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The Importance of Useable Data for Colorado State Athletics

Colorado State Athletics is doubling down on data to help drive revenue and spot trends in ways it hasn’t been able to before.

Adam White

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Photo courtesy of Colorado State Athletics

(*Old Hat is a proud Partner of Front Office Sports)

Is it data or is it intelligence?

If you were to ask Chris Ferris, senior associate athletic director for sales, marketing, and communications at Colorado State, he would most likely tell you that it’s actually “strategic intelligence.”

As data and its impact has permeated sports of all levels, there has never been a better time to be able to make decisions based on what the numbers suggest. But, with all of the numbers floating around, and all of the potential data points to be collected, what should be focused on first?

While Ferris may not point to a specific data point that everyone should look for, seeing as all athletic departments have different goals, he did mention that the most important fact beyond acquiring data is being able to use it to implement new initiatives.

Hence, the “strategic intelligence” idea.

“At the end of the day, we have a finite amount of resources, people, and time. Finding out how to direct and utilize resources, people, and time is critical. Strategic intelligence that helps us do that is very powerful.”

READ MORE: The Boom of Implementing Esports Classes in College Has Begun

It’s great to have data, but it’s even better to have data and a context that makes what the spreadsheets are telling you useable.

“To me, it’s about data and information that you can use to plot out specific initiatives that you can mobilize resources against,” mentioned Ferris. “There’s a lot of data out there that we all like to look at and think is interesting, but the question would be, ‘How are you going to use that data and what category of use does it fit in?’”

Opening in 2017, Canvas Stadium brought football back to the CSU campus for the first time in 49 years. Not only did the move provide students and fans with a better experience, it also gave Ferris and his team the opportunity to review a few areas in which they wanted to improve.

Teaming up with Old Hat, building a use case with its data was focused around three areas: retention, engagement, and communications.

“I think what Old Hat really did well for us is they not only presented data, they presented data with a plan of how to use it. It was data with a to-do list, which has been extremely helpful.” – Chris Ferris, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Sales, Marketing, and Communications at Colorado State

Colorado State wanted to know whether or not stakeholders were happy with their investments in the program “monetarily or time-driven” and what areas the department needs to focus on with existing and/or additional resources.

When it came to retention, Ferris was looking for a better way to connect with specific industries — both local and regional — that were relatable in impact in the community as well as an opportunity to provide value from a partnership perspective.

“What are those industries, and where are those opportunities from a corporate perspective that lend themselves to integration and partnership? I thought that was very helpful because if we can connect with those industries that resonate our current stakeholders, that helps us with retention and growth, which is a double positive.”

To drive engagement, the team narrowed in on making sure the department’s messaging was being received correctly. What they found was that while a large part of their alumni base is in Denver, the messaging could be too focused and alumni and fans in cities like Parker, Greeley and Loveland may not be receiving it as well.

Instead of approaching these areas as just a department, the shift has been focused on approaching them more as a team — involving not only the individual athletic programs, but the academic programs like the school’s renowned agriculture department when appropriate.  

Although Ferris and the team can’t solve all the problems at once, their newly found “strategic intelligence” enables them to be more prepared and confident in the initiatives they execute.

“We’re confident that the efforts we’re going to make will have positive results because we’ve done our homework, right? It is good to go into projects with a level of preparedness and confidence like this.”

(*Old Hat is a proud Partner of Front Office Sports)

Adam is the Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. A University of Miami Alum, Adam has worked for opendorse, the Fiesta Bowl, and the University of Miami Athletic Department. He can be reached at adam@frntofficesport.com.

College Athletics

Could College Athletes be Compensated for Likeness?

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Dec 1, 2018; Arlington, TX, USA; iOklahoma Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws in the first quarter against the Texas Longhornsn the Big 12 championship game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

NCAA Football might be coming back to gaming consoles sooner rather than later.

Thanks to an announcement from the NCAA, the governing body is looking into ways it can modify its rules to allow college athletes to be compensated for their names, images and likenesses.

What do you need to know? 

1. Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith will head up the working group exploring the options.

2. Including Ackerman and Smith, the working group will have 19 members.

3. The group will not consider any concepts that could be construed as payment for participation in college sports. 

4. The group will present a final report to the Board of Governors in October, with an update provided in August.

Why now?

While a solid reason for why the timing of this decision was not given, it’s no secret that the NCAA has been under fire for quite some time in regards to this very topic.

In fact, although the decision in the Alston Case didn’t end in free-market compensation sought by the plaintiffs, Judge Claudia Wilken noted that many of the “benefits” already being received by college athletes are equal “pay for play,” according to Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports.

