Marketing Madness…Here Comes Under Armour
If you don’t live in the Chicago area then it is sometimes hard to really get a pulse for the presence of Northwestern in the local marketplace. Yes, “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” is in full force, at least as a marketing presence goes. The Northwestern football billboards have been up on each of the Chicago area’s most trafficked thoroughfares. I pass at least one billboard per day on my drive to work or trip to O’Hare. Perhaps fearing an SI or EA Sports-like jinx after last year’s PersaStrong campaign, the billboards are as simple as can be. Northwestern Football in huge letters, a white stripe design over a purple background and a Wilson football sporting the “N” logo with the tagline “Chicago’s Big Ten Team”. No players, no Fitz.
Now, the front sports page of the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune are flanked with a color banner add. This isn’t anything new as NU did this the past couple of seasons all the way through basketball season. I have yet to see digital advertising on the local paper side, but perhaps you have and can send my way. As I flipped around the radio I heard the SCORE’s morning drive hosts promote the “Northwestern Football text message” as they talked on and on about the Chicago Bears, of course. WGN is also always promoting Northwestern football as part of their flagship status. At this point, this is basic blocking and tackling that comes as part of the base package of brand awareness. Oh yeah, and media day is today which will spark a ton of Northwestern coverage along with the rest of the Big Ten, which has converged on Chicago for the next few days. This is one of the many benefits of membership for NU, as the media day will be televised. ESPNU will have Fitz on live at 12pm et/11 am ct and BTN will be of course covering all the action as well. The ‘Cats will be represented by QB Kain Colter, LB David Nwabuisi and OL Brian Mulroe.
However, late last night a tweet from @NU_Sports sent this post in to a tizzy. Here it is:
The biggest piece of the marketing puzzle is the above-referenced Under Armour buzz which is going to be revealed imminently. Fans love gear. We’re also fascinated by uniforms. It’s been well documented that Northwestern is the first B1G school to be sponsored by Under Armour. While the buzz around the uniforms will be a hot topic of discussion here starting today, the distribution of gear through retail giants like Dick’s Sporting Goods, will have the marginal college football fan thinking NU when they walk in to those stores in Chicagoland. The retail component was the gamechanger for Northwestern. We’ve all been frustrated over our lack of gear presence in the market and that is about to change dramatically. This point can be underlined enough. Additionally, the Under Armour deal (effective July 1, 2012) has added some nice new aesthetics to each of the venues. The exterior of Ryan Field looks much better as it is draped with huge mural-style banners of players and a consistent color and striped Under Armour look. This motif graces the outfield walls of the baseball and softball stadiums, the lacrosse and soccer fields and even the weight room which has translucent graphics wrapping the entire facility. I’m told it is just a small start of other efforts including some surprises at Ryan Field this year.
Of course, on the field there is the Kyle Prater factor. With each passing day fans are fretting that the glass is half empty on the only five star recruit in NU history to get cleared by the NCAA for this season. The USC transfer, who has been hampered by injury and then transferred to be close to home for personal reasons, seems to be the only player who has yet to receive the waiver as nearly a half dozen players with similar situations have been given the green light. ESPN.com recently ranked the NU WR corps #1 in the Big Ten even without Prater in the lineup this year. Think about that.
There are a few new things, however, that will be moving the needle moreso than the brand awareness pieces in the marketing mix. The first is another fortuitous building block of the schedule – Nebraska. We all are bracing for the Big Red invasion on October 20. As we expected, the moment single game tickets went on sale, this past Monday, the game became an instant sellout. Well, kind of. Northwestern reserved a decent sized block of season tickets knowing the key driver to those slow to the party could get tickets to the Nebraska game would be through a season ticket purchase. From what I understand from a couple of readers, the endzone season tickets are sold out, presumably because they’ve been gobbled up by Nebraska fans wanting to attend the one game ( I haven’t confirmed this). Pure basics of economics are going to be a key driver to season ticket sales. The online marketplace for single game tickets for Northwestern-Nebraska are currently in the $150-$175 per seat just to get in (end zone-ish). Considering a season ticket is about $250, it is a virtual no-brainer to get season tickets, especially if you want a decent seat. The obvious question is what happens at the other six games when Nebraska fans are no-shows? Will they sell them on the secondary market for $5 for an endzone seat? The worst case scenario is that they do nothing and we then have empty seats because Cornhuskers fans are sitting on them.I connected with Mike Polisky yesterday who confirmed that 2012 season ticket sales are up 78% year over year compared to 2011. The Nebraska demand far outpaces the previous building block of a home season ticket strategy – Ohio State. I believe we will set our season ticket record this season as a result, but the truth will be in gameday attendance which we’ll have a good indication of by mid-September after home games with Vanderbilt and BC.
