Back in the 1960’s, before NFL players were paid like rock stars and CEO’s, many athletes held other jobs outside of the football season to make ends meet. For example, Bob Long, a former wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers during the Lombardi era, owned and operated several Pizza Hut restaurants in the Fox Cities (Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh) area. In fact, one the Pizza Hut locations, located by Lambeau Field, is named after him! Today, despite not having the need to hold other jobs, many athletes are still finding ways to keep busy outside the season. Look at this video of NBA superstar LeBron James speaking at the opening of his new I Promise school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, which will give underprivileged kids resources to get ahead in their education, and even provide resources for the parents: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMEcUa3mcds If you listen to the start of the speech, he says “This is a huge moment for all of us” (James, 2018), stating that the school is meant to be something bigger than himself. As an aspiring intercollegiate athletic administrator, It is imperative to see the importance of emphasizing student-athletes as such: Kids who are going to college to further their dreams, but play sports as well. There is no in-between in this case. So, how do you apply that to marketing/fan experiences at the college level?
When it came to thinking about how to write this blog post, this article from Forbes came to mind: https://www.forbes.com/sites/onmarketing/2018/02/22/for-a-winning-sports-marketingcampaign-think-of-players-as-people-first/#7ef12e3950ae
This article from Forbes is short but brings up some great points. For example, it states how people have more access to athletes today due to social media and access to technology, and that fans these days want to know these stars as more than just people who play a certain sport for a living. As stated in the article, “You need a plan that considers athletes as people first, and not just as brand spokespersons.” (Rix, 2018)
The only downside is that it doesn’t give examples of how these tactics apply to the world of intercollegiate athletics. As a start, there is a tradition that the Iowa Hawkeyes football team started in the 2017 season, where after the first quarter, the players, coaches, fans, and referees will wave to cancer patients at the neighboring UI Children’s Hospital. It took the college football world by storm, and as a sign of respect, according “A huge outline of a hand was plastered on one of the UI Children’s Hospital window to reciprocate the love. Families in the hospital waved back with oversized yellow hands.”(Southard, 2018)
“This isn’t an article about marketing!”
But this new tradition shows us something. It shows a sign of unity. Look at the two pictures above. It’s not just the Iowa players and coaches. The pictures show the nationally renowned Ohio State football team and even the fans getting in on the tradition. Even if it’s just for a minute, the entire stadium comes together as one. No one is bigger than anyone else.
As for how this could emphasize athletes as people, one thing comes to mind: story. One of the athletes, coaches, referees, or fans could have a family member or close friend who has had to battle childhood cancer or has had to care for someone diagnosed with it. That gives people reasons to connect with each other.
Another bit to think about when showing that athletes are more than just people who play sports came from Penn State University. “The Nittany Lions’ 31 teams take incredible pride in efforts that make a difference in avenues outside of the competition field. As representatives of Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics, the student-athletes understand the importance of influencing those in many different facets of life. And the groups are able to use their placement in the community as a conduit to helping others. Through a wide-range of activities with organizations and groups of all sizes and ages, Penn State’s approximately 800 student-athletes significantly increased their community engagement in 2015-16 compared to the previous year. During the past year, the Nittany Lions logged a combined 8,016 hours of community engagement, an increase of 33.4 percent from the 5,338 total in 2014-15.” (Author unlisted, 2016) What’s bigger about this article is that Penn State is part of the BigTen, one of the most competitive conferences in NCAA Division I. Talking about your athletes as people who give back and find a way to successfully balance life as both an athlete and a college student is a grand step towards achieving the goal to show them to the world as more than just an athlete. Want to know a little more about this example? Click on the link below:
An even better way to market student athletes? Teach them a skill, such as…Marketing! At Harvard, “In Sept. 2017 the Athletics Department announced a new student marketing program in which an athlete from each team would work with the marketing department in Athletics to increase communication between student athletes and the department.” (Nakada, 2018) This idea is perfect on so many levels. First, Harvard is teaching its athletes an important business skill. Second, the athletes get to give back to the program while still at school and providing something other than monetary donations. Third and last, as state before, stories like these show the public that student-athletes have skills other than spiking a volleyball, catching a touchdown, hitting home runs, etc. Learn some more below:
To cap it all off, consider these questions:
What do you believe can be done to market student-athletes at the college level as people first?
Where do we draw the line between promoting positive images for our athletes and overmilking stories for a profit?