Great perspective. Tremendous, even.
Mad Magicians of Marketing
In a previous UV, Brian called out one of Brandon’s chief marketers for saying that the players were the customers. In the UV of Oct 4, I commented that maybe the players ARE the customers. This got a few positive responses and a few negative responses. I want to expand on this idea a bit.
I work in marketing. I just returned from an internal marketing meeting. One of the ideas that our Chief Marketing Officer drove home was “there is always competition - know your competition and you will know your market.” Let’s see how this fits into the college football space.
Let’s define the customer as the end user of a product or service. Fans fit this definition. A fan can be a warm body in the stands, a warm body watching the game on TV, a warm body buying merchandise, or some combination. These are the ways that fans are customers. Let’s assume that you are a fan and you are starting to get very stingy with your entertainment dollars. You will begin to look at the competition. What does that mean in terms of college football? Does it mean you will start going to Eastern games because they’re cheaper? No. Perhaps it means you will not renew your season tickets, or you will buy fewer t-shirts, or maybe you will cancel cable TV. If you do anything, you will trim your spending. You will not forego your love of Wolverine football. Realistically, then, very little competition exists for customers as end users. This is due to extreme brand loyalty.
If you were to define a customer as the end user of a product or service, then the fans are the customers and there is no competition. But there is always competition. I define a customer as somebody who will react to changing conditions/competition. Here, the fans are not customers because their brand loyalty is basically certain. Let me give you an example. When UM hired Brady Hoke, Brian (seemingly) was pretty upset. He was a supporter of Rich Rodriguez and the idea of the RR experiment. He had previously denounced Hoke as a crony. Yet when Hoke was announced as the hire, Brian didn’t vote with his feet. He didn’t become a fan of Purdue. His loyalty is certain. He is a fan from his youth and an alumnus. He is not going to start supporting the Buckeyes.
So the question becomes who CAN vote with their feet and respond to changing conditions? The answer is student athletes. When RR was hired there may have been much dissent among the fanbase, but I doubt too many began rooting for Ohio. Yet when RR was hired Justin Boren went to Ohio. I do not know of one Michigan fan who suddenly switched their allegiance to Arkansas upon the RR hire, but I do know of one player who did.
In the business model of college football, the revenue does ultimately come from the fans as paying customers. Because of bowls and merchandising, and demand for seats, that revenue is directly dependant on the competitiveness of the product on the field. Dave Brandon knows the athletic department can count on the brand loyalty of Michigan fans. The athletic department is competing with other schools for the talents of the student athletes.
Spot on. I've never looked at it from that vantage point but your exterior box thinking is flawless. More importantly I think Brandon gets it too. Very nicely done.
This would make a great marketing case study.
would Boren have transferred if RR and staff made out of season conditioning voluntary (wink, wink) as LC seemed to do towards the end of his tenure?
Yet when RR was hired Justin Boren went to Ohio. I do not know of one Michigan fan who suddenly switched their allegiance to Arkansas upon the RR hire, but I do know of one player who did.
This is false. Justin Boren did not suddenly switch his allegiance to OSU upon the RR hire.
Fact One: By all accounts, Boren (who grew up in a Columbus suburb, Pickerington) had always been interested in Ohio State. Bo Schembechler himself, and Lloyd Carr, worked closely with Mike Boren to secure Justin's Michigan commitment.
Fact Two: When RR was hired, Boren didn't suddenly go anywhere. He remained part of the Michigan team. He was performing well in practices, by all accounts.
Fact Three: Boren -- or more correctly, Boren's parents, who crafted a Press Release for Justin -- DID suddenly pull Justin out of Michigan. It happened within a day or two of offer letters for the incoming recruiting class of 2008. And younger-brother Zach Boren did not get such a letter. (The Rodriguez offense simply did not use fullbacks, and they had decided not to offer Zach as a LB.) The Borens freaked out in a rage, and yanked Justin out of Michigan.
As for Mallett; that story is probably not as easily documented as the Boren story, but I do think it is safe to say that it is as unconnected to Rodriguez, as was the Boren story.
All he said was that Boren left after RR was hired - Fact.
