Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Game Day makes gains handing off to UC team



By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Chris Allen, University of Cincinnati professor of marketing, (front center) in the offices of Game Day Communications with Game Day COO Jackie Reau (left) and Betsy Ross, president. Background from left: Brad Lenning, Dean Ulrich, Pat Brennan and Adam Coffaro, all University of Cincinnati MBA students.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
Last weekend's NFL Draft was a walking customer list for Cincinnati's Game Day Communications.

The fledgling marketing firm, with former ESPN anchor Betsy Ross as its president, worked with a group of University of Cincinnati graduate business students this spring to identify target markets. The conclusion: Convince agents and prospects that they need the media coaching and marketing that Game Day provides.

"We thought automatically we'd go through the teams," Ross said. "But we found out the better route is through the agents. And probably the best route is word of mouth between the players."

Game Day is only one of several Tristate institutions receiving the benefit of the UC program, which places graduate business students to help develop marketing or management strategies.

Almost two dozen teams of students have participated, with clients ranging from Game Day to the Cincinnati Art Museum to the Western-Southern Financial Group Masters tennis tournament.

Andrea Dixon, an assistant marketing professor at UC who has supervised some of the teams, said there is demand for the program both among students and among local companies.

"The value is undeniable," she said. "Our focus is trying to make a difference in Cincinnati."

The students that worked with Game Day concentrated on finding the best clients. Ross said she and partner Jackie Reau had assumed that they would try to get NFL clubs to hire them.

But the team of students found that they could make a persuasive case to players that positive media impressions mean a higher draft position and a higher salary. "First impressions mean everything," said Pat Brennan, one of the UC students working on the project.

And to get to those players, they recommended going through agents. While the big agents that work with dozens of players already offer those services, about one-quarter of NFL-registered agents - more than 300 - have between one and five clients, their research found.

And those often are lower draft picks who haven't done many television interviews during their college careers.

"What we suggested is that you prepare the athlete for that occasion," student Adam Coffaro said. "You can't do much about a rap sheet, but you can do something about working a room."

Eric Ball, player relations director for the Bengals, said there's a session on dealing with reporters at the annual NFL Rookie Symposium, but the media coaching services still could help most players.

"The higher-profile guys have security. Work beyond football becomes a choice," he said. "The younger guys, the backups and the free agents, they think, 'I may not be here tomorrow.'"

Beyond its services to players, Game Day offers sports marketing and television production and writing. "We can place players in front of the decision-makers in their hometowns, and in their team's hometown, and have it pay off in sponsorship opportunities," Ross said. "That makes them more valuable to their team as well."

E-mail cpeale@enquirer.com



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