforms to court design to palatial facilities, Oregon has become a hub for driving ROI and innovation just like their friends and benefactors down the road at Nike have been for years. But scratch and sniff tickets? Why not.

The team at UO looked at everything that could make sense within the realm, literally, of good taste.  “We looked at the scents and they had everything from blueberry, strawberry, chocolate, cheeseburgers, and a fresh bread scent,” Movalson says.  Their choice? “Knowing Carls Jr. had a current marketing campaign focused on ‘fresh baked buns’, he called in AE Nicole Aliotti and asked, “What do you think about this for Carls Jr?”

The IMG team then went to the burger chain, and a deal was hatched, or scratched. This fall’s tickets smell like fresh baked buns. The school has over 20,000 season ticket accounts, which gives Carls Jr  shot at making an impression over 140,000 should a season sub take a scratch. Not a bad reminder for the brand, and something which can easily be turned into a promo in and around home games for those looking for some tailgating or pre and postgame snacks.

Some may say the idea is a waste in a time when people want virtual tickets more and more, but Oregon and IMG College found a way to fill a need for hard ticket costs while providing a very unique ROI to a brand in a competitive marketplace, something which can probably be replicated with different scents and partners down the line and across the country. If scratch and sniff works, can a little sample tasting be that far away.

Nice score for the lemon and emerald and their sports biz partners.

High School Media Day Scores In Concept

The overall potential for high school sports properties regionally and nationally remains a hot button for media and marketers, with many bullish on the future as national brands seek hyper local activity, cash strapped school districts look for ways to bring in revenue and media use cost-efficient tools to tell very worthy stories and capture the drama of high school athletics both on a local and national stage. While some have criticized the commercialization and added media attention for national elite high school programs, the fact remains that local media coverage and brand engagement for programs has existed for as long as high school sports have been around. The local hero and legendary coach have always been there; there is more of a means to tell the story to a larger audience now.

A good example of the power and reach of the high school platform took place this past week in Seattle. MaxPreps, along with USA Football and the Seattle Seahawks, hosted the inaugural High School Media Day, inviting some of the area’s elite athletes and coaches to the practice facility of the reigning Super Bowl champs for a day of interaction amongst themselves and assembled media from across the region. It also served as a great opportunity for USA Football to unveil its latest best practice programs for proper helmet and shoulder pad fitting and to introduce to Heads Up Football® tackling fundamentals to both the athletes and to the media in attendance.

The concept served many purposes and will probably be set forth as a best practice for areas where football especially is king, and basketball is a close second . The event gave a wide swath of media a chance to talk to coaches and players they will be covering in an efficient time window, as opposed to the usual practice of tracking down coaches one at a time on the phone for several weeks. It also gave media the opportunity to learn more some additional coaches and student-athletes they might not get a chance to interact with once practice starts and schedules tighten, and exposed all more to the human side of sport rather than just the numbers or the video media may see during a hectic fall season. For MaxPreps, the day was also a great opportunity to gather regional content and place their brand front and center as one of the key sources for creative coverage of high school football.

For the coaches and student-athletes, the day served as an opportunity for them to get a feel for what the limelight can possibly be like going forward, when college or other opportunities come calling for many of the participants. For some it may be the only time they ever see such bright lights as well, and gives them an interesting time getting some deserved recognition.  The Seahawks media team stepped in prior to the sessions to do some prep work with the students and the coaches, face time that can be invaluable going forward when media come calling and there is no seasoned communications professional around to lend an opinion or assist in making sure an interview goes well.

Is there any downside to such an event on a regional level? Some may say doing this in July again increases the window for student-athletes when they should be away from the spotlight, but in reality it actually lessens distractions when camp starts and gives the coaches a chance to get comfortable with the media before the pressure of winning is out on more squarely.  Some may say casting the national shadow of MaxPreps on more local kids is undue pressure, but in reality the exposure with social and digital media is there regardless of this type of event, and the media day streamlines and organizes the process and makes it more well-rounded for all the schools in the area.  The cooperation of the local NFL team also creates even additional goodwill in the region, not to mention some memories for the athletes that will last a lifetime.

