Sports Marketing & Publicity Efforts in Division II Intercollegiate Athletics

Authors: Robert Zullo

Corresponding Author:
Robert Zullo, PhD
Westminster College
319 South Market Street
New Wilmington, PA 16172
zullorh@westminster.edu
724-946-6835

Dr. Robert Zullo is an Associate Professor of Business and Sports Management at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, located between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. He is also Program Coordinator for the Sports Management program within the School of Business and previously worked in intercollegiate athletics at the Division I level.

Sports Marketing & Publicity Efforts in Division II Intercollegiate Athletics

ABSTRACT
While much research has been conducted on sports marketing efforts within Division I intercollegiate athletics and outsourcing sports marketing within Division I intercollegiate athletics, there are limited studies examining sports marketing within Division II athletics beyond factors impacting Division II football attendance or basketball attendance. Previous Division II scholarship has also focused on burnout, compliance, gambling, risk management, sports information work-family conflict and student-athlete development. This research examined what resources were allocated towards marketing within Division II athletic departments to foster publicity efforts, revenue generation and community relations. It also examined which sports are prioritized as well as the preferred inventory for sponsors given that the Division II athletic programs are traditionally not afforded the same media opportunities as their Division I counterparts. Collected data was analyzed along with qualitative responses. The findings and recommendations are valuable to Division II athletic directors, administrators, presidents and conference commissioners to help discern best practices as well as those in academia to afford them a focused Division II perspective given the emphasis continuously placed on Division I sports marketing operations.

Keywords: sports marketing, intercollegiate athletics, Division II

INTRODUCTION
In recent years, textbooks focusing on intercollegiate athletics have been authored including Administration of Intercollegiate Athletics (24), Managing Intercollegiate Athletics (7), and the Handbook of College Athletics and Recreation Administration (18). Each of these textbooks present general overviews of sports marketing and sports information, but do not delve into the differences in these respective areas for institutions competing at the Division I, Division II and Division III levels. The textbooks reference the difference in scholarship allocations at each level in the governance chapters, but do not divulge further.

Presently, there is limited research examining sports marketing and publicity efforts within Division II athletics. Previous scholarship examines sports marketing within Division I intercollegiate athletics (3, 5, 6, 11, 14, 16, 22, 23) and outsourcing sports marketing within Division I intercollegiate athletics (3, 10, 17, 26, 27). However, there are limited studies examining sports marketing within Division II athletics beyond factors impacting Division II football attendance (1, 8, 9, and 25) or basketball attendance (4). Additional Division II scholarship has also focused on burnout (15), compliance (21), gambling (19), risk management (2), sports information work-family conflict (12), and student-athlete development (13, 20). This research examines what resources are allocated towards marketing within Division II athletic departments to foster publicity efforts, revenue generation and community relations. It also examines which sports are prioritized as well as the preferred inventory for sponsors given that te Division II athletic programs are traditionally not afforded the same media opportunities as their Division I counterparts. Collectively, the purpose of the study is to answer the research question of what are the best practices in sports marketing and publicity within Division II intercollegiate athletics.

Within Division I intercollegiate athletics, revenue streams exists in such forms as priority seating, donations, television revenue, sponsorship, conference allocations and licensing. Many of these sources are limited or non-existent at the Division II level. Because of the limited research conducted on Division II sports marketing and publicity this study examined the following hypotheses specific to Division II athletic departments:

  • Sports marketing and media relations budgets are limited
  • Publicity efforts rely heavy on internal technology
  • Athletic departments offer limited sports broadcast options
  • Advertising efforts are implemented with limited effort to target the student body
  • Traditional sponsorship inventory is available
  • Revenue generated by athletics is kept by athletics
  • Creativity in fostered in promotional themes
  • Student support groups are not a priority of athletic efforts

METHODS
While there are over 300 Division II schools, this initial study focused only on those offering football as part of the primary research efforts. There are 170 Division II athletic departments that have a football program. In selecting the schools that include football as one of the varsity sports, the investigator examined athletic departments that traditionally have the highest revenues (and highest expenses). The athletic directors of these departments were emailed a cover letter in the body of the email that included a link to an online Qualtrics questionnaire. The letter to the athletic directors explained the research project and the athletic directors’ responses were ensured anonymity. Respondents reserved the right to opt out of participation at any time. For those who consented to participate, their identity is continuously protected and kept confidential in any professional presentations or published research. Only participants that completed the survey were included in the data though participants could skip questions. Some questions enabled participants to write in answers. Collected data were analyzed along with qualitative responses. The data yielded findings and fosters recommendations that are instrumental to Division II athletic directors, administrators, presidents and conference commissioners in an effort to establish best practices as well as to enable those in academia a glimpse into Division II practices. This is important as much of the existing literature places greater importance on Division I athletic administration.