You don't have to nit pick every posting for anti-RR inaccuracies.
When a new coach is hired some current players leave. They choose with their feet, which is exactly what Mallett and Boren did. This is the point he was making, not some backhanded slap at RR.
Because tangeants are not welcome as ongoing discussion? I'll start one now anyway.
This situation is akin to a bar's marketing strategy. I worked as a GM / marketing director of a large nightclub in Columbus. Most guys do not want to go out to hear Beyonce blaring at jet engine decibel levels. So why do so many guys come to nightclubs?
In a sense (please don't take this in a creepy way), our players are like women at a nightclub. Our target audience is men. They buy drinks, they spend money, they fill the bar. But women are the driving force behind a man's decision to go to a club. Rarely do guys like to go out on the weekend to 'just dance it out' with their guy friends. A guy will almost always pick "All the Single Ladies" surrounded by single ladies over their favorite artist at a sausage festival.
Us as fans want to see product on the field. We would RATHER hear the band. The athletes want Kanye West. The athletes want 'cool' jerseys, we prefer tradition. In the end, would you take a traditional 5-7 team or Pop Evil inspired 14-0 team?
We as fans want what we want, but the core of what we want are results on the field. Michigan marketing knows that. They know we will sit through Ashlee Simpson at halftime if we are playing Alabama in the title game. So their job is to cater to the athletes. They are the real show.
To follow on with your analogy, the men at the bars are the customers. They spend the money. The women are the draw to attract the men and keep them happy. You have to "recruit" the women. That's why they have Ladies' Nights. The bar with gaggles of hot women are going to consistently draw the most men.
Likewise, the fans are the customers for Michigan. The players are the draw. You have to recruit the best players to (and coaches) to produce wins and keep the fans happy and attending your events and buying your merchandise.
The players are the draw, they are not the ultimate customers. The fans are still the customers. You can indeed lose your customers in college football. They may not switch alligence to another school, but they will lose interest and stop spending money on your events and merchandise (just look at Michigan Basketball during the down years).
Very well put. Good to see another Michigan degree getting put to good use!
very interesting, I hated the Hoke hire but would never dream of switching my allegiance. I couldn't be happier to eat some crow after what has transpired, but no matter what happens to Michigan I will always be a fan. The same can not be said of a 16 year from Texas.
That's the angle I think the marketing guru's are taking as well. And this would include future recruits (which was a strategy implemented under RR regarding piped in pump-up music at least during warm-ups and the push for a night game).
By this logic, aren't bankers the "customers" at an investment bank? Surely the banks profitability is dependent on having high performing asset managers. However, it's not the bankers money (nor the banks) that allows the bank to stay in business. It's you and me putting capital in the hands of the bank. Were people to pull money out of the bank because the commissions/fees became ridiculous (even conceding that they will not go to another investment bank, they could go into real estate, bonds, day trading, ect.) there would be no bank for bankers to run, and all of that high level talent is useless.
So, my rhetorical question, at the end of the day, is Goldman Sachs competing for investment bankers, or is it competing for deposits? Obviously there is correlation between the two (especially in the real world, outside a ceteris paribus economic question) but I would have to say that the people shelling out money for the product are unquestionably the customers.
Because the banks ultimately rely on the money of people putting it in, customers of the bank. People putting the money into a certain bank CAN "vote with their feet" and leave for a bank that better satisfies their needs. Sure, there is brand loyalty, but I would not say people cannot be swayed from one bank to another with incentives.
I see what you are saying with the investment bank and bankers, but the difference is people will move to another bank (so you have to peddle to the money-holders' needs), whereas a Michigan fan will not leave (so you peddle to the players, which can create a positive response in performance and talent-draw, etc).
But there are also imperfect substitutes. Maybe at $100 per ticket and a PSD high enough, I still love Michigan football (no moving to another fanbase) but instead of spending my fall Saturdays at the games I spend them watching the game from home, or even beginning to forget when it's on and go to the movies every Saturday instead. Either way it's a loss of revenue.