In the end, the high school media day really served as proof  concept for MaxPreps and for USA Football, and can probably be a revenue generator in partnership for the local district going forward should a sponsor be found that makes sense. It is an event that can be replicated in key geographic areas, and brings a level of professionalism (in a good way) to the media process surrounding high school athletics. It looks good, it sounds good and it takes pressure off of student-athletes and coaches which would have been applied once practice starts. The day was a help to the media in advancing and telling stories, and was a strong-cost efficient best practice for the coverage of high school sports, a hot platform that is growing by the week.

Cavs Win In Social With LeBron, But Heat Haven’t Lost…

We went to the folks at MVP Index to take a look at the LeBron effect is early on in social, and to debunk the myth that Heat fans evaporated…here ya go

What impact can one man have on a brand? Ask the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James’ decision to pick his first team over the Miami Heat seems to have had an invigorating effect on a sleepy sports brand in social media.

 The Cavs, with a Twitter amplification rate of 0.86, could definitely use a boost. That boost was provided in earnest when  James took his talents and his 213.27 amplification rate to Cleveland. On the day Sports Illustrated dropped the story of James’ return home, Cleveland’s mentions went from 15  per hour on July 8 to a staggering 3,118 mentions per hour on the day of Decision II. An even larger change is seen in their retweet rate. On July 8, the Cavs were seeing a retweet rate of 14.54 retweets per hour, and on the day of the decision their hourly retweet rate reached 6,202.35 per hour.

The changes weren’t just on Twitter, either. The Cavaliers’ Facebook account also experienced some dramatic changes. 23,259 more people were “talking about” the Cavaliers on July 12 than they were on July 11. That is a 96% increase in people interacting with the Cavaliers’ Facebook account in one day. They also experienced positive changes in their comment rate (307%), Like Rate (77%), and Share Rate (75%) over the same time period.

What about their reach? Before his decision on July 11, the Cavaliers’ Twitter account 336,967 followers. As of July 12, the Cav’s have 370,421, a 9.92% increase in their followers. On Facebook, the Cavs had 1,700245 likes before the decision, and on July 12 they stand at 1,773,792 likes. The Cavaliers gained 73,547 likes in just over one day due to the decision.

How do fans react when their star leaves? We can’t speak for everyone, but it’s widely assumed that the Miami Heat fans are “bandwaggoners.” An account named NBA Legion stated that the Miami Heat had lost 300,000 followers in a tweet that earned 29,585 retweets. That’s a really interesting story, and were it true, we would have seen some real data that backed up the bandwaggoner claim. It’s just not true. The Heat actually have increased their following by a marginal 1,393 people, bringing their Twitter fan base to 2,671,454.

The Cavaliers can gain more than just NBA Titles with the reacquisition of LeBron James, they now have an opportunity to resurrect their brand in social media. The immediate impact LeBron James has on a brand is impressive, but what will really be interesting to watch is Cleveland’s ability to continue growing and engaging with their fans at a steady clip. With LeBron’s added reach and influence, they can capitalize on their revitalized fan base and win sponsorships, move merchandise, and increase ticket sales.

Maui Jim Scores In Social

The eyeglass market is not an easy one to cut through in sports. Oakley, Ray Ban and others spend millions marketing, signing athletes and then creating custom product to engage fans and gain market share. However there are brands that can disrupt and find ways to cut through the clutter with some unique platforms.

Maui Jim is one. Named after the pet parrot belonging to one of the founders, with a bird  for the company’s mascot, the American-based manufacturer is certainly not a small spender or newcomer in the space, but they have found a way using lifestyle through select sports ties to engage and grow brand, especially in the past few years. Known for their UV-Ray blocking polarized lenses with an oceanic, sporty theme, the company has not looked to celebrity to spread their word in sport, they have gone to the power of the social engagement at large events away from professional sports.

