For many administrators, marketing means putting more fans into seats at athletic contests. While there is nothing wrong with producing more revenue from the gate, this would be a very simplistic view. Yes, one would typically employ promotional and advertising efforts to improve attendance. However, there is so much more that is and should be involved with marketing your high school athletic program.
Marketing is the effort of promoting the positive aspects of a corporation and its products or services. How does this, therefore, apply to your high school athletic program? Whether you use the term product or service, it doesn’t really matter because both probably could apply. However, the growth and development of student-athletes should be the end result and this is what you should promote.
With an understanding that you want to promote the positive aspects of your program, the next step is to determine to whom the effort should be directed. In the corporate world, those involved in marketing try to identify their target market. Ironically, you may already be doing this when you try to attract more fans. You go after a specific group – students, parents or community members, or perhaps all three.
To borrow another term from the corporate world of marketing, you want to promote your brand and this is what you want to be known for and represent. In the case of high school programs, it should be education-based athletics and all of the great, positive outcomes and qualities that it embodies.
Therefore, you should promote all of the positive aspects and developments – beyond winning – that are associated with your program.
• Post photos and write-ups of teams that participate in community service. These are great opportunities to promote the positive aspects of your young people and the program. They are giving something back to the community.
• Feature all of your coaches who have earned their NFHS Accredited Interscholastic Coach and Certified Interscholastic Coach certifications. These accomplishments demonstrate your staff’s professional development efforts that help them to provide a better educational environment for your student-athletes.
• Highlight positive examples of sportsmanship that have occurred with your teams and athletes during your games. Normally, only situations involving unsportsmanlike behavior are reported and presented in the media. It is, therefore, vital to present the good and positive side.
• Emphasize the results of national studies which show that athletes earn higher grades, have better attendance and have fewer behavioral problems during their season. These outcomes are powerful indicators that education-based athletics has real value and is extremely beneficial for the total educational program.
• Use interviews, write-ups and biographical materials of successful alumni to illustrate the benefits of education-based athletics. The examples that you use would demonstrate how they developed the qualities of perseverance, leadership and teamwork, and not the fact that they earned a college athletic scholarship or became the leading scorer. Create a link between what they learned through their high school experience and how it carried over into their career and helped them in life.
• List all of the athletes in your program who earn academic awards. State athletic associations, leagues or counties, for example, may sponsor awards for athletes who earn grade-point averages over a certain level. These honors should be part of your normal marketing efforts.
• Point out that national studies indicate that young people participate in high school athletics to have fun and to learn. Explain that your program provides your athletes with teachable moments and opportunities to learn leadership and teamwork skills. Your teams are learning laboratories.
Certainly, everyone is busy and, at times, overwhelmed in their position, but marketing your program is not only necessary but vitally important. To help with this effort, perhaps you can delegate some items to an administrative assistant or enlist the help of a student aid or parent volunteer, but find a way to get the word out that your program serves a positive, beneficial purpose.
And how do you actually market and spread the word about your program? Use every vehicle or avenue available.
• Post articles and photos on your websites. For many schools, websites are still only used to provide schedules and results of games.
• Use the old reliable method of newsletters and even expand into the world of electronic versions.
• Start a department Facebook page to post positive accomplishments.
• Try venturing into the world of Twitter and Instagram. With these mediums, you can provide quick updates, for example, featuring teams involved in community service or attending leadership seminars.
• Don’t forget to provide materials for use in your local newspapers, radio and television stations. These sources still represent good methods to communicate the positive aspects of your program to the community.
• Use forums such as awards assemblies, PTA, board or civic meetings and other public events to acknowledge and compliment your student-athletes and coaches on their accomplishments. And again, this should be for all of their success beyond winning games.
• Create special opportunities such as student-athlete or coach-of-the-month recognitions that highlight their success with academics, community service and sportsmanship. In addition, establish awards that recognize outstanding ethics, integrity and leadership by your athletes and coaches.
Since many parents and community members may not understand the purpose and value of education-based athletics, marketing efforts are essential. Your hard work may go a long way toward generating real support of your program and this may actually come in handy during budget discussions and for potential funding allocations.
The future of your program and how it is viewed is directly related to your marketing efforts. This endeavor is too important for you to overlook and it’s more than filling seats.
Dr. David Hoch is a former athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple (Pennsylvania) University, is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 450 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as two textbook chapters. He is the author of a new book entitled Blueprint for Better Coaching. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.