Again, I think there is a correlation, and you can't say FFFUUUU to the players, but the fans are able to vote with their feet. If I never watched another game or bought another jersey, it doesn't make me an OSU fan (perfect substitute, leaving one bank for another [insert joke about OSU football being a bank here]), it makes me someone who sought an alternative, and who now spends cash on that alternative instead of the new night jersey. Someone who can do that has to be a consumer by any definition.
Edit: last line was supposed to read "customer" not "consumer". Damn differences between maketing and econ.
But then why not have just a bunch of hugly rabid fans and a shitty product (Notre Dame)? The end result is the same on the bottom line, and taking it a step further you could apply the transitive property to get recruits as C in the same way you used it to get fans/dollars.
I just cannot believe that with actual imperfect substitutes (Kalis isn't choosing between a White Stripes concert and going to play at Michigan), actual dollars spent, ect. that fans are not the end consumer of the product.
It might be a very strong marketing strategy, but it doesn't make the recruits any more of a consumer.
With DB in charge prices will continue to go up thus taking more of the fans discretionary income. There is a point of no return and $500 to be considered for season tickets makes me want to go to the games less. As the average fan (the one screaming their head off not setting on their hands saying down in front) is priced out we'll go back to the reputation of being the least intimidating but biggest crowd in the country.
I can watch a stellar product on TV the same as I can watch them from the Big House and at a cost a hell of a lot cheaper.
Banks have a responsibility to their stakeholders to maximize returns to their shareholders (the same way all publicly traded firms do). One way of doing that is to improve their services in every possible way. One way of doing THAT is to hire the best possible, most talented employees, and that is true at every level of the organization, including high performing asset managers. Hell, it probably means having the best janitors to keep the banks looking their finest. I'm not kidding.
They're competing with other banks for this high level talent, in the same way that Michigan competes with Ohio and other colleges for the best possible talent (recruiting). Having the highest, best talent would theoretically draw the most business, and allow the banks internally to make the best decisions that will, hopefully at the end of the day, increase shareholder value.
To take this a step further, you're up against an indifference curve with Michigan Football on one side and an imperfect substitute on the other. Eventually, banks and college football programs have to answer to people making economc decisions that fund them. One example I've read is about banks trading Yankees tickets back and forth with other financial employees (think Pop Evil playing is fun for recruits). Even though the bankers liked this, investment houses had to stop this practice because what helped attract their talent angered their customers.
Most of this is a moot point because there won't be a mass exodus of people from Michigan Stadium because of these changes, but it doesn't make the athletes the customers either.
But what exactly is the product? Let's assume you're talking about the Michigan football brand itself-- and what that offers the fan is very different than what it offers the student athlete. So different that the offer to one might contradict the offer to another-- the rawk music is a perfect example. Players would probably love to hear Lil Wayne or something in the Big House, but it's the last thing the traditionalists in their passed-down season tix will stand for.
Michigan football means a lot of different things to different people. Which of those things, then, does the unversity most agree with? Can it be all of them?
What is, at least in terms of the marketing department, Michigan football? Is it the team that wins games? Or is it the stadium experience? Or is it simply an extension of the school itself? Or, like you've said, the family that a young man will tie his future to?
You're right-- you're dead on right-- that some of the decisions being made lately can make a guy wonder who exactly they're selling this stuff to. The loyalist partisans who make up this great blog will never change, they can't stop loving Michigan-- but there's plenty of fair-weather fans who will continue to clamor onto the bandwagon as the team wins and Denard's exposure grows. We scoff at those, and especially those that gave up on UM football during the past three years, but what Brandon and his marketing team doesn't want us to know is that those very people-- the bandwagon casual fan-- are also an important part of the marketing campaign. Those people, that will spend money on a #16 jersey or shell up the cash to visit the stadium for the first time, are new growth on an existing product, which you never want to neglect if you don't have to. Those mild fans can become MGoBlog loyalists if the product continues to meet expectations long enough.
Michigan football is a monstrous, monolithic brand that transcends local, racial, age-oriented or even social marketing approaches. It's Coca-Cola, not that local soda bottler down the road. So can a single brand definition make all of those facets of the audience happy? Should the brand be marketed in diverse, simultaneous campaigns, the way McDonald's markets to young adults, kids, the health-conscious, and even the morning coffee crowd all at once?