Maui Jim sponsors the Rock-n-Roll Marathon series and then takes a deep dive not into sponsoring elite runners, but with the fans engaged along the route. They interact online with people at the race, set up a big screen TV with Tagboard and post photos live at the event using the hashtag #mauijim and then create video content to showcase the event and the runners. The result is that the Tagboard becomes am hourly destination not just for people on site, but for thousands following online from remote locations who can engage with those in and around the race. There are passionate runners, but also friends and family who follow along and build loyalty to the site for its information and its photos, an ultimately for the brand. Occasional promotions are factored in, but more importantly, Maui Jim becomes synonymous with the fun and the healthy lifestyle surrounding the massive road races and their party-like atmosphere.

 A similar trial was put forth this year at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. College baseball is often overlooked as a property with value, but the College World Series is a crown jewel, a destination every year for thousands not just from the participating schools but from around the country looking for a warm weather celebration of the collegiate game. During the College World Series, Louisville Slugger Bats partnered with Maui Jim to put a Louisville Slugger bat at their booth and had fans try and find the bat via a scavenger hunt. The result was a win for both brands; it linked a longtime NCAA partner to a social consumer brand, and also gave Maui Jim a boost in awareness from fans who know the bat name but might not have known the lower key sunglass brand. The tags on the photowall doubled, and it unleashed the potential for a brand that knows the viral space to work with a bigger brand that is not competitive in the space to increase its bandwidth. While many large apparel brands do have lifestyle lines that include sunglasses, a beverage line could be ripe for a future partnership, much like Louisville Slugger was at the CWS.

So what does this show?  Smart nontraditional, cost effective thinking by Maui Jim does work to grow their brand awareness in a tight space. It doesn’t spend millions, but it can at least get ROI on millions of impressions that can resonate well away from their sponsored events. Their promotions are fun, interactive, have shelf life and can be shared, and that sharing, along with a database that is built when fans engage, can be just as valuable to their strategy as an elite athlete could. It is not a throw stuff against the “social” wall and see what works strategy; it is well thought out and reflects what the brand would like to achieve through engagement; awareness first, sales and loyalty second.

Somewhere down the line could there be a bigger Maui Jim push into sports? Maybe, but mainstream masses are not their market. They are quality, niche and lifestyle, and their programs, approach and execution reflect that, smart targeted spends to draw the buzz and the eyeballs, albeit ones behind some slick shades.

Big Ten, New Schools Win The Day, Look To The Future

The day came and went with fireworks and fanfare, music and lots of Scarlet and Terp Pride. Rutgers and the Big 10. Maryland and the Big 10. For the casual fan it had a bit of a wow factor, for the ardent supporter it had a bigger wow factor. For those selling the brand to the business and media world, it was a day of cautious optimism. Of you are counting dollars in the halls of the athletic department; it was a day of cautious optimism.

If you are the Big 10, you are officially, at least in name, slotted in the Capitol District and at least near Madison Avenue to do business every day.  If you are in the halls of academia, you hope that the promises and the flood of long term positive cash flows, as well as the chance to maybe partner with elite institutions on programs well beyond a playing field, makes your job more interesting and perhaps your research better funded. And somewhere in new Jersey as the World Cup is going on, if you are former Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti, now watching over another transitional franchise, this one coming into Major League Soccer in New York City Football Club, you are probably smiling at a job well done steering the Scarlet Knights into a Power Five conference against some steep odds.

So when the bands went away, the mascots went home and the smoke from the fireworks blew away, who won?  The jury for both schools is still out and will be for some time, but from a strategic position the real winner right now is the Big 10 itself. While it is easy to “say” you are part of the New  York business marketplace or the fabric of DC, as entities like NASCAR or even the Pac 12 have said for years with media events, sponsor activations or TV buys, having a physical presence where brand and media buyers can actually experience the look and feel of what you are selling 24/7 is required. You can talk and then fly someone to an event; NASCAR at Pocono for example, or taking brands on a junket to a football weekend in Tuscaloosa, but to be able to say on a Tuesday, hey come and see Michigan play Rutgers, or Ohio State is visiting College Park tomorrow bring your family, is a big difference. That experience is amplified even more because New York, and Washington to a large extent, are really professional sports towns by nature.  Yes there are thousands of fans and alumni from colleges who live and congregate for games on their own, but for the large part the media, especially in New York, and most of the population, live and die with those in the pros.  The massive offerings of the Big 10 as a whole and its member schools individually, now get tot take advantage of a regular physical presence in two major markets they have never had before, and that means a great deal when battling with brands for discretionary dollars. It’s not like the Big 10 is hurting in any way for dollars and exposure on a national level, but having those two schools as an entertainment and activation hub in those markets makes the business of college sports just that much easier.

