College Sports Marketing Examples & Tips (From An Insider)

By: Devin Meister
October 8, 2020
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We’ve occasionally talked about marketing as a way to increase viewership for your live stream, but for those of you who make a living doing college sports marketing, you know there’s a lot more to promoting your team than crafting a live stream strategy.

It can be tough for a marketer to do his or her job in an industry that has so much riding on something totally out of their control—wins and losses. But we’ve seen some pretty clever ideas brought to life by some of our own clients that we think are worth sharing.

With that in mind, we asked Matt Hodson, associate commissioner for public relations at the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (disclaimer, WCHA is a Stretch client!), if he’d be willing to give us some sports marketing examples used by his own league (which offers pay-per-view live streaming) as inspiration. You’ll find a few of his insider tips below.

WCHA College Sports Marketing Strategies

College athletics marketing is hard enough as it is, Matt Hodson says, but leagues with multiple teams under their umbrella have an even bigger challenge: nurturing an affinity among fans for the entire league, regardless of the team or school they support.

The WCHA is working hard to make a new name for itself because it’s undergone something of a transformation recently. Once the most recognizable name in college hockey, it had to rebrand a few years ago after some of its flagship schools left to join the Big 10 conference or the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC). The 2013-2014 season began with only four of the WCHA’s original teams and a group of new ones; today it includes 10 men’s college teams and seven women’s teams.

Hodson, who handles all marketing and communications for both the men’s and women’s league, says his strategy for successful marketing focuses on two things:

1. Establishing a personal connection to fans.

A couple of years ago the WCHA ran a public service announcement for the league featuring a tagline of “We are yesterday’s heroes, today’s champions, tomorrow’s legends. We are the WCHA.” When mixed with game highlights, the tagline was pretty powerful.

Hodson then took the last line—“We are the WCHA”—and turned it into a hashtag for social media. The hashtag serves two major purposes: to bind together groups of fans who support different schools within the league, and to help with the league’s rebranding efforts. He’s been using the hashtag to run a “fan of the week” contest, where fans are encouraged to submit pictures of themselves watching a game from wherever they happen to be, whether it’s at home on the couch with their buddies or live at the event.

Fan of the Game Stretch Internet

The hashtag strategy seems to be working. “At the end of every game we tweet out a final score and a link to a recap online,” Hodson explains. “A couple of our teams recently had really big wins against highly ranked teams from other leagues, and we started seeing fans of different teams retweeting the recap and using the hashtag.” It’s a good sign that fans are feeling a sense of ownership with regard to the league, not just one particular school.

2. Finding ways to tailor marketing to fans.

Another campaign that was launched this year centered around live streaming specifically—which the WCHA has been doing for the past five years—but played to individual team spirit.

“We were fortunate enough to have a local ad agency—made up of personal friends and hockey nuts!—work for us pro bono,” Hodson says. They came up with a line of graphics using the tagline: ‘You already have the best seat in the house. Stream your team.’

“Using this line of graphics, we did geotargeted campaigns on Facebook for segmented fans in each of our 10 markets, and Twitter and Instagram ads as well. We also created a second wave of banner ads for each of our schools, saying ‘They come to play, we come to watch.’ They were custom banner ads for streaming using individual school imagery, so we used the same phrase but showed images of players specific to each school.”

Hodson is waiting till the end of the month to see if it’s had an impact on the live stream, focusing specifically on subscriptions sold, unique viewers, and bottom-line revenue. By then, he says, all the league’s teams will have played a nice sample size of games—a full month’s worth. (Read more about the most important live streaming metrics you should track.)

On the subject of wins and losses….

Hodson’s philosophy is this: If you’re doing it right, marketing amplifies the good feelings that come from a win, and makes things more palatable when there’s a loss. “Hopefully that goodwill you’ve put in the bank helps get people even more excited about what’s to come.”

Inspired by these college sports marketing ideas? We hope so. In the meantime, if there’s anything we can do to help with your live stream, don’t hesitate to get in touch—we’d love to hear from you!