This is some really interesting stuff-- considering how the program is promoted. Luckily for the marketing people, the product is PERFORMING right now, perhaps OVER-PERFORMING in terms of business. Brandon's no dummy as far as business goes, so all of this should come as no surprise. But I think we're all underestimating his plan to cultivate new Michigan fans... which cannot come without change. And he's been all about the change.
Great stuff, Dewey.
And more examples - not just student athletes, but recruits. In the last 5 weeks we've seen:
Gameday comes to our campus
We host night games (F U Everybody)
We have special jerseys too (F U Oregon)
Remember when you saw that crowd get hyped on TV? Look at ours to the rock music (F U everybody)
This is all in addition to our inherent traditional advantages (Biggest house, most wins, championships, etc.) Brandon is expanding on that and hitting other teams where they have been getting advantages on us. Oh, you like Oregon for their Unis? Check out ours. But ours aren't some Nike whim, ours are (VERY LOOSELY) based on our 132 years of tradition. Oh, you want to go to LSU to play at night? do you get ESPN? Our night game atmosphere exisis (and is better, yadda yadda).
Recruits can be quite fickle during their recruitment. Moreso than current student athletes. Brandon has been (in some ways rightly) pandering to them as well. Or at least trying to get us on equal footing where we had been getting passed up.
So, you took your CMO's platitude ("there is always competition - know your competition and you will know your market"), and used it to reach a theory of what it is to be a customer. But that platitude isn't really among the central platitudes we might use to get a picture of what customers are generally thought to be. (Contrast it with the notion of a customer as someone who can vote with their feet, which seems more central.) I'd think it's more central to the notion of a customer that a customer is someone who pays money for a product or service, which is why something just sounds wrong about calling the football players the customers. I mean, you can talk that way, and you can get people to understand you, but I think criticisms that you're deploying the concept incorrectly are still appropriate.
While it's an interesting perspective, this theory assumes too narrow a definition of " competition." If the consumption behavior that the athletics department is trying to promote is the purchasing of tickets, licensed merchandise, Big Ten Network subscriptions, etc., then the Michigan brand is very much a luxury good, and, as such, its competition consists of just about anything else that a fan could spend money on. DeBeers didn't create its decades-long, ubiquitous advertising campaign to get consumers to buy its diamonds rather than the competition's (it didn't have any), but to buy diamonds rather than something else. It is wrong to assume that other college football programs would constitute the only competition for consumers: if a fan is upset by the gameday experience, he will not become an Ohio State fan, but he might decide to spend his money on any number of other things.
I think the only meaningful way in which it makes sense to say that the players are consumers is if the goal of the program is to enrich the lives of student athletes rather than sell tickets and T-shirts, which may be laudable, but sounds a little disingenuous coming from David Brandon.
As a brand marketer for a major consumer package goods company with a Michigan MBA, I feel compelled to chime in.
Basically, as you think about customers and how you want to grow your business, typically you either try to grow household penetration (i.e. get more people to buy your products) or increase buy rate (i.e. get existing customers to buy more). When put into this context, fans are clearly the customers as they are the only people buying anything. The players are your employees that you use to improve your product and your brand. Obviously, in this case the employee compensation and work contracts are non-traditional in that student-atheletes get an education, a potential shot at the NFL, and other non-material things in exchange for a somewhat binding work contract. We are in competition with other companies (schools) for labor talent (players). Obviously, the school does not want to refer to student-atheletes as employees which might be why they are trying to call them the customers even though they are clearly not.
Mgobloggers and other rabid fans are part of the super-loyal or super-heavy subset of consumers. They probably already 'buy' as much
This, by the way, explains why you see some of the things that they are doing. They think about adding a mascot because they want to increase penetration (young kids). This is sometimes referred to as an entry point strategy. You want to get new buyers at the point that they are making a brand choice that will often last for life. From a marketing perspective, that is why it’s not as insane as it sounds. Obviously, this is horrifying to the super-loyals, but will they really go away because of it?
