Oregon Drops Nike; Walmart's Avia to Provide Ducks Athletic Team Apparel

EUGENE, OR - University of Oregon Athletic Department officials announced Wednesday that they have ended their long-standing relationship with Nike and have signed with Walmart's Avia brand to provide all athletic apparel and shoes. 

"We appreciate everything Nike and Phil Knight have done for the University of Oregon and respect the organization immensely. However, we feel that it is time for a new era in Oregon Athletics and we are confident that Walmart is the right organization to represent the Oregon brand," one official stated.


Okay, did anyone believe that for one second? Did anyone truly believe that Oregon, a major collegiate athletic program, would drop Nike in favor of Walmart? Of course not. 

But why?

A lot of reasons, most likely. For one, Nike and Phil Knight have given so much support to the University of Oregon, they'd never dream of going with any other apparel company, much less Walmart's Avia brand. But let's swap out Oregon, and let's say Michigan instead. Or Bowling Green. Or UConn. Or East Popcorn State University. Would you have believed the headline then?

East Popcorn State drops Adidas; Walmart's Avia to provide Colonels Team Apparel

 

Would that headline be any more believable? Probably not. 

But why?

Avia makes fine apparel. I have a pair of running shorts from Walmart, and I don't run any slower when I wear them than when I wear my Nike shorts. In fact, I can't tell the difference. My favorite pair of running shorts are BCG brand, not Nike. Avia could provide athletic team apparel to the Ducks that feels pretty similar to what Nike provides. The Ducks could take the field in apparel provided by Walmart and they wouldn't run any slower, throw the ball any less accurately, shoot with any lower percentage or hit with any lower of an average. 

So if Walmart were to come to the table and commit to providing everything Nike provides and a financial incentive far greater than Nike, would any major university be willing to announce that they've dropped Nike or Adidas or Under Armour in favor of a Walmart brand?

Not a chance. But why?

The answer, of course: Perception. Pride. Respect. Quality.

There's no coach or athletic director in the country that is going to send their team on the field wearing Avia or BCG or C9. And even if they were, how tough would it be to recruit kids to come play for a school if they know they'll be trading in the swoosh for the... uh, "I" with a little arrow thingy on top? The coaches, the department personnel and the kids would be embarrassed to compete in anything but a top name brand. And why? Because they'd look ridiculous. It's the same reason NBA players don't shoot free throws granny-style, despite the scientific data that shows they'd make way more shots that way. They'd get laughed at. And no one wants to be laughed at.

I'm not arguing that this is a bad thing. I jog in cheap jogging shorts. But rest assured that if I were going to be on national television, I'd go buy some brand new Nike shorts. I'd also probably try to drop a few pounds. Because on the national stage, we all want to look good. And no disrespect to Walmart, but running out of the tunnel wearing the Avia logo on your chest is not an idea that gets anyone excited. It all makes complete and total sense. I get it.

But there's something I don't get. 

There's something I don't understand at all.

This philosophy of looking good and only being willing to wear what looks the best or shoot the way that looks the best... the philosophy that we all think makes complete and total sense... why does that not apply to everything that represents our collegiate sports teams?

Why are we willing to let our team run out of the tunnel after an intro/hype video that doesn't actually build any hype? Why do we show videoboard prompts that are cheap, canned reproductions that don't match our brand? Why do we promote the sport that has the highest potential and greatest need for ticket sales revenue with marketing collateral that is just "good enough," has no research behind it and isn't positioned to actually drive attendance? Why do we not even consider for one second letting our teams wear something that isn't absolutely first-class, but when it comes to promoting those sports, driving attendance and building a game experience, we often settle for what is least expensive? This isn't the case everywhere, of course, but there are so many times at so many major universities that an athletic department will choose the Walmart version of a creative service over the Nike equivalent.

A glaring example of this is most universities' online ticket buying portals. Every school in the country wants to sell more tickets. Every school in the country wants to drive attendance. Yet if you look at the online ticket purchasing experience at those schools, the user interface is terrible, it's impossible to find the information you need, it takes way too many clicks to purchase and the pages are bland and boring and do nothing to actually make a fan want to come to the event. Everything about these portals depend on a fan already wanting to come to the event so badly that they're willing to jump through hoops to buy a ticket. And not even cool, exciting, flaming-hoops-of-fire. Boring, bland, unexciting hoops. 

Promoting our teams with poor quality marketing isn't just as bad as sending them onto the court in Walmart brand shoes. It's like sending them onto the court with no shoes at all. We wouldn't be giving them the tools to succeed and by relying on the least expensive option for marketing, we're not giving ourselves the tools to succeed in driving attendance. 

So all that said, I'm not ignorant to the idea that sometimes the least expensive option is the only option. Budgets are tight in collegiate athletics and sometimes you can control the amount you're given to promote your sports. So here are some practical tips that you can employ to help drive attendance at your events.

Ticket Sales Portal

Count the Clicks - How many clicks does it take to buy a ticket on your website? On the high end, we sometimes see that it can take up to 7-8 clicks to make a purchase. Some have streamlined it down to as few as 3. Obviously, the lower the number, the more likely people are to purchase. And most of the time, you can make changes to your site to bring that number down. Count the number of clicks it takes to make a purchase and see if you can cut that number in half.

Spruce Up the Joint - Unfortunately, most ticketing companies provide a portal that is boring and unengaging. They don't do much to actually make a fan want to purchase. But there are typically at least a couple of things you can to do customize that page. Take advantage of those opportunities by bringing your marketing campaign for that sport into the headers and other graphics on that page. In a perfect world, add some video content to those pages, even if it's just your stadium intro/hype video. Fans love to watch those things and if the only place to watch it is by going to your ticket sales page, that could go a long way toward driving ticket sales. Best way to sell a ticket to someone is to give them the opportunity to buy when they're most excited about it. 

Marketing Collateral

Forget Your Die-Hard Fans - I wrote an article a few weeks ago about how we need to start looking at schedule posters as advertisements rather than promotional tools. Because most of the time, they don't do much to drive attendance. But every advertising campaign starts with research to determine who your audience is. Maybe you don't have a budget for research. That's fine. You know your area and you know who has the most potential to become new ticket purchasers. Spend some time thinking about who those people are and develop a campaign that targets those people. The die-hard fans are going to come regardless of what the poster looks like or the tagline that's on it. So think about a way to appeal (both through messaging and through the visuals) to a different group. You'll probably find that putting all the seniors on the poster with a generic tagline isn't the best way to appeal to those people. Be bold and put something unique out there. Because like I said, the die-hards are coming anyway. And by trying something unique you just might appeal to a totally new group.

Game Experience

Take Advantage of Your Friends & Family - The best thing I can advise for improving your game experience is to identify where things are lacking. And the best way to do that is to engage a firm to do a comprehensive gameday audit. But if your budget doesn't allow for that, make your friends and family work for those tickets they begged you for! Give them a checklist and have them rate every experience on a scale of 1 to 5. Ticket takers, concessionaires, ushers, intro video, band, cheer, etc. You may not get a comprehensive report from industry experts, but you'll have more information than you started with. And sometimes it's good to have input from people who aren't immersed in collegiate athletics 24/7. At the very least, you'll have a unique perspective outside your own.

 

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