For University of Arizona Athletic Director Greg Byrne, the message is simple: own the state of Arizona.
Arizona is the only program in the country to have women’s volleyball, men’s basketball, and football all ranked in the top 20, and owns the Territorial Cup Series trophy over Arizona State in three of the last five years. But to build a dominant program, it is much more than the play on the court.
James Francis, the athletic department’s senior associate director of external operations, explains that through the use of social media, statewide promotion and facility renovation, the Arizona Athletics brand has been able to reach fans and recruits alike at an exciting rate.
“The goal is to always bring in the best student athletes possible for all sports and to make sure that we are creating the best experience for not just out athletes, but everyone who is a part of the university.”
The Arizona Athletics program uses social media channels such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to keep fans and potential recruits engaged throughout the season and to keep a buzz around the program throughout the offseason.
One way Arizona has been able to keep fans engaged is through the use of Google+ Hangouts. In February of 2013, the Arizona Football program hosted a hangout to keep fans informed throughout National Signing Day. During the hangout, the Wildcat faithful tuned in to hear Head Coach Rich Rodriguez, Recruiting Coordinator Matt Dudek and Byrne speak live as faxes came in for 24 letters of intent, creating one the most unique signing day experiences through the country. Arizona later used Google+ to announce a future series between the Wildcats and BYU.
Another major facet of the social media push is through the Arizona Athletics YouTube channel. John Daley, and the team of digital gurus, has provided Arizona with one of its most important forms of advertising, viral videos.
In the last few years, Daley has consistently created innovative ways to market the program, from taking the Arizona Football coaches to the Wild West (Hard Edge) to learning the Haka dance from the players themselves, and everything in between. The top ten most watched videos on the Arizona Athletics YouTube Channel have a combined 1.6 million views, with countless more impressions coming from the videos being shared through other social media sites and appearing on ESPN.
“We do things on radio, we have TV spots, we have advertisements in the newspaper, we do email blasts, there are all kinds of ways that we market,” said Blair Willis, assistant director for football, men’s basketball and gymnastics. “But when you look at something like the whiteout we had against California, one of the best ways for us to get out there to wear white instead of what you would traditionally wear was to put together a 30-second or 60-second spot that we could put on YouTube, and get out through social media.”
“The way a whiteout like that evolves really shows you how valuable social media is.”
Social media has also been used to connect with fans traveling in from around the state of Arizona.
When Byrne arrived in 2010, he began the Road Tour, where he, and a group of key UA figures, would travel around the state for five days as a way to thank loyal fans who were not in the Tucson area.
Notable figures who have attended this trip are Men’s Basketball Coach Sean Miller and Rodriguez. The trip is a marketing technique as much as it is a loyalty reward program.
Each event is free and meant to create hype for the upcoming athletic season. All trip dates and events are announced and spread through social media, as well as through email blasts.
Through the power of social media, the Arizona Athletics program has recruited like never before.
Top athletes from around the country continue to gravitate toward Tucson. And Byrne has rewarded those athletes with major upgrades to their facilities. The Lowell-Stevens project, started in 2009 and completed in 2013, was a $72.3 million north end-zone renovation that added seats and luxury boxes atop a four-story complex housing locker rooms, football offices, a weight training room, cafeteria and new Sands club.
Scott Shake, senior associate athletics director for development, explained just how they were able to raise the money for the renovations. He said, “About half of the $74 million has come from six donors, and the other half from 1,250 additional donors.”
A part of that $74 million was key contributions from the Lowell and Stevens families that added up to $23 million in upfront cash. The McKale renovations, which will be completed in several phases between 2014-2017, will include a club area, luxury seating and upgraded locker rooms for the all athletes at a cost of $80 million.
Arizona is working to raise $30 million of the overall $80 million with $6 million coming as a leadership gift from Tucsonans Cole and Jeannie Davis and $1 million coming from former alumni and current Golden State Warriors, Steve Kerr and his wife. The Arizona Athletics program created excitement around the University that will have lasting effects.
According to the Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, having a “strong brand image and identity can benefit the university by establishing its position in the marketplace, protecting them from competition, and improving market performance.”
As much as a strong athletic program helps to recruit athletes to a university, it also helps to recruit prospective students, who consider sports as a major factor in the decision-making process. In their 1998 study, Toma and Cross found that most institutions with championship football and men’s basketball teams saw applications spike immediately after a winning season and for at least three years after their win. With these strategies in play, it looks like Arizona might be set up for success.
Thomas McGinnis is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service provided by the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach him at email@example.com