Branding Matters

By Jason W. Lee & Elizabeth A. Gregg
University of North Florida

Earlier this semester, the Journal of Contemporary Athletics (JCA) announced an upcoming special issue addressing School Athletic Branding and Visual Identity.”  The purpose of the special issue to provide a forum for the dissemination of insightful articles addressing the nuances associated with educational institution branding. Academic institutions, in both the higher education and secondary schools, offer thought-provoking points of discussion regarding effective brand management. This special issue is intended to provide a forum for the academic examination of higher education and high school institution brands, including visual identity and other related marketing components associated with school-sponsored athletics. Beyond the scope of intercollegiate sport, branding considerations impacting higher education institutions are prevalent.

Every school has a unique story, as do sport management programs. Visual identity is the visible part of the story that sport management academic programs tell. Some programs have catchy names or make use of eye-catching acronyms. For example, Miami University is home to SLAM (Sport Leadership and Management). Other programs may include the names of noted individuals (i.e., founders, benefactors, notable partners) or other defining characterizes associated with the institution or program. Most programs, however, have a basic naming structure that is comprised of discipline-specific names that simply encompass the academic programs represented within (i.e., Sport Management, Sport and Fitness Management, Sport and Recreation Management).

Places are Distinct… and so are Brands
Programs should focus on guiding principles such as institutional, departmental, and program goals and missions. Program brands are to build off of strengths that exist within the structure of existing university brand strengths. Programs should be mindful of who they are, where they are, the audience they are trying to reach, and the communities that they serve. Building on institutional resources is key. Factors such as a unique geographic location, access to desirable internship sites, and opportunities for experiential learning embedded in coursework should be considered as branding opportunities.

Your Reputation Precedes You
Programs must be mindful that their reputations are a product of identity and image elements that have been developed and presented historically. Sport management programs can benefit or be viewed negatively through associations with the institution at large, a given university’s administration (and other influential decision-makers affiliated with the institution), program faculty, students and alumni, partners from the sport community, and institutional elements such as a university’s athletic program. Prospective students and other stakeholders may make associations with academic programs tangentially through experiences and perceptions of characteristics such as an athletic department’s visibility and reputation. Program faculty and those in charge of programmatic branding efforts should be cognizant of the following core program visual identity elements.

Name. Various programs carry names that were established at a time when institutional goals and programmatic focus were different than they are at present. In order to have brand strength, it is critical for the program name to be included in that of the department in which it resides. While this can be a difficult issue that involves practical and political involvement, change, and potentially financial cost – schools should nonetheless be thoughtful of program and department name attributes while considering important characteristics such as distinctiveness, fit, and description.

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UNF Sport Management Program’s Department Name (on the College Homepage)

For examples, at the University of North Florida, the department was renamed Leadership, School Counseling, and Sport Management in 2009. Program leaders believed it was critical for brand and degree awareness to include the name of all programs housed in the department.

Logo. Does your program have a logo? Some programs have logos that do not convey the proper quality of institutional visual identity guidelines. If the logo is not congruent with the visual identity of the larger institution, university administration could object to such fig2implementation, as it can result in a lack of brand uniformity and therefore visibility of the program.

Tagline. Taglines are statements that can send a compelling message, and generally are in use for an extended period of time. In the case of an academic program, including taglines could be useful in reaching desired publics. Programs that currently utilize taglines may want to assess quality and see if it still fits the desired goals and intended purposes.

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UNF’s Institutional Tagline

Note: The submission deadline for the special issue JCA is Friday, May 12th. Inquiries and submissions are to be sent to the special issue’s guest editor, Dr. Jason Lee.

What makes a successful golf management university program?

By Matthew Walker, Ph.D.
Texas A&M University

Training the next generation of employees, managers, and future leaders is an essential and necessary practice for any industry. This practice is especially important for industries pro-golf-imagewhere economic conditions, coupled with waning consumer interest, has reduced the aggregate value and revenue generating potential of the service. This is the case for the Golf Industry in the United States, where approximately 5.9 million golfers left the sport between 2003 and 2014, and approximately 160 courses closed in 2013, marking the eighth straight year for this latter trend (NGF, 2014). In light of these and other data showing fluctuations in key industry metrics (e.g., rounds per year and consumer spending), it is imperative to assess whether employment/training programs are equipped to deal with shifting industry challenges.

The PGA of America is well-aware of these and others challenges facing the Golf Industry in the United States. One tactic the PGA is taking to reverse this trend is to focus on their educational programming. Their aim is to ensure new leaders in the field are highly qualified, motivated, and well-prepared to exceed stakeholder expectations. This concern was the catalyst for sponsoring a recent research project intended to evaluate the delivery and impact of golf management university (GMU) programs around the nation.

The GMU landscape has a long history, stretching back to the mid-1970s, when the first program at Ferris State University was initially established. Since that time, the PGA of America has officially accredited 21 programs, with 18 active programs currently delivering golf management content to hundreds of students nationwide. The 4-5 year programs are designed for aspiring PGA Professionals and are intended to be skill acquisition-based with a heavy emphasis on field experiences and experiential learning. Combined with campus instruction, primarily housed in business schools around the country, the students are exposed to courses ranging from introduction to teaching golf, food and beverage management, and merchandising, among others. The programs provide students the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the golf industry and collectively boast an impressive 100% job placement rate upon graduation.

These elements make for a degree path that is especially enticing for students interested in a golf management career. However, new student enrollment has waned in recent years, and the programs are plagued by high rates of student attrition, low graduation rates, and waning demand for the degree. Combined with a slowing market for recreational golf in the US, the PGA of America was keenly interested in better understanding the influence and impact of the GMU programs to help plot a course for their future direction.

hlkn_stacked-sportmanagementA team of sport management faculty from Texas A&M University comprised of Drs. Matthew Walker, Steven Salaga, George Cunningham, Paul Keiper, and Paul Batista were awarded nearly $200,000 from the PGA of America to evaluate the GMU landscape and formally identify and compare the characteristics of high and low performing GMU Programs. To this end, the research team engaged in a multi-step, iterative research process, which included: (1) qualitative and quantitative data collection aimed at understanding the attributes and perceptions of PGA GMU Programs; (2) estimates of the strength of relationships between program data, individual student characteristics, and economic factors; and (3) a market analysis to assess high school golfer awareness of and intentions to pursue a PGA GMU degree. Multiple data collection methods and analysis procedures were employed to ensure substantive conclusions could be most confidently derived by triangulating across measures and methods with non-overlapping strengths and weaknesses.

Based on the performance evaluation, the results showed the highest performing programs separated themselves from their peers through programmatic features, student engagement, connections with the industry, and attention to assessment and evaluation. The majority of these areas were closely tied to program delivery, student quality and commitment, and quality cohort management. In the aggregate, the programs are struggling with producing industry leaders with the acumen necessary to deal with various managerial challenges. Among the recommendations delivered to the PGA of America were: a renewed focus on innovation, a more committed stance for increasing diversity, a more robust standards and expectations evaluation for the member programs, and strategies designed to bolster new student recruitment and existing student retention.