RESULTS
Of the 170 Division II athletic departments offering football, 25 participated in this study for a 14.7% response rate. Eight of the schools participating were private and 17 were public. The enrollment of the participating schools varies from 1,000 or less students to greater than 20,000 students.

Table 1

There are presently seventeen football conferences at the Division II level and thirteen of those had at least one participant in the study.

Table 2

With respect to the athletic budget devoted to marketing, 10 of the 25 respondents (40%) allocated less than $5,000 to their sports marketing efforts. Sixteen (64%) allocated less than $10,000 to their sports marketing efforts. Only two (8%) allocated greater than $50,000 to their annual sports marketing efforts.

Table 3

With respect to the athletic budget devoted to media relations, 8 of the 25 respondents (32%) allocated less than $5,000 to their athletic media relations efforts. Eleven respondents (44%) allocated less than $10,000 to their athletic media relations efforts. Only 3 (12%) allocated greater than $50,000 to their annual athletic media relations efforts.

Table 4

In examining the publicity efforts the athletic departments utilized, technology was strongly utilized in the form of Twitter, live stats, online broadcasts, feature stories, game previews, Instagram, traditional media articles linked to the athletic website, YouTube and an online photo gallery.

Table 5

Of the 23 respondents that utilize online broadcasts, 7 of the schools (30%) use a third party for production while 16 (70%) produce the broadcasts in-house. Football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball and volleyball were the sports most likely to be broadcast.

Table 6

Division II athletic departments did engage in advertising efforts, concentrating their efforts to posters, digital advertising, schedule cards, print advertising and radio advertising.

Table 7

Advertising efforts targeted at the student body utilized more technology including Twitter and Facebook, though campus flyers and newspaper were also incorporated.

Table 8

Inventory available to sponsors of Division II athletic departments was consistent with that utilized at the Division I level especially in terms of signage, promotions, giveaways, print/radio/digital options, and naming rights.

Table 9

Of the 25 respondents to a question regarding ticket sales revenue, only 16 (64%) were allowed to keep athletic ticket sales revenue strictly within athletics. Five respondents were expected to give the ticket revenue to the school while 4 respondents split their proceeds between athletics and the school. Of the 24 respondents to a question regarding sponsorship revenue, 21 (87.5%) were allowed to keep athletic sponsorship revenue strictly for athletics while 3 respondents split their sponsorship proceeds between athletics and the school.

Twenty-four of the 25 participating athletic departments (96%) in the study offer free invites to community groups. In asking respondents who initiated the communication with the community group, 21 of the participants indicated the athletic administrators, 15 of the respondents answered coaches or team members, and 8 indicated the student-athlete advisory council (SAAC). Beyond these community efforts only 9 school’s athletic administrators (36%) make any efforts towards group sales. Sixteen respondents (64%) do not make any efforts towards group sales.

Respondents indicated that they utilize homecoming and seniors days as traditional themes and also incorporate pink games, youth team days, military appreciation, hall of fame events, faculty/staff appreciation and community day as additional promotional themes.

Table 10

Of the 25 respondents, thirteen (52%) have a student support group for athletics. Of the 13 groups, 5 are overseen by students, 4 by athletics, and 2 by student life and one each by faculty representative and shared SAAC/Students/Athletics oversight. Seven of these 13 groups (54%) received some sort of funding from athletics.

