The Heck with Tradition: Marketing to Your “True” Top Market Segment


Traditional marketing usually has to do with developing and delivering a product to consumers that organizations are looking to attract.  For example, in many NCAA Division I athletic departments, the marketing/ticket departments often develop creative ticket packages in men’s basketball and football to attract a variety of different consumer segments (aka, groups of people with different backgrounds).  Naturally, their goal here is to enhance their efficiency so they can maximize their profits.  Not surprisingly, this is often the model in place at the professional level as well.  As a result, this is usually the picture that comes to mind when people think of the term marketing.  And while this model is clearly beneficial to college coaches (and I will discuss it in later entries), I would argue that it should not be the first consideration for “Olympic” sport programs looking to enhance their program sustainability.  I know that you are all dying to hear what I have to say here so I will just do everyone a favor and cut to the chase 🙂 After all, many of you are busy people who need to get back to work, right?  In that case, fasten your seat belts because this is going to be fast and furious.

In an athletic department setting, the most important segment that college wrestling coaches must consider when marketing their program is administrators.  Let me be clear here and say more specifically the Director of Athletics and the Senior Athletic Administrators.  After all, as I mentioned in the previous blog post, they are often the individuals who make decisions on the programs that are housed within athletic departments.  And they also make decisions on the type of support that is provided to these programs as well.  This is a primary reason why I stress the importance of developing an organizational culture that creates value for these individuals when interacting with coaches.  The good news is that administrators do often value all of the benefits that come with traditional marketing (noteThis is good news because it will not ruin future entries – I figured this was better for audience retention). However, let’s start with some of the elements that have consistently emerged at the top of administrator’s list so we can be very efficient in our efforts.  Feel free to take a look at the program areas below before we get moving.


1. Conduct: It is no surprise that conduct (both on the mat and socially) emerged as the top program element for senior-level administrators.  After all, many athletic departments are in the business of branding, and if your guys don’t act the part then you detract from their mission to look good in the public eye.  So, considering the consistent appearance of conduct as the top element across all NCAA divisions, it is becoming more and more critical for coaches to implement an organizational culture that emphasizes student-athletes being “good citizens” that contribute to the mission of the athletic department and university.

Top Tip for Elite Coaches: Make conduct a top priority in the day-to-day actions of your program.  Instead of pushing rules, establish core values that encourage coaches and student-athletes to live the right way on a regular basis.  Once this culture starts to take hold, make this a part of your marketing efforts by creating promotional items (e.g., videos on Facebook) that emphasize this area of your program.

2. Academics: Most of you would probably agree that it is no surprise that academic excellence was rated so high by administrators.  In addition to the importance of contributing to the university culture, academic progress has also become a visible topic in the media due to the recent interest in APR-related issues.  So, it makes sense that administrators would put so much stock in this program element.  After all, the initial purpose of college athletics was to provide student-athletes with educational opportunities in a sport setting.

Top Tip for Elite Coaches: In addition to the suggestions in the previous program element, coaches should take an active interest in the academic performance of student-athletes. In my interactions with coaches, they often explain that they don’t spend time on academic-related issues because they have athletic department personnel who handle this on a day-to-day basis.  While I will not argue that these individuals are excellent resources, coaches MUST understand that they set the tone for what is a priority for their student-athletes.  So, if you do nothing to model this in your interactions, then student-athletes will not see this as an important program consideration.  One suggestion for doing this is having team building sessions where you invest in learning initiatives.  For example, Anson Dorrance (UNC Women’s Soccer Head Coach – 20 time NCAA Champ) has an educational program where his staff and student-athletes read an influential book (see Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning) each year and discuss the important lessons to achieve success during the college experience.  This is a unique way of modeling the importance of education because of the involvement of your staff in the process.

3. Personal Relationships: This is an area that many coaches had not considered when developing a strategic plan for their program.  The great thing is that this is an element that can really differentiate your program if it becomes a priority for coaches and student-athltes.  The reality is that most administrators value the relationships that they have with the employees in their athletic departments.  I will take it a step further and also say that you can create value in your program by working to improve your relationships with university personnel (e.g., professors) and community members.  Each of these areas are critical for building an extraordinary program brand.

Top Tips for Elite Coaches: If you are not already doing so, schedule a meeting with the administrator that oversees your program and ask them what you (and your program) can do to improve the athletic department.  However, be careful about doing this if you do not mean it and/or if you are not willing to follow through.  After you leave the meeting, be sure to write your administrator and thank them for their time – and reiterate the areas that you and your staff hope to work on.  Once you get moving on these areas, don’t be afraid to write to provide updates to the administrator when you realize successes.  Remember that you have to be intentional in your efforts to build your personal relationships.  You can go along way in connecting with people by doing things to help them.

4. Community Involvement: Building on the previous program area, administrators also value the visibility that comes when programs are involved in community outreach activities.  In addition to community service activities, this also involves the day-to-day contributions that your coaches and student-athletes make when interacting with others. The important thing to note is that administrators will always value the image that results from positive actions in the community.  Be sure that you are doing everything possible to have the strongest program brand in the athletic department when it comes to community involvement.

Top Tips for Elite Coaches: Make sure that your staff and student-athletes are actively involved in community service activities that enhance the visibility of your program. With a strategic approach, you can also reach out to media outlets to make sure that they are aware of efforts.  Many coaches are now getting involved in themed events (e.g.,Wrestle Against Autism Tournament) that help build the brand of their programs.  As you do this, be sure to print off any media articles featuring your program involvement and place them in your team’s marketing portfolio.  This can be included in a packet that also outlines your program values and other initiatives.  On a side note, you should also develop a plan to enhance your program’s visibility on campus and in the community. From a campus standpoint, be sure that your student-athletes are actively engaged in their coursework by setting “Above and Beyond” program expectations in the classroom (note. Both the marketing portfolio and “Above and Beyond” classroom expectation areas will be discussed in future entries).

5. Athletic Excellence: You didn’t really think that I was going to “coach you up” on this area, did you?  While I could give advice on leadership and teaching, I am going to leave this area up to you.  However, we will discuss how to market this particular area in future entries 🙂

Tips for Top Elite Coaches: In your strategic planning, include core values that will encourage student-athletes to succeed on the mat, in the classroom, and in life.  See previous post including “Wooden’s Pyramid of Success” for an example here.


You must be intentional with your efforts if you are going to market yourself effectively to your “true” top target market: administrators.  My hope is that this entry has been useful for coaches looking to build the brand of their program.  With the right marketing mindset, there is no doubt that coaches can enhance the sustainability of their program within their athletic department.  Equally important, this can help build the sport the right way so that it is able to reach its full potential in the future.

“Success if the masterful application of the fundamentals on a daily basis” (Robin Sharma)


About ELSMarketing

ELSM is a company that specializes in the development and implementation of innovative marketing plans for sport organizations, businesses, and programs. By focusing on the client’s goals and expectations, we strive to develop strategies that will build the brand of the entity in a way that will ensure future success. The bottom line is that we are committed to working with entities who are looking to take themselves to the next level from a marketing standpoint. While there are a variety of strategies that we implement to achieve this, it starts with the values we have in place for our company. Here at ELSM, “Innovation is the Expectation!”
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9 Responses to The Heck with Tradition: Marketing to Your “True” Top Market Segment

  1. Thank you for a great post.

  2. Jim Harshaw says:

    Excellent post! When we know why we need to do these things, we can figure out the how. Your readers know why they need to market to their “top segment” and you’ve given some great “how’s”. Coaches can apply this to their situation and figure out their own “how’s” as well.

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