And while big-time schools continue the game of conference musical chairs, the activity swirling around the periphery of college athletics continues to amaze. For example, mighty programs like the University of Miami and the University of Oregon are under investigation for dealing with a now-imprisoned booster and a questionable recruiting service, respectively.
Yikes! Why would any sane marketer associate their brand with college sports right now? Well, here are a few reasons to consider:
Capturing the Next Wave of Consumers
Brand marketers know that the next wave of consumers that they want to reach -- that digital-savvy, social-media-influencer type-- is on campus right now, shuttling from an Econ 101 study group to the tailgate before the big game. The tailgate party and in-stadium experience deliver thousands of targeted impressions to 17- to 22-year-olds in an environment that is more engaging than just about any other window of a student's day. Talk about being able to create some real brand affinity.
College Sports Spans a Broad Demographic
No matter what conference the University of Texas plays in next year, a good chunk of the state of Texas -- plus thousands of displaced UT alums -- will tune in to all their football and basketball games, plus consume thousands of hours of media dedicated to the Longhorns, whether it be via national coverage on ESPN, local coverage from the Longhorn Network, or the hundreds of stories that will be written about the crew in burnt orange day in and day out. Unlike the targeted student demo on campus, however, the beauty of college athletics is that it appeals to men and women, young and old. Heck, even my wife (a Cal alum) pays attention to the Bears now and again, while ignoring local pro-sports teams.
Brands Love Going Hyper-Local
Sports is a generally a hyper-local phenomenon, but college sports holds an edge over pro sports when it comes to really connecting with fans at the local level. When was the last time a college sports football program packed up in the middle of the night and moved to another town? How frequently does a player get traded to another school? (OK, sometimes they do leave school early to go to the pros, but there again it's the pros sport fans chide, not the poor old college team that lost their All-American). In fact, one of the reasons MillerCoors invested in a 23-school "integrated marketing program" (as reported by the Sports Business Journal earlier this month) was to allow local distributors and retailers to create a deeper connection with local fans.
Media Rights Going Across All Platforms
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the dynamic state of college athletics is the fact that media rights are being revalued, enabling more college sports product to make its way to fans. The Longhorn Network is an extreme but good example. Now those UT fans can get more than college football and baseball; they will get access to UT's stellar swimming, baseball and track teams. Likewise, the Pac-12 will eventually roll out several regional cable networks as well as their own digital platform, which will collectively put hundreds of hours of live and on-demand sports content on TVs, computer screens, iPads, and smartphones.
And who benefits big time from the broader reach of college sports media, besides the fans and schools? Brand marketers, of course. MillerCoors, State Farm, UPS, and the ever-growing list of college sports sponsors all get more touch points to connect with the fan bases they value -- whether students on campus, alums living out of state or local residents following the team's every move.
So embrace the wild ride that is college sports right now. Trust me, on the other side of today's hectic pace will be a landscape good for both fans and brands. Now about that BCS set-up?