Take a page out of Floyd Mayweather’s book. Specifically the chapter on ring entrances. In Mayweather’s most recent appearances, he has been accompanied by some of the biggest names in entertainment, including the likes of Justin Bieber and Lil’ Wayne. As a result of being ushered to the ring by figures of this level, Mayweather only furthers his iconic brand reputation as a showman. But it’s not just the companionship that excites me; it’s the spectacle itself. Not only was Lil’ Wayne part of “Money” Mayweather’s posse, he would also gave the crowd on hand a live concert. Lil’ Wayne actually rapped as he helped escort Mayweather to the ring. That’s an entrance unlike anything I’ve ever seen in sports. WHAT IF your program entered the arena with an escort of influencers? WHAT IF an artist performed live, as he or she walked out of the tunnel with your program?
Many teams across the country live stream player entrances, coach, player and athletic director interviews and press conferences but these are moments that many people have access to – fans onsite, media covering your game and of course opponents. WHAT IF you streamed an exclusive team event or moment that gave fans inside access they’ve never had before? WHAT IF you allowed your fans to be part of an emotional halftime speech from Coach or the moment a walk-on receives a scholarship? These moments are sometimes captured and shared later on social or through editorial means, but lose a bit of the real-time emotion and conversation. WHAT IF you granted real-time access to fans? This would absolutely drive more eyes your way, even outside your normal fan base. This tactic can be mirrored across all sports, to continue to storytell across the entire athletic department and beyond.
The Heisman Trophy is THE most talked about award in college sports but only a handful of schools are actually in the running each year to have a finalist. Yes, a creative Heisman campaign could potentially earn strong social and editorial coverage, but if your athlete doesn’t really have a legitimate shot at a trip to New York City, then how does the campaign help build your program brand? Couldn’t that time, resources and budget be put to better use? WHAT IF instead of the Heisman, schools focused campaign resources on the other college football awards? For example, WHAT IF you want to build your program positioning into “Wide Receiver U” and put resources to promoting a Biletnikoff Award candidate each and every season? This will build a consistent and frequent message that year in and year out, the BEST wide receivers in the country play for your program. This statement will no doubt be a key talking point during recruiting and pay dividends come signing day. In addition to promoting your current wide receivers, continue to showcase your former players who are in the NFL, tying back to them being alums of “WR U.” This will only help build and clearly communicate your program messaging.
Don’t actually steal the Iceland chant. You’re better than that and it’s not authentic to your brand, so it wouldn’t make any sense. But, steal the idea. I’m all for that. One of my former bosses once encouraged me to cast ego aside and embrace the adoption of a competitor’s ideas. With one stipulation…make it better. I’ve always kept that with me and I fully embrace it.
As does the Iceland soccer federation apparently. It turns out the “thunder clap” and “huh” chant combination that earned the country national media attention during the 2016 Euro Cup, is not actually native to Iceland. It was actually inspired by fans of a Scottish club called Motherwell. The Icelandic federation has since adopted and embraced it. Kudos.
But, what I love more than anything about the chant is the fact that it involves the entire crowd. I can’t tell you how tired I am of seeing chants only executed by the student section. Part of that is the fault of the non-student contingent, which has apparently lost the passion for life and song. But the real blame goes to the school, which does nothing to create stadium-wide engagement. WHAT IF schools focused on fan focused chants rather than helmet race videos? WHAT IF schools emphasized and empowered the cheer team? WHAT IF schools hired a professional staff whose sole job was to curate a one of a kind (brand-right) atmosphere?
Fight songs are one of the most traditional elements of a University. Which is exactly why I love the idea of remixing them. Before you fall over in rage, let me first say that just because a school remixes a fight song, doesn’t mean the original goes away. It doesn’t have to anyway. The remix itself can simply be a stunt to bring attention to your school and program in a strategically timed moment. Or, better yet, if you are promoting a progressive brand image around your program, perhaps it sticks and you have one of the only contemporary fight songs in America. What’s wrong with that? When the University of Oregon first rolled out their uniforms, people couldn’t find enough ways to ridicule them. Today, just about every NCAA football program has an “alternate” uniform. Most importantly, high school athletes consistently choose the University of Oregon uniforms as the favorite amongst all schools. Recruiting. WHAT IF you remixed your fight song? WHAT IF you partnered with a well-known DJ or artist?