So what does it mean for Rutgers especially? Maryland has never been a stranger to big time athletics with its presence in the ACC. But Rutgers has ebbed and flowed for years into the national conversation through its relationships in the American Athletic, the Big East and before that the Atlantic 10. Pernetti when he was at the Scarlet Knights helm, fought and won a steep stealth battle to get the school into the Big Ten, arguing the upgrade in the long run would change every piece of the University for the better. He succeeded, and despite his controversial departure from the school, has left a mark that current AD Julie Hermann and her staff will have to evolve with going forward, with cautious optimism. The argument is that win or lose, Rutgers will now be able to grab part of that Big Ten national spotlight for themselves, and will be able to cash in literally on the bigger crowds of say, Michigan State coming to Piscataway for football or hoops than  a Cincinnati or a Seton Hall would ever bring. The naysayers bring up the fact that the Big ten schools are better built and supported than what Rutgers has experienced, and the competitive climb for all sports will be very steep and may never be realized.  Those on the positive side say the ancillary sales aspects of having larger profile schools involved can bring bigger sponsor dollars even for individual events, while those on the negative side say that Rutgers is not New York, that the professional sports will still get the larger flow of cash.  The argument for looks at the massive revenue share that the schools will get from playing in a college football championship pool, the argument against says it’s nice to think that all will be equal but in reality the culture of big time athletics is ingrained and managed at schools like Ohio State and Indiana, and it is not part of the culture at a school lie Rutgers. Some academics see the switch as another huge dupe of the public, with dollars spent better going towards world class programs in chemistry or mathematics or communications, all of which have suffered in a challenged environment, while those for say that the association with Big 10 schools can further grant money and in the long run will raise the tide across the University.

All of the above is up for debate at this point. The one certainty is that change in college athletics seems to be constant, and if the current environment does not work for the five big conferences now, that more change may be in the offing, especially for those leagues that DO NOT now have solid boots on the ground in markets like New York and Washington and may need to change yet again. For Rutgers, from an athletic brand standpoint, the association with the Big 10 was an immediate buzz generator, and that buzz will continue into the fall. Success on the field will certainly raise the level of exposure and with it the dollars that can flow in.  Will either matter to a casual fan in the New York area? Maybe. But how far Rutgers can insert itself into a sports culture that is purely professional is still up for debate. Maryland has a better chance in the Washington area, but for the Scarlet Knights to be in the conversation consistently will take a great, great deal of time and effort and success. What is more important for bath is the internal sell. The convincing of alumni, passionate local supporters, brands and administrators and students that this move is consistent, positive and for the better for all. That won’t happen for everyone with a few football games. It will take a constant reinforcement with hard numbers and data and interest, and that sell is much more important than the one to those listening to ESPN radio in DC or WFAN in New York.

In the end who won with the conference shifts this week? Certainly the Big Ten did, as their schools and their sales and marketing forces now have a place to call home in addition to a satellite office near Madison Avenue.  If you believe change is good then Rutgers and Maryland also are winners right now, with the potential for bigger wins on the bottom line down the road. Nine of that is guaranteed for the long term and there will be some painful days and decisions coming as that transition occurs, but if you were betting on longer term health, it seems like being with the have’s if you are in those athletic administrations, projects better than being on the outside trying to climb in.

July 2014 certainly brought optimism and buzz across two campuses, especially the one in New Jersey. Maintaining that buzz and pulling in the dollars will be the tough task at hand, and certainly one to watch as the leaves turn not just this fall, but for years to come as college sports continues its evolutionary dance into the sports business stratosphere.