Friday, October 15, 2010

N.C. State has to be smart about marketing, promotion in crowded sports market

Basketball season finally begins tonight, and if you have been around the Triangle for a while, you know there's an extra zing in the air when all three ACC teams are strong. After watching Duke and UNC win multiple national titles, N.C. State has a chance to show its a competitive program with a team that features Tracy Smith inside and a fascinating freshman class.

But State has to leverage this, and the three opening acts tonight are a great example of the challenges N.C. State faces. It's obvious that across the board in athletics, the Wolfpack has to become more competitive. It's also obvious the school has to do more to market and promote the wealth of good stories coming out of West Raleigh. And it has to be smart about how it does it in a crowded sports market.

Tonight is a good example. North Carolina, Duke and N.C. State have basketball events on the same night, which sounds great until you realize how much that will stretch media attention. Television sports staffs are small, so getting to three basketball events, and high school football, is next to impossible. The newspapers will cover it but again, you are now competing for space in the paper against three other events. Plus the newspapers have to balance that against football game advances, high school football and so on.

It's also interesting to note that both UNC and Duke had media events Thursday, while State did not. Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe did speak to the Raleigh Sports Club on Wednesday, but this is a week, given the potential of this season, that you want as much exposure for the program as possible.

State should really push this year to get fans in the door and create some energy around this program. Why not have Lowe, or assistant coaches or players like Smith, appear on the morning TV news shows? Why not make sure key players are on radio shows this week? Why not put out a note to the media saying Smith and other returning veterans are available on a Tuesday afternoon - usually a slow day overall - in case someone has questions?

Why not add some spice to tonight's event by having greats like David Thompson and Tommy Burleson and Lorenzo Charles and others come in and sign autographs before the event?
Now, you may say tonight's events are really about fans, and a school shouldn't worry about the logistics the media face. But it is interesting that when new NCSU athletics director Debbie Yow faced the Raleigh Sports Club recently, one question she faced was how she felt about how the department markets its programs. You could hear the room go silent - this was a room full of experienced businessmen who knew exactly how important it is to market a product. Yow said that yes, the school had to do better, and was working on a comprehensive plan to attack the issue.

Why not use the basketball program to help sell the school? N.C. State should invite every high school senior accepted to the school to a closed basketball practice on a weekend, and have the chancellor, athletics director and other key school personnel there to answer questions about the school.

State can, and should, do more to promote what it has. For those who doubt the importance of that, just remember that Everett Case built up N.C. State, and lifted ACC basketball with it, by relentlessly promoting his sport to fans and the media.

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