Marketing to Millennials

Professor Steve Miller’s class paired with FOX Sports University to pitch marketing campaigns for Big Ten Basketball

Photo Credit: Kylie Bezpa

Rachel Ehrenberg is sitting on a bench inside the School of Communication and Information. She adjusts her blazer and quickly taps her heels on the ground. Mumbling under her breath, she recalls key points.

Today, Ehrenberg and her group are presenting in Professor Steven Miller’s Critical Issues in Sports Media class. It’s a midterm progress report on their project. But Miller is not the only one listening, marketing executives from FOX Sports will be there too.

FOX Sports recently acquired the rights to Big Ten Basketball. To attract millennials, it turned to Rutgers University. Miller’s class officially paired with FOX Sports University, a program where the network partners with a college to create real-world solutions and create a marketing campaign for new channel, Fox Sports 1. Their projects could include a range of methods, including on and off-air promotions, social media campaigns, commercials and sweepstakes.

Miller hoped students would see the project and partnership as an asset to both their college years and careers afterward.

“This course is about everything sports, except what goes on in the field. This project, where you’re coming up with an idea to promote the games in the media, is exactly what we are talking about,” Miller said.

The students were essentially given free reign. The goal was to drive awareness and excitement for Big Ten Basketball and to position FS1 as the go-to network for coverage. The only specific instructions were to market to people aged 18 to 34.

“It’s so exciting,” said Ehrenberg. “This is real marketing experience. We are doing actual research into Big Ten Basketball and its viewers. We are learning what attracts people to college basketball and what viewers want to get out of it.

“I am very interested in social media and marketing, and this project is giving me a chance to see how a company such as FOX Sports uses their social media to grow their audience.”

For students and teachers, this project is much more than just a grade for a class. Miller calls it a “creative and intellectual exercise.” Students gain valuable research and communication skills. They can also add their pitch to their portfolio. Best of all, the winning group – as selected by Fox – will have some of their project incorporated into the real campaign.

According to Miller, the students took to the project “like ducks to water.” This is because the project allows students to learn for themselves, instead of simply from lectures.

Ehrenberg and her all-female team presented their marketing theme to the executives using their unique perspective to target women and increase viewership in that demographic. By conducting surveys and online research, they began to understand what female millennials want to see during college basketball games. They found that women like to learn player backstories and participate in giveaways. The group pitched multiple production and marketing techniques surrounding their findings.

Confident with their research and ideas, the group glided through the presentation easily. They watched the faces of the FOX executives as they took notes, and eagerly awaited feedback following the pitch.

“I think this experience will stay with me no matter where I end up,” said Ehrenberg. “Getting to work for FOX Sports is something I never thought I would be doing. I want to try and get the most out of this class and use the techniques I learn here in my future internships and jobs.”

While a project like this has been done at the MBA level at the Rutgers Business School in Newark, Miller believes his class is the first undergraduate class to have an opportunity like this.

Ehrenberg said, “It is so interesting to be the first group and get to learn about what this class was supposed to teach us, but in an extremely immersive and interactive way.”

Miller hopes that this partnership can continue every semester going forward. He said, “I can see this becoming an integral part of the course.”

As long as the FOX publicity team is pleased with the class’ performance, he would love to offer this opportunity to more students. It provides students the chance to grow and gain a different perspective on the sports industry.

Ehrenberg sighed through a smile. She thanked professor Miller and the FOX executives. Her group left the room, excited by the feedback they received. Relieved it went well, they looked forward to fine-tuning their presentation and presenting their final marketing campaign come May.