I’ve also got to believe that the recent Penn State news has clogged up the marketing calendar for Northwestern. Unless you’re a team like Michigan who used the air cover of Penn State’s sanctions to release news about arrests and suspensions to a pair of players, including star RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, you want to try and maximize exposure.
Behind-the-scenes at Northwestern some continuation of administrative change is going on as former Chicago Blackhawks communication exec, Paul Kennedy, is the new man in charge of communications for Wildcat Athletics. Kennedy, in a job tweak from what used to be the sports info director role, has PR, media relations and new media under his domain. The ‘Cats are hard at work leveraging social media and in-house resources tied to BTN in an effort to create original content both in video and in written form. It’s a new age in marketing and communications and the ‘Cats are staffing it the right way, breaking the traditional mold of communications management which is great to see. We’ll have Paul on soon for a Purple Mafia Profile.
Recently, Ed Sherman ran a three part series on Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern marketing and how it all ties together. I’ve laid out two of the three features below as part two (the Under Armour piece) had audio issues:
Part Three of the Ed Sherman/Fitz series touches on the impact of the BCS and the BTN:
Bottom-line, a ton going on. I’m catching up on the critically acclaimed HBO series, The Newsroom, and Aaron Sorkin’s latest creation set the opening scene of the entire show at Northwestern and then proceeded to reference it three times in the show. I love these When Harry Met Sally-like marketing moments as they play to a huge audience. So, keep an eye out for other marketing initiatives as Northwestern continues to try and experiment. I know that the insiders feel confident we’ll see a boost again in both attendance and season ticket numbers and you know who will be tracking the results.
This Is Crazy…
If you have kids then you can’t get the This is Crazy tune out of your head. An innovative Harvard baseball team YouTube video “dance” sparked a national craze (just visit a summer camp, trust me) that has been parodied more than anything I can remember this year. Recently, the Big Ten mascots put out there own version and things went viral. One problem, Willie was omitted as was Purdue Pete. First, take a look at this (you can bet Nebraska officials were likely sweating a little bit when they watched this):
So, Willie and Pete responded. Granted, the song isn’t nearly as catchy, but you’ve got to love the fact that folks are getting pretty innovative with social media and a sense of humor. Of course, Willie uses a pay phone at Welsh-Ryan arena which underscores the antiquated facilities issue, but let’s not go there. Thumbs up to Purdue and Northwestern for being in tune with the social media sensation and playing off the Big Ten video that has 300,000 views. The response was a Lady Gaga Telephone parody. Take a look:
If you’re looking for more marketing opportunities for Northwestern then keep your eyes on swimmer Matt Grevers and wrestler Jake Herbert over the next few weeks. The pair of Wildcat alums are the two representatives from NU in the Summer Games. Grevers is returning as a medal winner (2 gold, 1 silver), while Herbert is making his first appearance. We’ll be sure to keep you updated throughout the games. Northwestern has had 35 representatives at the Olympics all-time, dating back to 1912. We’ll go more in to this during the games.
LTP Ticket Challenge SURGE!
Nothing like single game ticket sales and a Nebraska sellout to move the needle in our LTP Ticket Challenge! As you know, we’re on a quest to get 200 NEW season ticket sales this season and thanks to you, we’re closing in on 50% of the goal with a month to go. It’s been a HUGE week as we’ve added nearly 30 tickets to the fold. Let’s get in to the shout-outs. Rene J. added one by convincing his girlfriend to go in with him. Matt R. took the plunge for a four pack including his wife and two kids. Matt D. and Jed F. took the plunge together to put two season tickets on the board. Daniel C. converted his Gator loving girlfriend to be his +1 on the season ticket board. Marilyn B., who lives in – get this – Hawai’i stepped up and purchased three season tickets. She is going to donate them back to NU to ensure they get used by purple. And, finally, Steve E. takes the for recruiting FIVE new season ticket holders, including his father. Way to go folks. Remember, the only way to go the Nebraska game is by purchasing a season ticket. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org about your story of converting a friend, family member of simply adding +1 to your existing package. We’re getting very close to the 100 season ticket mark which is obviously 50% of goal.