By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
About a year ago, I had the chance to meet with Randy Spetman, Florida State's Athletic Director, and he told me the way to get into a career in sports was to be able to sell your product. Thus, it’s time for me to earn my marketing degree and explain how to get your small-market college football team some better exposure.
Back in 2004, ESPN hyped what was arguably the greatest time for a football fan—19 straight days of at least one live football telecast (college or NFL). Now, we’re used to games on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and the occasional Thursday game, which is now becoming a weekly standard; even a Friday game is becoming commonplace.
But games being played on Tuesday and Wednesdays? Yes, it happened, and with 119 different FBS teams, there are thousands of fans who I’m sure tuned in on those days to see their small-market school that doesn’t quite get the prime time love on a Saturday night—which, right there, is the key.
Small-market schools from conferences such as the WAC, MAC, Sun Belt, C-USA, MWC, and so forth aren’t top-tier teams.
Granted, the MWC is slowly making a name for itself, but that’s semantic details. Financially, they don’t pull in the big bucks that the bigger teams do, and in today’s cutthroat environment, especially for coaches, those with smaller budgets have to think outside the box to pull in the top recruits.
What else says free publicity like a weekday game nationally televised by ESPN?
For example, both Tuesday and Wednesday games for two weeks during the 19 days of Football Television were played by C-USA schools. That’s eight teams getting a national audience to show their product. What team wouldn’t take that opportunity?
In the earlier days of football, teams could use the prestige angle and the exposure of being a big-time school to help lure recruits, because it was only those handfuls of schools getting the attention that would turn the heads of NFL scouts.
Now, those same teams that used that recruiting pitch can’t anymore, or at least not with the same effect, because we’re having these smaller schools get attention because they play games on “off nights.”
Twenty years ago, how many NFL scouts and high school recruits would have been interested by the fact that, during his period at UCF, Kevin Smith ran for the second most yards in a single season with 2,567?
He ended up being televised twice on national television, with one of those games coming on a Sunday night. On a night not designated for college football, third round draft pick and starter for the Detroit Lions Kevin Smith rushed for 175 yards and two touchdowns. Would anyone have cared otherwise?
I know, I’m focusing heavily on one specific conference, but let’s face it, all the smaller conferences are using the fact that they will be televised to market themselves, and they’re playing harder than ever for the recruit’s attention!
The following non-automatic qualifier teams played on a day other than Saturday in just the first month: Tulsa, Tulane, Toledo, Fresno State, Boise State (even nationally ranked teams need exposure), and Nevada.
Even the smaller schools in the bigger conferences that don’t get a lot of attention take advantage of this opportunity. We hear the ESPN pundits discussing the Thursday upsets constantly while these games happen. A short week against a small school can make the favorite look past the underdog, and then Upset City!
Let’s look at a team using this purely to their advantage in the 2009 season: Boise State. Already Cinderella darlings for their upset of Oklahoma a few years back, the Broncos have led the way to non-automatic qualifiers getting exposure. This exposure helps them recruit players, bar none. These top recruits then help this team earn the top 10 national ranking that they currently have.
In 2009, Boise State has no less than seven games not being played on a Saturday. As a top team in the polls, they bring in an extra audience already. However, a mid-week game helps give them a one-up on recruiting by showing potential Broncos that they can get on TV and gain national exposure.
For a school without a big financial budget in athletics, this is an easy way to show notice not only to them, but their conference as well.
If I was an Athletic Director and I needed to market my small-market team, I’d do like Boise State, only take it one step further: Every game is a weekday game.
Outside of the one or two non-conference games (to earn the big paycheck for getting whupped, and some of those games get televised), I would just play them all on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, and promote to my recruits that we can get you the national exposure to help get you to the next level and win you the big awards.
All the while, the school rakes in the dough from it—a complete win-win for all members.
So there you have it—my plan to make even the smallest mid-major conference school just as competitive as the big boys. I, for one, always look forward to sitting down and watching a football game, regardless of the date, time, and who’s playing.