DISCUSSION
This examination of best practices in sports marketing and publicity efforts in Division II intercollegiate athletics is the first of its kind. As noted previously, this study examined the following hypotheses specific to Division II athletic departments:

  • Sports marketing and media relations budgets are limited
  • Publicity efforts rely heavy on internal technology
  • Athletic departments offer limited sports broadcast options
  • Advertising efforts are implemented with limited effort to target the student body
  • Traditional sponsorship inventory is available
  • Revenue generated by athletics is kept by athletics
  • Creativity in fostered in promotional themes
  • Student support groups are not a priority of athletic efforts

The findings do support that sports marketing and media relations budgets are limited and that publicity efforts rely heavily on internal technology. However, the data did indicate that athletic departments invest in offering online broadcasting to select sports and do so more through in-house production efforts. Advertising efforts are implemented and there exists a concerted effort to reach the student body through technology. Traditional sponsorship inventory is available to corporate partners.

It was surprising to find that 36% of the respondents have to share or give their athletic ticket revenue to the school instead of retaining it within the athletic budget. It was also surprising that respondents are not particularly creative in their promotional themes, sticking with established ideas including homecoming, senior days and pink games. The establishment of student support groups was also not a priority of athletics as 52% of respondents utilized the concept but only a handful of those groups were overseen or funded within athletics.

CONCLUSIONS
Limited financial resources are allocated towards Division II sports marketing and media relations as sports information directors try to utilize a plethora of publicity mediums, especially with the increasing use of technology. In-house broadcast productions are more frequent relative to outsourcing and athletic departments emphasize the sports of football, men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball in their productions. Publicity efforts for athletic events include traditional mediums such as posters and schedule cards as well as radio and print advertising. Publicity efforts targeted at students utilize social media in greater frequency and also traditional campus flyers and the campus newspaper. Sponsors are afforded conventional inventory options and athletic departments are more likely to keep a greater percentage of those proceeds relative to ticket revenue that is shared in some cases. Community outreach is important with administrators playing a substantial role. Administrators are not as active in group sales efforts though a multitude of promotional in-game themes are incorporated. Surprisingly, only approximately half of the respondents had a student-support group for athletics with limited funding afforded.

Opportunities and Recommendations
Opportunities exist for more sports to be broadcast online beyond football and men’s and women’s basketball. Further research is needed to examine specifically how schools produce the broadcast in-house and who is responsible for that oversight. Further exploration is also needed as to whether advertising efforts are a paid expense or conducted through trade/in-kind collaborations. It is surprising to see a concerted effort to publicize to the student body, though it is recommended that more creativity towards themes is needed to foster strong affinity with the student body. This, and the involvement of student support groups, can help to foster a greater pool of donors after the students graduate. Furthermore, the utilization of student support groups also presents new sponsorship inventory. Athletic departments should also explore collaboration with sports management programs for group sales efforts as well as targeting community groups for free invites.

Future Research
Future research efforts will include the subsequent 130 schools that do not offer football to strengthen the response rate of the project. A greater response rate would also allow for correlations between some of the answers and the enrollment of the school, whether the school is public or private and the school’s conference affiliation. It can also help to pinpoint differences between those Division II athletic departments that offer football and those that do not. Future studies can also examine the number of staff allocated to marketing and publicity efforts as well.

Questions regarding the amount of ticket and sponsorship revenue generated annually can also be addressed in the future. New publicity technology also needs to be incorporated into future studies as new mediums arise (example, Snapchat) and old ways falter (example, Periscope). Additional research opportunities exists in the areas of corporate naming rights within Division II athletics as well as the ticket revenue split that many athletic departments share with their respective schools. Future research can also examine existing partnerships with their school’s sports management programs.

APPLICATION IN SPORT
The audience for the research is multifaceted. Given the limited scholarship in Division II sports marketing and publicity, this research enables those in academia to tailor their lesson plans within courses focused on intercollegiate athletics to levels other than Division I. As more textbooks on intercollegiate athletics are published or updated, the research can also be utilized and paves the way for future inclusion of Division II and Division III data.

The findings are also useful to Division II athletic administrators, school presidents and conference commissioners with respect to best practices. While these three groups may attend regional conference proceedings or the annual National Association for Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Convention, this research focuses on Division II which can be overshadowed by their Division I counterparts.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The research would not be possible without the support of Jonathan Moerdyk, PhD, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Seton Hill University and head of the school’s Institutional Review Board. Thank you to my colleagues at Westminster College, especially Professor Jesse Ligo, chair of the School of Business. Final thanks to Molly Ulishney ’18, a Seton Hill University alum, for her assistance in helping to build the athletic directors database research.

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