CLEVELAND - Marketing the product - courting corporate sponsors, engaging advertisers, selling tickets - has become a critical element in the survival and success of college athletics. Bowling Green State University has decided to turn a big part of those duties over to the pros.
Gund Sports Marketing, a division of the Cavs/Gund Arena Company which operates the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, the WNBA's Cleveland Rockers and Gund Arena, has entered into a partnership with BG to serve as the marketing arm for Falcon athletics.
“This allows us to utilize a professional sales force and have a consistent presence in the corporate community,” BG athletic director Paul Krebs said. “These are people with contacts in the corporate world who have access to individuals and areas that would be very difficult for us to establish.”
Chris Fuller, who heads up collegiate marketing for Gund, said one of the immediate goals is to target not just potential corporate customers and partners, but to tap the wealth of BG alumni and fans in the area, and throughout the state.
“There are over 10,000 Bowling Green alumni in the Cleve-land/Cuyahoga County area alone, and that represents a tremendous potential market,” Fuller said. “We need to develop ways to reach them and let them know that Falcon athletics is an exciting product. It's not just sales, we can be an external problem-solving partner with them as well.”
Krebs said the arrangement calls for Gund Sports Marketing to pay a flat fee to BG in exchange for the exclusive marketing rights to certain Falcon athletics properties.
Greg Hulen of Gund Sports Marketing will have a full-time office in the BG athletic department and serve as general manager of Falcon Sports Marketing, the new entity created by the partnership.
“With an in-house representative, we can make the arrangement seamless,” Krebs said. “He acts as a member of our staff and uses the experience and expertise of their professional marketing team.
“That allows us to concentrate our energy on key areas like game promotions, ticket sales, groups sales and things of that nature.”
One key area where the relationship with Gund will dramatically alter Bowling Green's exposure is that the football and men's basketball highlight shows, which have traditionally aired locally in the Toledo market, will now be broadcast on Fox Sports Ohio.
The programs, which air during the respective seasons, had the potential to reach 650,000 homes in the past, but will now be available to 4.2 million homes around the state.
“One of our consistent goals has been to establish a statewide presence,” Krebs said, “and putting our coaches shows on this network should be a big help in marketing our athletic programs, and the university. People around the state will see our coaches, see highlights, and this should be a strong recruiting tool.”
Although the initial areas of focus for the new partnership will be on sponsorship and advertising sales, ticket-sales strategies, and branding and promotional efforts, Fuller said Gund will also be looking at expanding its role.
“We see a lot of growth potential in this arrangement,” Fuller said. “That could mean more utilization of signage opportunities in the venues, maybe more TV games in conference play, and possibly down the line, expanding the radio network a little.”
Krebs said fellow Mid-American Conference members Ohio University and Marshall have similar arrangements with another company, while Miami also has a partnership with Gund.
Nationally, schools like Missouri, Arizona State and Texas Christian all use some form of outsourcing with their marketing and sales efforts.
“There is a trend nationally toward this type of approach,” Krebs said. “And it makes a lot of sense. There's really no risk for us, and I think the rewards are huge.”
Mike Karabin, interim athletic director at the University of Toledo, said that while marketing agreements might work for certain institutions, Rocket athletics will continue to be marketed by UT staff.
“We're aware of such programs and we've looked at them, but there's no way we'd consider it because we've been fortunate to do pretty well in those areas,” Karabin said. “We feel that marketing our product is one of our strengths.”