As a major sports entity in an area of the country without a professional sports presence, Clemson enjoys many advantages. One of those advantages has been poorly utilized by the current administration. Clemson sports command a captive fan base more than 100,000 strong in number. This fan base is a passionate one and for potential marketing partners, it is a loyal one.
Though Clemson takes advantage of certain corporate partnerships with its football and basketball programs, it leaves a great deal of potential revenue on the table because of three things. These are some of the biggest problems facing the Clemson athletic department now and they must be addressed if we are to move forward.
1) The lack of a truly qualified marketing staff to expand the Clemson brand nationally and internationally
2) The lack of initiative from the top to enhance relationships with current sponsorship partners and attract new partners
3) The lack of creativity in marketing the potentially profitable Clemson baseball program in a manner similar to that of minor league baseball organizations
Clemson’s messed up marketing mix
Clemson University’s athletic department employs some hard working people to man the marketing aspects of the department, but those individuals are not qualified to lead a powerful, multi-million dollar sports business into the 21st century of marketing. The staff is neither large enough nor experienced enough to handle the tasks of creating and cultivating long-term corporate relationships with some of the big players that are within Clemson’s reach.
Currently, Clemson employs three full time professionals to handle the marketing of the entire sports program. That includes marketing a multi-million dollar football program, a growing basketball program, and all Olympic sports as well. The tried and true Clemson tradition of complacency is alive and well with this group of individuals.
Associate Athletic Director Tim Match is the man charged with heading up the marketing and sponsorship portion of Clemson’s athletic department. Like many of Clemson’s athletic department personnel, Match comes from a sports information background. He originally worked as an assistant in the University of Virginia sports information department, before coming to Clemson and working as an assistant sports information director. After three years in that capacity, Match was no surprisingly promoted to a role as associate athletic director, the same position he holds today.
One of the individuals working under Match in a sales capacity is Lynn Sparks, the director of sales for the Clemson athletic department. One would expect an individual with the lofty title of sales director for a major sports company to at least have a background in sales and marketing, but Sparks is only a bachelor’s degree holder in psychology from Winthrop University. A former Clemson student, Sparks started her tenure at Clemson as an administrative assistant in the football office in 1992. After seven years of hard work in that capacity, the university saw fit to promote Sparks to a role in leading the sales team for Clemson’s sports programs.
Mike Money is another individual on board and his title is Director of Marketing. Money started out his career as a graduate assistant at Clemson in 2000 and eventually moved on to serve as the Director of Marketing at East Carolina University from 2002-2006. He then moved back to Clemson, where he’s been given a title and the job of marketing Clemson’s major sports programs.
Though all hard working and decent people, Clemson’s group in charge of marketing is simply not qualified to do the things that Clemson needs to do. They are well equipped to continue Clemson’s long standing relationships with companies like Bi-Lo and Naturally Fresh, but one can see how it would be difficult to market the Clemson brand more than regionally with a group of marketers that don’t have that type of experience and expertise.
Major sports corporations don’t promote their secretaries to the role of sales director and they do not employ a staff that is made up mostly of people with backgrounds in fields other than business. The fact that Clemson has on its marketing staff no individuals with so much as an MBA is frightening and it speaks to the level of commitment in the athletic department.
Comparing Clemson’s marketing leadership to other top college programs
Looking just to the west, Clemson can see a good example of a forward thinking athletic department that is set on expanding the reach of its brand. The University of Georgia has made a major push and its athletic department has become much more profitable over the last decade. UGA has a director of marketing on staff similar to Clemson’s Mike Money. His name is John Bateman, and he is the owner of a master’s degree in sports management. Additionally, Bateman was only named director of marketing after 13 years of work in the UGA athletic department, where he served as director of promotions and in several similar roles.
Bateman also had experience working for the Southeastern Conference for two years prior to joining the UGA staff, an experience that undoubtedly helped him learn some of the basics of national college sports marketing.
