Marketing is defined as the action or business of promoting and selling products or services. When you think of college athletics and the best marketing departments, who comes to mind? The schools that initially come to mind are typically the traditional athletic powerhouses (Texas, Ohio State, Florida, etc). While there is no doubt these schools have great support and staff, you might be surprised to learn that some of the most creative marketers work at schools who don’t receive as much attention or publicity. The reason why? These athletic departments need exciting new ways to market their teams and programs in order to attract fans and families.
I was able to connect with Alex Toltzis through Twitter a couple of weeks ago. Alex is currently the Assistant Director of Marketing for the Navy Athletics program. Over the past several months, I found a couple of his campaigns and ideas very cool.
I was able to ask him a few questions. Alex gave us his thoughts on the first step in creating a marketing strategy, his personal campaign favorites, and grass roots marketing. I hope you enjoy.
Nick Cipkus : What is the first thing you recommend to do when creating a marketing strategy?
Alex Toltzis: When creating a marketing strategy, the first thing I think about is the fanbase. The promotion has to be relevant to what the fans like and expect from the brand. However, it’s also important to be unique. Dollar hot dogs are great and help to bring families in the door, but that doesn’t move the needle from a publicity standpoint. The first thing I consider when creating a marketing strategy, specifically in terms of promotions, is being unique. Rather than just giving something away and wiping my hands clean, I want to make the whole game part of the promotional event. I want to be the first person to run a promotion — it builds a brand and generates unique coverage.
Nick Cipkus: You have some unique campaigns this year. Which was your favorite and why?
Alex Toltzis: It’s tough to pick a favorite. Can I say I have three?
First, Stuffing Alumni Hall. We had a doubleheader the day before Thanksgiving, and the women’s basketball team played against rival Service Academy, Air Force. We were looking for ways to bring a fun, festive atmosphere while taking advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday. By giving away free stuffing and bibs to fans, playing football at halftime of one game, having a parade during halftime of the other, and tying in many other Thanksgiving traditions, we were able to turn this doubleheader. Fans loved all of the Thanksgiving tie-ins, and we were able to “stuff Alumni Hall” with fans during an important rivalry game.
Second is Welcome to Crabtown. Navy is a unique school, in the fact that our students aren’t traditional college students. In Reef Points, a book that all plebes are given when they begin here, the nickname for Annapolis is Crabtown. People in Annapolis love crabs, so giving away Navy-branded crab mallets at a Navy Baseball game seemed like a no-brainer. We had crab walk races, gave prizes to fans that dressed up, and even had a kid throw a stuffed crab from the mound to home plate, as the Ceremonial First Pinch.
Finally, Throwback Day: 1893. Baseball is the spring sport that I oversee marketing for, so when asking my interns what promotional ideas they had, one said to do a 90’s day. I took it a tip further, and went all the way back to 1893, the first year of Navy Baseball. It turns out that this year is actually a big year for both the Naval Academy and one of our sponsors, Pepsi. Pepsi was able to provide a lot of promotional lift to this event, sampling Pepsi (created in 1893 as Brad’s Drink), Pepsi: 1893 (yes, they even made a drink honoring this year), and Cracker Jacks (debuted at the World’s Fair in 1893). On our side, Bill the Goat became mascot in 1893, and the first modern-day battleship was launched by the US Navy as well. For the event, we gave away Mauve baseball t-shirts to pay homage to the Mauve Decade of the 1890’s, played music of the decade, and wished happy birthday to the famous people born in the decade.
All of these are my favorite promotions because they go a step past just being a promo or giveaway. They’re all-game events that fans can look forward to, not only because of something they get when they enter the venue, but also because they will know that the entire game is a unique event.
Nick Cipkus: Do you rely on any grassroots marketing techniques? Which ones?
Alex Toltzis: The biggest thing for us is to create a family-friendly atmosphere at games. One of the most important ways we market is to coaches and parents who are likely to bring their teams and kids to games, have a great time, and want to come back. Additionally, promoting these one-off promotions on social media has helped to generate some conversation about what we do and some of the cool things that Navy Athletics has going on!