Being an out-of-towner can be tough for anyone. But for an Ohio State fan visiting Ann Arbor, Michigan, it must be down right terrible. But WHAT IF Ohio State University bought real estate on Michigan’s campus to house or host their alumni during road trips to the Big House? Such a move would give OSU fans a safe place to tailgate among the hordes of maize and blue. When an away team travels well it makes an impression on current players, potential recruits and media. It also makes for great TV, giving the viewers at home a look at the strength of the brand. WHAT IF you made road trips more comfortable for your alumni by buying real estate on and around your rival’s campus?
Look good. Feel good. Coach good? Why not? Confidence is confidence, and if looking good on the sideline puts a little pep in your coaching staff’s step, then what do you have to lose? Nothing. All gains. But, regardless of the existence (or lack there of) of a performance benefit, putting your coaching staff in noteworthy apparel and footwear is a brand marketing opportunity. And it’s one few schools are taking advantage of, opening the door to potential earned media and an immediate point of differentiation. Your coaching staff members are walking, talking billboards just as much as your players. Use them. WHAT IF your coaching staff wore throwback apparel and footwear during retro uniform games? WHAT IF you collaborated with well-known designers or sneaker shops to create custom coaching gear? WHAT IF you brought in style and culture magazines to cover your coaching staff’s gear week to week?
The visual of the USC Trojan mascot thrusting his sword into the Los Angeles Coliseum 50 yard line turf is forever etched in my memory. As a kid watching on TV, as a student cheering from the stands and now as a proud alum, it has stayed with me. USC’s Trojan is timeless, unique to the university and well respected across college athletics. Each school has their own mascot backstory that should be viewed as a program brand building vessel. So why aren’t they used for more than just firing up the crowd during games? WHAT IF you leveraged the popularity of YOUR school’s mascot to build your brand through a new avenue? WHAT IF you gave your mascot a voice on social media? The content and storytelling opportunities are endless. The University of Miami and University of Oregon are two good examples of starting points but their mascot handles’ POVs don’t fully echo or support the overall program’s brand yet. WHAT IF you gave your fans, students and alumni a unique POV through your mascot’s lens, both literally and figuratively? Not only will this be widely entertaining but more importantly, it can become a new platform to build your program’s brand positioning.
Every empty wall is a metaphorical marketing canvas to tell a brand story. Unfortunately, few schools use them in such a way. The most blatant miss being inside sports stadiums. Unless, as a fan, you’re fortunate enough to have a box seat or are sitting in a corporate suite, you’re typically subjected to wall-to-wall concrete that feels more like the underside of a bridge than a stadium. While fans are waiting in line for a $10 hot dog, they need something to look at. Something to read. With the majority of stadiums missing network connections, their phones are essentially useless. Unfortunately, so are the insides of most of the stadiums in their current form. Change that. WHAT IF you turned the inside of your stadium into a museum? WHAT IF your walls were filled with team relics? Jerseys of former greats. Game used balls from historic wins. One of your biggest opportunities is to tell stories to your youngest and most impressionable fans. Give them something to look at, fall in love with, and remember. Something besides that hot dog.
The media loves a good rivalry. Don King loves a good rivalry. Twitter LOVES a good rivalry. The reality is, we all love a good rivalry. Whether we’re talking about Ali vs Frazier, Red Sox vs Yankees, or USC vs UCLA, we eat it up. But, like King himself taught us, sometimes we have to create a rivalry where one doesn’t exist. All that takes is a little stirring of the pot. WHAT IF you put up branded billboards in your rivals hometown? WHAT IF you bought ads in your rivals local paper? Give the media something to talk about. Take the story to them.