They may compete week after week away from the glare of the national spotlight, but small college athletic programs in Mississippi still require outside sources of revenue to sustain themselves in difficult economic times.
Chris Brooks is not only the sports information director at Mississippi College, he also serves as the school’s untitled marketing guru, as well. A part of Brooks’ job is to sell print advertising, signage, web site banners and radio ads that benefit MC athletics.
“We don’t have corporate sponsorships per se like the bigger schools in the state do,” he said. “MC has two large fundraisers (golf tournament and wild game dinner) per year to supplement the athletic budget. The same donors who participate in those events also usually purchase the $1,000 corporate sponsorships that we offer.”
Although initially concerned about the effect of the poor economy on the school’s athletic budget, Brooks said he has been pleasantly surprised.
“I was worried about it, but it really hasn’t affected us in terms of fundraising,” Brooks said. “Even advertising for our media guides has held steady or increased.”
Brooks estimated income generated from advertising in the Choctaw media guides would be approximately $10,000 this season. He added that the school’s two annual fundraisers would bring in an additional $150,000.
As the state’s only NCAA Division II school, Delta State University follows a different marketing model than its Division I counterparts, said DSU athletic director Jeremy McClain, a former stand-out pitcher for the Statesmen baseball team in the late 1990s.
“The model the bigger schools in the state utilize is to outsource their marketing efforts to outside companies that specialize in sports marketing to several schools,” he said. “Our corporate sponsors have been on board for years and have been pillars of the Cleveland community, in addition to being outstanding supporters of Delta State University.”
McClain cited Nehi Bottling, Bolivar Medical Center and Cleveland State Bank as the Statesmen’s three main corporate benefactors.
“Nehi was the first to come on board, and they’ve really stepped it up and made things happen,” he said. “From our perspective, most of the companies are not cutting their advertising during hard times — we haven’t seen any significant drop, if any.”
Signage and radio broadcasts of Statesmen games are the lifelines of the DSU athletic program, said McClain.
“Signage has become our biggest source of revenue, and we sell and market the packages ourselves to local businesses. Our video scoreboard packages for football and baseball do extremely well,” he said.
With affiliates in Cleveland, Grenada and Jackson, the DSU radio network creates even more opportunities to sell the school’s highly successful athletic program, which has captured Division II national championships in baseball and football in the past decade.
“Radio is too important not to get the most out of it,” said McClain, the third-year athletic director. “Getting the message out about DSU is our focus, and having Jackson as part of our radio network is huge.”
Like fellow NCAA Division III member Mississippi College, corporate sponsorships at Millsaps College are not as prevalent as they are at Division I schools, but they do exist to some degree.
“We don’t have a lot of sponsorships or a continual plan like the larger schools in the state,” said Tim Wise, the Majors’ director of athletics. “But what we do have are loyal corporations that are committed to partnering with us because they like what we are doing here academically and character-wise with our students.”
Now in his fourth year at Millsaps, Wise said the school has a strong alumni base that supports all aspects of the college, including athletics.
“The commitment is there from our corporate sponsors and our alumni, who are both passionate and committed,” he concurred. “We haven’t seen a drop-off (in support) despite the economy, and the bottom line is they want to see Millsaps College succeed.”
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