They need to do the quantitative market research to understand if the benefits outweigh the negative. I use the word quantitative here on purpose – several, one-off anecdotes aren’t that helpful. Is a mascot really all that motivating to young kids? Will adding a mascot deteriorate the brand such that
Yeah, that would make sense. I expect that someone is just trying to sound more sophisticated rather than being telegraphic with the terminology.
Interesting take. Thanks for posting.
This is a little tangential, but it's on the Brandon/marketing topic. I've agreed with a lot of Brandon's moves (Hoke, night game, etc.), but I still deeply distrust the guy. Part of that has to do with the moves I haven't liked, from the midseason OSU idea to Pop Evil and mascots. I think it runs deeper than that, though. I'm realizing that my fear of Dave Brandon is rooted in paranoia that he's an egomaniac who's ready to use the Michigan football program to demonstrate that he's an innovative, 21st-century marketer. In my industry, it's very hard for leaders to establish golden reputations if they preserve what the previous administrations have done. Doing new stuff just for the sake of doing new stuff, though, creates this false glow that you're an innovative reformer.
Long story short, I'm nervous that Brandon's incentives aren't well aligned with what I believe are Michigan football's long-term best interests (preserving something that's remarkably unique and special) and that Brandon will be quicker than others to put personal reputation ahead of preserving some of those special qualities.
Interesting take. Like Drenasu I see the players as employees (and I'm not trying to get into the whole "they should be paid" argument). But your point still holds.
For many companies, internal branding is as important as external branding. Companies that talk the talk and walk the walk internally are better able to "live the brand" externally. A classic example is Southwest airlines, where the company's main goal is to make its EMPLOYEES happy and motivated, not its customers. The company believes, and has seen, that satisfied/engaged employees will lead to satisfied/loyal customers.
But even though I'm in marketing, I get the heebie-jeebies when I hear Brandon and Lochmann talk about "the brand". As long as they know they're gilding the lily, but not "creating" a brand that's been around for nearly 200 years, OK. But if they think they're going to create something from whole cloth, well, then, welcome to New Coke.
I hope I'm not echoing anyone else in this thread, as there seems to be many long responses not available to a quick skim haha but I would like to say that the OP's CMO's idea of basing your understanding of the market on your competition is probably the most offensively angering thing I've ever heard about marketing haha. It doesn't matter what your competitors are doing, it matters what the customer wants. Focusing on the competition instead of the customer for what you should do is the shortcut to A) guaranteeing you're always behind the curve, since you only understand something once they do it and they make the rules and B) ruins the marketplace because you teach customers what they want making it riskier to give them what they really want if by total accident you figured it out. I cannot believe any chief marketing officer would genuinely believe that maxim even in a mature or declining market. It might be okay as a rule of thumb for people just starting out but as a way to inform your marketing strategy even medium term it's like focusing on the "what" instead of the "why". And marketing so desperately needs an understanding of the why because of how indirect its methods and effects are.
Sort of beside the point with respect to Michigan, but I fear for said CMO and whoever made him CMO with those kinds of attitudes. Yikes.
For all the comments - positive and negative. I was not taking a side so much as trying to lay out an argument for seeing not the fans but the student athletes as customers. I just want to make one final point as kind of a follow up to Drenasu and anyone else who likened student athletes to employees - Dave Brandon cannot pay the student athletes. I think this is a very subtle point. Acquiring talent in college football really doesn't compare to anything else (maybe college basketball). If Goldman Sachs wants to get good talent they can pay more than the competition. If they want to reward a certain team member they can give him a better bonus. If they decide they want to focus on commercial real estate at the expense of their commodities desk, they can arrange salaries accordingly. If the athletic department wants to go after running backs at the expense of receivers, they can't give the backs a better scholarship and the widouts less. Because student athletes aren't employees, DB then has to make sure he has done everything within reason, and Pop Evil unfortunately is within reason, to be able to compete with other schools for talent.
Finally, Proclus made two good points. First it is correct that while the fan money may not go from UM to Ohio, it may go from UM to the Red Wings. I would argue though that while you have lost some revenue, ultimatey you didn't lose the fan. Not in the same way people will say they will never buy a (insert auto company here) car again after a bad car experience.
