October 1, 2014 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

Promoting your athletic program to the community

When most athletic directors hear the word marketing, their thoughts probably turn to filling seats and increasing the gate. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, marketing includes much more than simply improving attendance at contests.

In the more complete, definitive form, marketing is an effort of emphasizing the unique, program_promotionoutstanding aspects of a product, organization or concept. For athletic directors, this means highlighting all of the good, positive accomplishments of their program beyond the obvious wins and championships.

Communication or educational efforts, advertising and promotions are all components of marketing. Too often these parts are viewed as separate, and perhaps isolated concepts, which exist on their own. But that’s not the case.

Marketing directors look to define their target audience when developing a plan to sell a product. As an athletic director, you also have a product and that is the value of an education-based athletic program, the improvement and life lessons that your student-athletes gain and the impact that your coaches make.

Your target audience involving high school athletics is fairly easy and straight-forward to identify.  Who would be interested in your product? Students, parents, faculty, administrators, school boards and community members all stand to gain from understanding the positive features of your program.

And, of course, you as the athletic director also serve as the marketing director. A savvy athletic director should use every method and avenue available to market his or her athletic program.

Preseason parents meetings, handbooks, flyers and school marquees have long been used for this purpose and still should be employed. Don’t forget about websites and social media as well.

10 marketing suggestions

Regardless of the vehicles available and the ones you are comfortable with, the following 10 suggestions are designed to help with marketing your program.

1. Try to carve out time every week to tackle the effort of marketing your program. There is no doubt that the average athletic director is overwhelmed, has limited time and that the tasks and nature of the position constantly expand. But marketing has to be considered just as important as any other responsibility you have.

2. Use your marketing efforts to educate parents and the community about the value of athletics. It has been shown that athletes have higher grade point averages, better attendance and less disciplinary problems during the season. It is vital to communicate these findings. Let everyone associated with or interested in your program know that it has great educational value.

3. Explain the philosophical concept of education-based athletics through all of your communication vehicles. Utilize this idea on your websites, newsletters, social media and printed material. While you may understand that wins and championships should not be the ultimate indicator of success, most associated or interested in your program do not.

It is up to you to educate coaches, athletes, parents, administrators and the community.

4. Constantly be aware of and look for positive, inspiring items. These stories highlight the value and essence of your Education-Based Program. Always post articles and photos of:

  • Athletes and teams involved in community service.
  • Coaches earning their NFHS National Coaching certification.
  • Examples of outstanding sportsmanship. Remember that the negative events or examples always are featured in the newspapers and on television.
  • Athletes who have earned state or district academic awards.

5. Enlist the help of your coaches. Remind them to let you know about the accomplishments of their athletes and teams.

A quick email to your coaching staff once a week is all that it takes to get new, exciting material to share with your target audience.

6. Periodically change the articles, information and photos that are posted. This includes information on your website, social media sites and department materials and handouts. New, fresh content and photos encourage everyone to continue to visit.

7. Always have someone proofread everything before using material or posting an article. You read everything closely, but having a second set of eyes is a must. As an educational entity, it would be extremely embarrassing for the school and athletic department, and it sends the wrong message if the write-up contains grammar mistakes, misspelling and typos.

8. Consider repackaging and repeating the important aspects of your program in your marketing efforts. After all, your target audience — most notably students and parents — constantly change and you shouldn’t’ assume that those new or considering your program understand or know all of the important details.

9. Think ahead and anticipate items and areas needing attention. Are there issues such as a budget referendum, new construction, redistricting or new regulations, which may loom in the near future?

These are just a few quick examples of items possibly affecting your athletic program. A good marketing approach is to tackle these possible issues before they actually occur and, in this manner, defuse some potential concerns or problems.

10. Always ask for feedback and also provide the opportunity for the public to ask questions. This can be done by supplying an email link and posting a simple statement to the effect of, “Please contact us by using this link to let us know your reaction to our site or printed materials, and to ask any questions you might have. Thanks for visiting our site and supporting our athletic program.”

And if you also market some of your games and put more people in the seats— go ahead. There is nothing wrong with also increasing your gate.

David Hoch, CMAA, has 16 years of experience as a high school athletic director and served for 12 years as the executive director of the Maryland State Coaches Association. In 2000, he was named Athletic Director of the Year by the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association. His column, A.D.ministration, focuses on issues in athletic administration and appears regularly in Coach & Athletic Director magazine.

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