Exposure in college athletics is mostly thought of in terms of a televised game, but what about the vast majority of time when a school is not playing?
A game is in a two- to three-hour window on national television allowing Michigan State, for example, to be noticed by a football recruit and his family in California. How can the Spartans reinforce to that prospect, and more like him, their image or brand as traditionally one of the most successful football programs in the country?
Michigan State is ahead of the curve knowing that its brand should extend beyond the East Lansing campus at all times.
“We see licensing as an opportunity to showcase our brand outside of the university setting,” Michigan State director of licensing Samantha Stevens told Retalier-Mechandiser.com. “The more we can grow the brand in the retail space, the more recognition the university receives.”
In its quest to become a national brand, Michigan State wants to uphold a major presence online with national retailers such as Fanatics, Kohl’s and Amazon. Stevens and others from the Spartans’ licensing department routinely travel to licensee and retailer locations and regularly host summits with retailers.
Michigan State in January will host a retail appreciation event, not in East Lansing, Detroit or Kalamazoo, for that matter. Their target audience will be in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the Sports Licensing and Tailgate Show.
“Most of our top retailers and licensees will be there, so we’re taking our show on the road and developing business in a place we know everyone will be,” Stevens said.
If a customer at a Target in Dallas can buy a USC cap, Alabama sweatshirt or Kentucky basketball t-shirt, it is obvious those highly successful programs are en vogue outside of Los Angeles, Tuscaloosa, and Lexington.
That’s the kind of status schools such as Michigan State aspire to become. Mark Dantonio’s team advanced to the College Football Playoffs last season. This season, the Spartans have slipped to 3-8 overall and 1-7 in the Big Ten.
Sports Illustrated suggested in a 2015 article the Spartans’ football brand includes being “happy to let everyone else grab the headlines,” because of its no-frills offense, defensive-minded approach. That kind of image makes Stevens and Michigan State’s licensing department work more diligently to make the Spartans more of an accepted and respected brand.
That requires being proactive beyond Michigan’s state border. Keep in mind, Michigan’s program is generally perceived as a more successful brand that Michigan State’s that sells across the nation.
According to Forbes magazine, Michigan has the fifth-highest value in college football at $105 million. Ohio State (seventh at $100 million), Alabama (eighth at $99 million) and Oklahoma (ninth at $96 million) all rank lower than the Wolverines.
Michigan State is at No. 19 at $67 million.
The Spartans are currently not as marketable nationally as the Wolverines, but with the efforts of Stevens and the Michigan State licensing department, the program’s apparel may become more available on retailers’ shelves and/or Web sites in the months to come beyond the season.
It has great meaning that the university’s administration has approved the mission on which the licensing department is embarking on in Las Vegas and elsewhere. The school knows that for its athletic department to be relative it must be marketed from New York City to Los Angeles, not only in the Big Ten region.
The school has legendary men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo, whose likable personality transcends that program. He is the face of the Michigan State. Dantonio is more reserved and not as successful overall as Izzo, and his team is having a disappointing season. To overcome this marketing obstacle, Michigan State must try as hard as it can to remain visible. The school is doing just that with its aggressive licensing campaign.
Javier Morales has worked as a sports journalist for more than 25 years. He reported for The Arizona Daily Star for 13 years. He was the Star’s beat reporter for the Arizona men’s basketball program when the Wildcats won the national title in 1996-97. A 2010 Arizona Press Club award winner, Morales operates the blog site AllSportsTucson.com.