Your second point about the athleitc department being there to serve and cater to the student athletes was also dead on and I was going to make a similar point in the OP. There is a possibility that the original quote was in this context - not that a student athlete is a "customer" i the business sense, but that the athletic department is there to serve the student athletes as if they were customers.
I think the perspective you lay out is extremely dangerous to Michigan football.
You can slice it however you want but I don't see how we, as fans, are not customers. We are the end users. We vote with our money and feet. Just because we have extremely strong brand loyalty does not mean there isn't competition or alternatives. Michigan football is competing for my time and money; there is more competition for that than anything else I can think of, save which Victoria's Secret model I most want to marry.
There is a point where I can live without being a rabid Michigan football fan. That point for me is when I can't tell a difference between an NFL game and a Michigan game outside of the colors. The specifics of this include but are not limited to a.) paying players outside of COA, b.) When the MMB is ushered to the side to make way for Pop Evil, c.) Advertising within Michigan Stadium, d.) Marketing and accountant-types abandoning the 132 years of tradition that makes me love this program for a few quick bucks in the short term (See: App State rematch, mascots in general, scheduling FCS teams to save 200k). In general, when Michigan becomes something I can't associate with four of the greatest years of my life, I'm done as a customer.
Sure, if these things happen I'll still probably watch on ABC but there's no way I'm buying tickets or donating my disposable income when I'm older. It wasn't much before Bo showed up that Michigan Stadium was half empty; customers do have alternatives.
I also believe players are very much like employees. Sure - you don't pay them - but from an HR point of view the players are recruited the same way and are receiving differening amounts of compensation depending on which school (company) they choose.
Recruiting is the same in corporate HR as it is in football. You have a position that needs to be filled by a highly-sought after candidate and you recruit by offering better compensation & benefits. Instead of salary and stock options, Michigan football can offer differing levels of compensation in a similar way that any company would.
- At Michigan, you get a top 5 public institution education and a Big Ten collegiate experience. At Alabama, they didn't integrate their schools until 50 years ago and you have to listen to people from Alabama everyday. (Google's best recruiting tool for the past 10 years wasn't salary, it's everything else like spending 20% of your time on something of your interest and getting haute cuisine meals for free in the cafeteria while working in an environment you love.)
- At Michigan, you get to play for the program that has been on television more times than any other and get better exposure for a real job. In fact, every game of yours will be on television, at no extra cost in the Big Ten footprint and about $5 a month outside of it. At Oklahoma, you can pay $60 for pay-per-view to have your parents watch you play NW Missouri State when they aren't on ABC.
- Players on the football team receive more perks, but the point is that Michigan and other schools don't spend hundreds of millions of dollars in a facilities race to just make things look nice.
The reason I say the viewpoint is dangerous is because you make good arguments that make sense when framed like that. But this:
"If you do anything, you will trim your spending. You will not forego your love of Wolverine football."
is what you're competing for here. I'll still love Michigan, but if I stop the first part, what good does the second part do for you? Watching a team play on television in front of 50,000 empty seats means Michigan's customers have chosen an alternative. It's dangerous, in my opinion, because the mindset that "we can't lose our customer base" is the quickest way to lose touch with your customer base and ultimately lose customers.
My 2(000) cents.
Fans are not customers is because we are running a university, not a TV or sports network.
Students including student-athletes are focus.....
"I do not know of one Michigan fan who suddenly switched their allegiance to Arkansas upon the RR hire"
Before we start taking this statement as fact, I have to imagine that Rich Rod did bring some fan's along with him. I'm sure the few WestVa residents who didn't want his head on a stick probably aligned their allegiances with UM for the years he was here. Now that he's gone, they are probably gone too.
I'd guess that most of those "new fans" were still Mountaineers at heart. They may have adopted U-M as a secondary interest.