What are they saying?

“We believe the time is right for these discussions and look forward to a thorough assessment of the many complexities involved in this area.” – Val Ackerman, Big East Commissioner

“While the formation of this group is an important step to confirming what we believe as an association, the group’s work will not result in paying students as employees.” – Gene Smith, Ohio State Athletic Director

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College Athletics

Rutgers Draws From Fyre Festival to Celebrate Football Milestone

Rutgers drew inspiration from an unusual source to market the upcoming 150-year-anniversary of the first-ever college football game.

Mike Piellucci

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Photo Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

At first blush, it’s the oddest of pairings – a 150-year-old brand and an event that failed spectacularly enough to become a pop culture sensation. Yet as Robert Roselli, Assistant Athletic Director of Marketing at Rutgers, kicked around ideas to celebrate an important football milestone on campus, he couldn’t get the Fyre Festival out of his head.

On November 6th, 1869, Rutgers hosted the first-ever intercollegiate football game, where it defeated the College of New Jersey – today known as Princeton – six points to four. It makes Rutgers the “birthplace of college football,” a designation it wields proudly. With the 150th anniversary of the game drawing near, though, Roselli came to realize that the university had a problem on its hands: A sizeable portion of the student body has no idea exactly how deep the school’s football roots run.

So Roselli decided to launch a brand awareness campaign to remedy that. To do so, he ripped a page out of the Fyre Festival’s playbook. In execution, the so-called “luxury music festival” was an unmitigated disaster. The marketing strategy behind it, however, was cutting edge. The crown jewel was an Instagram influencer campaign in which 400 models posted an image of a bright orange tile with the hashtag #fyrefestival. The idea was to promote the event in a heavily saturated way that nevertheless avoided coming off as canned. Simple visuals trumped complicated text, and hashtags were kept to a minimum.

READ MORE: How The 2019 Masters Revived ‘The Tiger Effect’

“I think I always had it in the back of my head ‘Wow, that was a pretty bold strategy, it generated a lot of buzz. How can we potentially mimic something?” Roselli says.

In early March, he tasked Sophia Tian, Rutgers’ executive marketing intern with finding out. The goal was to increase awareness of the phrase “birthplace of college football” ahead of Rutgers’ spring football game on April 13th. From there, she says, “this became my baby for the next month-and-a-half.”

“Obviously we don’t have Instagram models [or a] tropical lifestyle here at New Brunswick,” she says of her challenge. “How can we make students fear missing out and how can we catch their attention at first?”

The showcase item was a grey giveaway t-shirt to be given away at spring game, which, naturally, read “The Birthplace of College Football” in alternating red and white text. Later, a red tile was added to mirror Fyre Festival’s orange look. She then reached out to 20 friends to serve as her own Instagram influencers and eventually expanded the group to better reflect the student body’s diversity. Student-athletes were approached, too, in the name of adding further star power.

Tian rolled out the campaign in three waves on the 11th, two days before the game. The first came at 7:00 p.m., with the influencers posting pictures of themselves in the shirt – cut or styled any way they chose so long as the words were visible. The second, also at 7:00, was a wave of Instagram stories with the red tile and – “in obnoxiously small font,” Tian notes – the words, “The Birthplace of College Football.”

But the coup de grace was the third wave, in which Tian personally distributed the shirts to bartenders and doormen at some of Rutgers’ most popular student bars in time for the 10:00 p.m. Thursday night rush.

“Right after you see it all over your social media, you get ready to go out and go out and then you see the shirt again,” Tian says. “It’s basically haunting you.”

All told, Roselli and Tian consider the initiative a resounding success. According to Roselli, while student attendance at the spring game mostly mirrored that of the year before, growing that number was always considered an “’icing on the cake’-kind of thing.” Instead, they focused on buzz and measurable trends. To that end, Roselli proudly points to the Google search metrics during the hours of the campaign, which saw an explosion in the number of “The Birthplace of College Football” queries.

The larger future of the project has yet to be determined. For Roselli, it’s not only a successful test of his initial hypothesis, but something that opened his eyes to the possibilities that come from a whole new style of marketing.

READ MORE: 3X3U National Championship Puts a College Spin on Three-on-Three

“I’m confident that had we done this same exact campaign that only focused on our coaches and our different team accounts — what I would call official spokespeople of Rutgers Athletics — it simply would not have created the same buzz, the same coolness factor,” he says.