UGA also employs Emily Deitz, another marketing professional who had stops at three different major universities before landing her job with Georgia. Deitz worked all over the Southeast, picking up experience at Florida, Auburn, and then with the growing athletic department at the University of Louisville.
Right down the road, the University of South Carolina has recently taken steps to revamp its marketing department. They hired Eric Nichols away from Vanderbilt to handle their marketing and to help growing their global branding. Nichols had long range success in increasing the market share for Vanderbilt sports and spent ten years working at Vandy before he was hired by South Carolina in 2008. He holds a master’s degree and has spent time taking leadership classes at Vanderbilt. All in all, Nichols was a significant upgrade and is another example of a person who had experience working in a major conference for many years before taking over the reigns.
USC has also taken steps to update itself in the 21st century by hiring master’s degree holder Andy Morris as their Director of Digital and Social Marketing. This is another example of an athletic department that notices the need for new thinking and is willing to go outside the box to employ people who possess this mindset.
Florida State University has a marketing and sales team that goes eleven employees deep. They are led in marketing by Jason Dennard, a man who holds a master’s degree in Integrated Marketing and Management Communication. He worked in the same role for Host Communication prior to joining FSU and is currently revamping the Florida State marketing department into a powerful force. Dennard also worked as an assistant director for Georgia Tech.
One needs only to look to FSU’s director of sales and compare that to Clemson’s employee in the same role to see that Clemson is lagging behind in a big way. From Mike McClure’s bio:
“McClure joined the ISP team in 2007 after a successful stint with Pacer Sports & Entertainment, most recently as the company's Vice President of Sponsorship Sales. He provided executive oversight of all corporate partnerships and inventory for the Indiana Pacers, Conseco Fieldhouse, the Indiana Fever and other special events. Prior to Pacer Sports & Entertainment, Mike served as Director of Sports Marketing for WTTV in Indianapolis.”
There is no question that Clemson is lacking in qualification and in the experience to make big things happen from a marketing standpoint. When an organization hires people only capable of the status quo, they should not be surprised when the status quo is exactly what they get.
Lack of leadership from the top
Clemson’s sports teams have one of the most recognizable logos in all of sports and many of Clemson’s traditions will play on a national scale. With 75,000 or more fans regularly packing the stands in Memorial Stadium and Littlejohn Coliseum constantly selling out big games, there are opportunities to enhance sponsorships all over the place. The problem comes from the top, though. There is a serious lack of initiative to pursue any new marketing relationships with far reaching global companies.
Clemson currently has marketing relationships with companies like Naturally Fresh, Zaxby’s, Bi-Lo, Fatz Café, Alltel, and Carolina Pride. There are more, but the list is missing some major players that might otherwise be there. Where are the realty companies? Where are the major banks, all lining up to advertise to a fanbase that is both loyal and financially capable? It is no surprise that Clemson has some of these relationships going, but they could be doing much more than is being done right now.
In addition to that, the leadership at Clemson has shot down numerous ideas that could have provided them with cheap, effective promotional material. Some of the most pronounced examples have occurred over the last five years and they present an alarming trend.
· Clemson fan propositioned the Clemson athletic department with an idea that he would print up 5,000 “CJ Spiller for Heisman” bumper stickers, eating all of the costs, only to distribute them for free to anyone who wanted one. Clemson threatened legal action if he did so.
· Long time, capable Clemson fan Joe Jackson offered to do promotional video work for the university for free. Clemson and Tim Match shot him down, and dropped the hammer on his highly popular highlight videos, as well. Clemson instead opted to run their similar, but markedly worse videos.
Clemson currently seems to have a distaste for anything that might be remotely out of the box and as a consequence, Clemson fans are forced to pay the price. While Clemson is raising ticket prices and re-working its IPTAY contribution plan (rightfully so), it is allowing millions of dollars of potential revenue to slip away. The current administrators fail to explore the possibilities from a new age marketing standpoint, and as a result, they are falling behind.