Not to state the obvious, but sometimes some hardcore fans do leave for good. They certainly sometimes back away and become less involved (go to fewer games, buy less stuff). Is Brian going to become a Buckeye? No. Am I? No. I like to think that nothing would reduce my Michigan loyalty, but I can't be sure. I was a die-hard RR supporter until the end (and now I'm all about the HOKEAMANIA), but I had plenty of friends who were relatively serious M fans who became much less inclined to go to a game during these last three years.
You say: "Here, the fans are not customers because their brand loyalty is basically certain." But that's not true. I don't have any real data, but I'll guess that maybe 20% of the fan base is so loyal that almost nothing could change that (and I think that may be a little high). The bottom 20% or so are so fickle they will switch teams after a down year or two. That leaves 60% in the middle, between bleeding maize and blue and being a bandwagoner.
It seems to me that the players are the customers when it comes to recruiting and quality of life in school. So the quality of your facilities and coaches, and the plushness of your players' lounge and locker rooms, is stuff you're directing at the player as customer. The stadium experience is mostly for the fans, and only a little bit for the players. Anyway. This all seems obvious to me so I'm probably not adding much of value here.
I'll close with a story about a once die-hard fan of a team who not only stopped rooting for that team, but switched to their biggest rival: I have a friend who was a real Yankee fan, had been from about the age of ten. He stuck by them for about a decade and a half, including a long stretch when they seemed to be perpetually in 4th place. But then they lost in the playoffs to the Angels (early 2000s, don't recall the exact year). My friend lived in Orange County and hated the Angels more than he liked any team. I'm sure there were little things here and there that had weakened his Yankee fandom prior to that fateful day, but losing to the Angels was the final straw. (I swear this is true) Immediately after the final game of the series ended and the Yanks were eliminated, my friend got off the couch, walked out of his living room onto his back patio, threw his Yankees hat on the concrete, pulled out his unit, pissed on the hat, went in the garage, came back out with a gas can, dumped fuel all over the hat, and lit it on fire. He's been a Red Sox fan ever since.
"Here, the fans are not customers because their brand loyalty is basically certain."
Have you ever attended a game at a school like Rutgers (or UConn...), where when the team wins, people come to watch and buy merchandise?
For Michigan, we will always have sellouts, but things like merchandise sales and TV viewership (which = money) will decline with a bad team. Just look at schools like ND and how they have been mediocore to bad for so long that Comcast/ NBC wants to push them to Versus.
Also, using Brian (who is an alum, and makes his living from covering Michigan athletics) is not a good representation of anything.
Let's put this another way. I have a cousin who doesn't attend Michigan. He watches games on TV, and buys some gear now and again, because he likes Michigan. When we had RR, and played terribly, his interest went down a bit. He didn't watch all of the games, didn't attend a game... Now, with Hoke, and Michigan winning again, he's "die-hard".
The AD's Marketing initiatives are to 1) Sellout boxes, 2) Make die-hard fans spend more (buy another shirt, go to 2 games/ year instead of 1, get BTN on your cable package...) and 3) Appeal to fair weather (read: Walmart Wolverines) and make them buy more...
I think that the "customer loyality" that many UM fans can be, for the purpose of this discussion, dissected into smaller subsets, with varying degrees of an actual connection with the University other than being a fan. Those who have graduated from UM, or have parents, siblings, children, etc. who have graduated from UM, will have a different kind of relation with the University, and thus the UM "product". These groups will be far more loyal for far longer, regardless. Were some fans in these groups dissatified with the RR era? Sure, but , by and large, they would never sever their ties with the University, wheras the baseball fan reference in the previous thread could change his loyality without sacrificing any deeper relation to the team other than just being a fan. I think the "hardcore" fans that would leave the program would be those who were, and were only, fans.
First, nice thread. Interesting topic and good contributions from all angles.
I have a little problem above with the definition of "competition" in this scenario. If we define Michigan Football as a product for the purposes of understanding a marketer/Brandon's perspective, it's vital to be specific about the type of product we're defining it as. Michigan Football is not a physical good like used cars or a service like pest removal so you can't use the same definition of competition as you would for those products.
Michigan Football is an entertainment product and the competition in entertainment is anything else vying for the time and attention of the customer. In other words, TV shows don't just compete with other TV shows, they also compete with movies, books, video games, Facebook, cooking classes, men's over 40 ultimate frisbee leagues and even non-entertainment activities like lawncare and actually paying attention to your kids.
