As a public relations/communications specialist, one of the things that caught my eye the past two weeks was a new marketing effort by the Atlantic 10 conference. Sure, I’ve seen conferences try to reinvent themselves in 30 second spots during a halftime break but this was different. It was not a cheesy promotion on how (insert conference name here) is proud of its (insert achievement here) and why its league is superior to everybody else. This marketing effort had an edge to it I rarely see.
The “Who Wants Next” campaign is a result of the A-10 contracting with a branding firm in Philadelphia called 160over90. While the video and pictures are well made the content is the real story here. The A-10 is doing everything it can to shatter the perception it is a mid-major conference.
That’s because it is not and there are stats to back it up. The A-10 currently has nine schools in the RPI Top-100. The American, a league the A-10 is often compared to, only has five. Many view the ACC and the Big Ten as the best conferences in basketball but they have nine teams in the Top-100 too. If the A-10 is inferior to those conferences it is not by much.
The perception that the A-10 is a mid-major is created by football, not basketball. Casual fans believe every elite school has a football team competing in a BCS conference. It’s a stereotype ingrained in basketball fans too as undefeated Wichita State is getting hammered by a few experts as being unworthy of a No. 1 seed in the tournament. Smaller schools like this that thrive in basketball are mistakenly given a “Cinderella” label.
That is why I also like the “They’re work boots” poster. When the A-10 has tournament success it is not an “upset” or a “flash in the pan.” It is a win by a quality team like everyone else. Currently, four schools are a lock to be in the tournament with St. Joseph’s, Richmond, and Dayton on the bubble. That means the A-10 should earn roughly the same number of bids as all the other so-called “power conference” schools.
Another slogan used was “The rim offers blind justice.” 160over90 Chief Creative Officer Darryl Cilli explained how they came up with the slogan.
“Up on the scoreboard, skill and hard work count for more than name, legacy, or the number of stars in a recruiting class,” Cilli said. “And there’s a fairness about the court. This is the thinking that led to this line of the script, and more pieces that will follow in the coming months.”
As far as contracting with a public relations firm I can see why an athletic conference would do so. There are many bad examples of leagues trying to market themselves. Check out the photo below.
That is supposedly a promotion for the Big West Conference and its women’s basketball tournament. Now if you were able to tell that was about basketball then you deserve a gold medal from a figure skating judge.
I’m not suggesting every conference should consult with a PR firm as that is not an option for many mid-majors. For most of the large conferences it is not needed. But the A-10 is stuck in the middle, having large conference success with a mid-major perception. That’s where a PR firm can help.
“I’m not aware of many other instances like this,” Cilli said. “It’s not common to do it in the way the Atlantic 10 and 160over90 have with this project. The conference’s top-to-bottom depth and their consistent success over the years lent to pooling the teams’ collective accomplishments and positioning them together. Their shared values across programs and institutions, and the quality coaches and student-athletes made this effort possible.”
Now it’s up to the A-10 to back up its campaign on the court with another Final Four run by VCU or a Saint Louis. Maybe UMass and George Washington will bust everyone’s bracket.
For the Who Wants Next campaign, that would be a busted bracket worth celebrating.