Hampered by a history of little to no marketing or ticket sales effort– due in part to limited resources that many smaller programs experience– Robert Morris Athletics turned to Old Hat to guide their team and capitalize on the new energy brought by Athletic Director Chris King and the RMU Athletics staff.
ROBERT MORRIS ATHLETICS BRAND DEVELOPMENT
A native of Pennsylvania and an RMU graduate, AD Chris King has the passion to see RMU Athletics succeed and holds valuable insight about campus and the community, both of which were helpful during our discovery process.
Old Hat conducted research through the survey of internal staff, donors, season ticket holders, students, faculty and staff, and the surrounding community within a 20-mile radius of campus. This research, along with other external data, helped us identify challenges and opportunities we’d be working on over a gradual period of time.
Despite the fact that RMU Athletics has had success in many of its D1 programs and boasts a new facility in the UPMC Events Center, they’ve been challenged by a disconnect with both campus and the community. Enrollment at RMU is just over 5,000 and while it’s not necessarily a “commuter” school, many students don’t live on campus. This has likely fed into the perception from the general campus community that student-athletes aren’t really a part of the greater student body. Though there are some passionate students that attend athletic events, both students and those in the local community sense a real lack of general support for RMU Athletics.
From a marketing standpoint, RMU Athletics has lacked a clear identity, which has been perpetuated by very little marketing in the area. Robert Morris University is well-known in the greater Pittsburgh area and especially the corporate community for its academic excellence, but perception of the university has not translated to athletics.
Old Hat’s role was to help establish a clear and unified brand message that would resonate with student-athletes, the campus student body and the community surrounding Moon Township. Our intent was to leverage the university’s positive reputation, using this as the foundation for the athletics brand.
From our discovery session, we were able to establish primary and secondary audience personas in an effort to grow the RMU Athletics fanbase. The primary audience included a demographic profile of their current fans – generally business friendlies in the Pittsburgh area. From this baseline, Old Hat could begin to identify ways to reach a similar audience.
The social aspect and premium accessibility of athletic events are important for our primary audience. There are plenty of strong, big-time donors to RMU who are involved with the Colonials because of their relationship to the department. They want to feel a connection and it’s something they can’t get by donating to some of the other D1 schools in the area. Growing this audience organically through friendships and event experiences will be key.
The secondary audience we identified are young alumni and young families in the area that are looking for a family-friendly experience with a family-friendly price tag. RMU Athletics has done little to reach out to this group before now, but the potential to grow the future of RMU Athletics is with this audience. Our suggestion was to expand their reach by focusing on families no further than 20 minutes away from campus and promote events as something they can enjoy and afford.
We jumped into our research data to identify the top 10 markets in the greater Pittsburgh area, focusing on those markets that were geographically close to RMU but also fit the demographic profiles we were trying to reach.
Despite budget challenges, RMU Athletics is committed to cast a wider net, ideally through a digital-heavy campaign that targets those audiences and geographic locales we’ve identified.
Our goal is to focus on a premium experience through accessibility with athletes, coaches and administrators. Although there is plenty of competition for the sports fan in the area (Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, and other D1 programs), RMU Athletics differentiates itself through premium accessibility.
The RMU Men’s Basketball team has the greatest potential - they captured the Northeast Conference Championship and automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament in 2020, before the post-season was cancelled due to COVID-19. Attendance for the 2019-20 season was up 83% at the new UPMC Events Center, so despite the disappointment of the cancellation of the end of the season, the time is ripe to capitalize on this excitement.
Both Men’s and Women’s Hockey have strong potential as well. Other than the Penguins, there isn’t much competition for hockey fans in a city that is considered a Top 5 hockey market in the US.. We suggested tapping into the community that visits the RMU Island Sports Complex to play and take part in camps.
One potential way to expand their student fan base is through networking opportunities. RMU students are highly focused on academics and getting a post-graduate job, and many attend RMU because of its business connections in Pittsburgh. We recommended creating Networking Nights where students and corporate donors can come together in the club area to start building business relationships.
From the research gathered in phase 1 of our process, we developed a findings and recommendations report which led to a campaign platform, communication strategy and campaign logo, brand pattern and suite of marketing collateral.