In the more immediate term, though, it’s a launchpad for their ongoing campaign. The official 150-year anniversary of the first college football game is still more than six months away, and neither Roselli nor Tian wants to let the momentum gained from the influencer marketing campaign slip through their fingers.

“I think raising the awareness now sets their student body up for what’s to come next year,” Tian says. “We are celebrating the 150th anniversary and we also want to capitalize on that message this whole year, this upcoming season. We want to make sure everyone knows that this is where it all started.”

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3X3U National Championship Puts a College Spin on Three-on-Three

The Dos Equis 3X3U National Championship takes place on Final Four weekend and joins events like the Olympics and BIG3 in growing three-on-three hoops.

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Photo Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Paris Collins was reeling after a disappointing early exit from the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament last March. It was an unceremonious end to the career of the senior guard from Jackson State, and he wanted nothing to do with anyone. But as he wallowed in his apartment, his phone rang. A strange number flashed on the screen. He didn’t answer, but a voicemail dinged.

It was Intersport Vice President Mark Starsiak, who called to invite Collins to be part of the inaugural Dos Equis 3X3U National Championship, a three-on-three basketball tournament for college seniors. Collins accepted and, following several standout performances on the court in his hometown of San Antonio, he was invited to five NBA workouts. He ultimately bounced around the NBA G-League before ending up in Mexico.

“It changed my life,” Collins said. “A lot of people saw me, saw the SWAC has good players.  That tournament is the only time in my life I wasn’t judged by the school on my chest.”

READ MORE: How Dos Equis’ Basketball Tournament Is Following in Hulk Hogan’s Footsteps

Now the tournament is back, with the second-annual 3X3U National Championship beginning Friday at the Mall of America in Minneapolis featuring a grand prize of $150,000. With one year in the books, Intersport believes they are much better prepared to organize the best event possible, something that should have a direct impact on the players’ futures.  Of the 128 players in last year’s 3X3U National Championship field, nearly 90 signed professional contracts this past year. This year, the rosters might be even more loaded with potential pros.

“One of the things we learned last year was [to] get ahead of it,” Intersport Executive Vice President Drew Russell said. “Especially for the small conferences trying to get as much exposure as possible. Last year we couldn’t get in touch [with players] or they made spring break plans. These are guys that have been in programs for four years, and if they have a taste of freedom, they’re gone.

“Last year, we had to go deeper into rosters. This year, we got pick of the litter.”

Case in point, prior to the Sweet 16 games in the NCAA Tournament, Starsiak had already filled all but 11 of 128 roster spots in this year’s event, with each Division I conference represented by a team of four seniors. At the same point last year, he didn’t even have 40 in place. As they picked through teams no longer in the postseason, Starsiak said plenty of all-conference players have signed on hoping for one more pre-draft showcase. Likewise, conferences were eager to help connect the best players to the event.

“The more chances they have to get their players and conferences exposure is a good thing,” Starsiak said. “The conferences have really embraced it.”

With the conferences on board and the players being willing to vouch for the tournament, Russell expects the event to continue growing beyond this year. Along with pathways to the NBA and other leagues, Russell believes three-on-three is a growing career path for basketball players, one accelerated by the sport’s inclusion in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games as well as Ice Cube’s BIG3.

“We feel this is the top-level, premier event in the world but definitely in North America,” Russell said. “When we created this, we didn’t want to use gym rats. We wanted elite level basketball players that would go on to continue playing basketball. We wanted to give them one last time to put on the jersey, compete at a high level and have fun.”

The professional ranks have taken notice, too. According to Starsiak, five NBA teams had a scouting presence at last year’s tournament even without the league reaching out to NBA staffs. This year, to better drum up interest, Intersport sent a one-sheeter to the NBA’s director of scouting, who then passed it on to each team.

“It should bring in way more than five,” Starsiak said. “It’s the biggest aggregation of draft-eligible talent. Guys who are scouting [the Final Four] will also be at our event, full of late-first- to second-round talent that could eventually change a franchise.”

READ MORE: NBA Associates Program Offers Former Players a Path Back to Basketball

For the seniors at the tournament in Minneapolis, it’s one last opportunity to wear a college jersey as well as one extra job audition. But after going through the process himself, Collins’ advice to this year’s crop would be to make sure to have a good time, too. 

“I was happy as heck to be there,” Collins said. “It’s a national tournament, still business talking to reporters, teams and people about what you do. But have fun, be grateful.”

Collins hasn’t stuck with an NBA team, but he’s had more opportunities than he ever thought would. He’s off to China in May for his next professional venture. By this time next year, he could run into another alumnus or two from the Dos Equis 3X3U National Championship along the way.

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