Arrested Development: The Brand of College Athletics | gambling soccer

I am a brand strategist at a Brand Strategy firm in Greensboro, North Carolina called Stealing Share Incorporated. I have been a part of organized athletics for almost 17 years, including a full four years of Division I soccer. College athletics evoke a different feeling, promise, and standard for each individual, but without a doubt, the NCAA is as much of a brand as Ford, Wal*mart, Burger King, or Ralph Lauren.It is only recently that I have discovered how much the NCAA mirrors the patterns
of brand messaging and how young athletes act upon consumer behavior. One
would automatically assume the connection of athletics to the branded world to be
logical due to the close reflection of societal norms within the athletic sphere;
however, analyzing collegiate sports in particular as a brand is a highly sensitive and
surprising process for anyone who has been a part of the brand in any form, worked
for the brand, shed blood sweat and tears for the brand, or more or less lived for
the brand.At Stealing Share, we focus primarily upon brand as a behavioral model of
perception and beliefs, which directly influences consumer trends, decisions, and
habits in various markets. Consumers make buying decisions based on beliefs, or
precepts, as we call them. There is emotional investment when purchasing the most
mundane products, and our work focuses upon the excavation of fundamental
emotions and beliefs. Our clients are prepared for an honest, objective, and
dispassionate third party consultation regarding their brands. This objective
introspection is one of the most challenging aspects of our work because we must
completely detach ourselves from all personal bias, beliefs, and experiences in order
to serve the client, and more importantly, the target customer of the client.

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How does this behavior model relate to collegiate athletics? Consider the norms.
Almost every high school in the United States has at least one aspiring athlete. The
desire to be pushed to the limits, coached by experts of the game, win big wins,
find new family within a team, and have memories to cherish for the rest of his/her
life. College athletics is branded by hope, achievement, and desire much like the
military. The brand message is clear, targeted, and praised…Or is it?From the outside-in, college athletics seem like the ultimate culmination of all
childhood games and high school/middle school competition. Money is an added
bonus, right? Think again. The brand promises the experience of a lifetime (with the
exception of the very few that make it to the pros, and that is another conflict in
itself), and countless high school graduates buy into that promise with optimism
and high hopes of full scholarships, ESPN, popularity, and heroism. Potential
collegiate athletes make the emotional commitment to “making it” in college
because they are willing to gamble on the disproportionate reward over risk. In
other words, no matter what they hear or see, they will make the decision to buy
because they want to see the NCAA as an extension of themselves, much like
consumers want to see brand names as self-identifying labels despite the price they
must pay or how far they must go to find a certain product.
Does the brand messaging of NCAA ever measure up? Yes. If there were no stories
of great success and passion, there would be no appeal. Every day there is at least
one college athlete being plugged into the professional arena, every day there is at
least one winning team. There are spectacular championships, MVPs, dark horses,
televised rivalries, and upsets of Number One ranked teams. On the flipside,
however, there is a surplus of college athletes failing out of school, taking
performance enhancing drugs, getting arrested for drunken misconduct, or simply
realizing that it just is not worth all of the pain and suffering to sit the bench or win
two games a season. Does the NCAA ever talk about the player who has an average
to below average experience? Or the player whose only motivation is to aid his/her
parents financial woes? Unfortunately, this group is growing more and more into the
majority as collegiate sports become increasingly financially, materially, and
politically-oriented. There is at least one on every college team.In the pharmaceutical industry, for example, the FDA requires each brand of drug,
from Claritin to Cialis, to list all of the possible side effects and to inform the
consumer that this particular drug “is not for everyone.” Will the NCAA ever inform
the aspiring athlete that college athletics “is not for everyone?” Of course not
because the NCAA is a pure brand, a brand that is relentless in the positive image
and message that has remained the same for decades. The NCAA assumes that the
young person can figure it out for his/herself based on the feedback from coaches,
teammates, parents, and friends.

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Does the NCAA make a strong effort to promote academics and the student end of
student-athlete? Yes, in fact they do, but it is a futile attempt when coaches, other
athletes, and athletic departments consistently place academics in the backseat
behind practice. We, as consumers buy into sports more than we buy into academics
(as demonstrated by athletic salaries in comparison to teachers salaries).The business of the NCAA brand is “all about me.” It is reputation and reward-
focused much like Budweiser, who is also an undisputed leader. The NCAA exposes
the young-person’s vulnerabilities coming out of high school and effectively invites
them to become a part of the brand they are selling. The absence of “possible side-
effects” is what makes the NCAA a formidable brand with which to compete for
space in the mind of the young athlete and will continue to succeed in
overwhelming brand trial. Fortunately for the NCAA, trial is all that is needed to
flourish. So what if only 1 out of 50 college athletes considers their college career
“the time of their life.” So what if 1 out of 10 college athletes suffers a serious
injury. The NCAA will brush you off, give you a quick glance-over and shove you
back on the field because you should be so lucky. You are a privileged one. You are
a college athlete.