Collegiate Athletics – Many Sports, One Team

Have you ever considered how diverse a university’s or college’s following might be?

Consider the fact that these programs often support teams for more than one sport, usually in the range of 8-10 and for some, as many as 30 or more. We will look at this from a few different angles, but lets first consider college sports fans in general. You could probably class college sports fans into one of three general categories:

– Fans of the school, or those who value the institution for whatever reason
– Fans of a specific sport or sports, including gender specific sports
– Fans of sport and athletics in general

Most college sports fans could probably be grouped into one of these general categories, at least in terms of us trying to put together a framework in which to develop a perspective on what makes school athletics programs unique (as opposed to professional sports) and subsequently how to sell, market, and fund-raise. You already have challenges doing this, but with these broad segments of the college sports fan population, you have quite a more unique challenge to manage. Certainly you could focus on each one separately from the others, but that is not very often in the budget for most universities.

Instead what most colleges likely do is pick the biggest segment with the most overlap into the others and focus on that, usually the sport with the most revenue generating potential and try to hit these three angles in whatever proportion fits the best. For example, School A (a fictional school that has no resemblance to any actual institution) has decided that they will focus most of their season long marketing campaign on trying to reach people who like football, their team with the highest potential for revenue. This will be true for the entire summer leading up to and through the season, except for the few weeks prior to the homecoming game, for which they will attempt to reach fans of the school itself, in an attempt to capture the attention of people who are alumni or otherwise engaged with School A. This is only one very basic example of how diverse a college or university’s following be and how to reach that audience.

Another angle we can look at in order to understand the college sport audience is to look at the different demographics and psychographics of fans of different sports. What makes a fan of tennis different than a fan of baseball different than a fan of rowing, archery, basketball, or polo? I don’t have the answer to that questions, but we can reasonably assume that there might be different qualities for each of those groups of fans. Certainly they might share some of the same traits, but they are also likely to diverge in certain areas. For purposes of this blog post, I’m only attempting to develop a higher level perspective of how these groups might differ, but how they are also under the umbrella of the school’s athletics program.

Back to our fictional example: School A supports 26 teams for several different sports, in full compliance with federal Title IX legislation, NCAA regulations, and conference regulations as well. Because School A’s fan base spans these 26 different sports, their fan base could be considered to be quite large, spanning a wide array of people who value and demonstrate different qualities and different preferences for why they like sports. As a result, it would be fair to say that School A reaches (or could reach if they cast their net wider in terms of marketing) a wider audience than any professional team. A professional team does not have the “x” factor of being a part of an institution, which is another intangible in terms of why someone might like a team.

Furthermore, an institution that supports 26 sports is likely to be larger than most other schools, based on matriculating students, a further global audience, and is likely to be more fiscally stable (more teams means more costs – though I know times have changed and some programs have cut back), and because of their size will have a great audience as it is. As a result, that institutions following could be HUGE, considering all of those factors, but how are we to know? Well, before the age of the internet came about, there is no way you could ever know how many people follow any sports program or any institution at all for that matter. For a very long time information was only local – the only stuff you could have possibly known was was your tribe knew and passed on to you and others. Then as people spread around the globe and information began to be recorded, learning happened and has continued at almost exponential rates ever since.

Think about the potential for your athletics program and how you can improve the lives of others whom you will never meet. Here is another reason why mission, vision, values, and goals play such an important role in organizations – you never know how many people are or could be following you; and the best way to make sure the ones who encounter your existence stay connected is to be clear about who you are. If you are clear about that and follow through on those things on a regular basis, then the ones who matter will care and connect. Develop yourself, then go out into the world and try to leave it better than you found it.

Go Forth!

I hope you enjoyed this one as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please leave your comments below and sign up for email alerts with your email address in the box to the right.

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