In other words, Michigan Football's competition is not strictly other college football programs. Which is why the argument that UM fans are not the customers because they won't become Purdue fans is so wrongheaded.
No, Michigan Football fans won't cheer for another team if they become unsatisfied with the product. But they will stop watching, stop buying merchandise, stop buying tickets and generally stop NOT doing whatever it is they would otherwise be doing at noon on Saturdays. It may take a long time for that to happen because of how loyal the customer base is, but if they are unsatisfied it will happen.
If you were alive in the 70s you might remember a time when a little show called Happy Days dominated the competition. It was more than a show, it was a ritual. One that millions of families across the nation probably could never imagine not going through every Tuesday night. When the show lost those loyal viewers and plummeted in the ratings entertainment professionals wanted to know why. They eventually traced the demise of the show to a single moment when Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzerelli went waterskiing in a leather jacket and daringly vaulted over a shark. That shark's name? Pop Evil.
Not sure what I else I can add to the conversation, but I too have a career in marketing, so of course, I will add something.
The #1 rule/step in marketing is identifiying and knowing your customer and audience. FOr something as broadbased as Uof M, U of M athletics, or even just U of M football, there are many markets which are equally important. So let's try to identify them:
1) Big money donors - these are the people who's names show up on buildings and fields, etc. They are vital to any university. They truly pay for the infrastructure which allows everything to happen. As important as these people are, they are a very small number in the grand scheme of things. They couldn't fill the stadium by themselves everyweek.
2) Loyal fans who spend money - these people are also extremely important. They are the ones who pay for the tickets, buy the merchandise which turns them into walking advertisements for the university. This is a moderately sized group in the grand scheme of things. This group also spans a pretty broad age range.
3) Casual/Band wagon fans who spend money - I group these two together becuase there are many similarities. These are the ones who come and go depending on the success of the program. Don't be fooled, this group is willing to spend money when the band wagon is really rolling. This is a potentially very large base. I know it is hard to believe for those of us who spend our life on this blog, but this is the majority.
4) The next generation - for something as large as U of M, you always have to be recruiting that next generation and trying to move them up the consumer scale. If you aquire them early enough they may move from a casual fan to a loyal fan. If you are lucky, they become rich and become a big money doner.
Notice, the players do not show up on this list. Why? Because as much as it pains an old school person like me to say this, they are not student atheletes anymore, which means they are not customers. They are one of the cogs in the machine which drives the 4 markets to spend money. So yes, you keep them happy, just like you want to keep your best employees happy, but they are not the customer. The customer spends money, and players do not spend money.
I think the problem is that our new Marketing Manager has come into the position with a concept of what he believes the "problems" are, and he's dead set to fix them, rather than actually evaluating the scene and trying to understand what the problems really are.
The product is not the game. The product is the team. We are consuming the team. We attend games, and buy merchandise, because they are the team. Playing RAWK music and getting a mascot to "improve the gameday experience" actually diminishes the product, the team. To improve the product, they need to be offering more of the team. More games people want to see. More access for the people. Not Pop Evil.
I agree with your assessment about the current marketing team trying to fix problems. I have no idea what data they have or don't have to support identifying what those problems are.
One point about the RAWK music and mascot. Youth is a core demographic the athletic department has idenitifed they want to grow. These two things very well may help do that. The question is, does it alieanate other core demographics so much they will not attend games or buy merchandise. Probably not.
This thread probably sets some kind of record for average words per post.
This is a good read and gives me thoughts on perspective in the eyes of the director of marketing.
Michigan Football marketing is pretty easy compared to other school football because Michigan Football can sell itself pretty easily and always has 100,000+ fans coming to the Big House to watch a game.
What would you do if you work for a smaller D1 school that is struggling to sell tickets for a football game especially if other sport(basketball or hockey) is their biggest sport?
is when you start playing with music, mascots, promotions, that kind of thing, because then the game is the product, not the team.
I made an account just to comment.
Insightful. Well done. Thanks.