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Western Michigan reaps millions in media exposure during championship season

In quantifying data, WMU has changed the conversation about sports on a college campus

MAC Championship - Western Michigan v Ohio Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Aside from being your Fearless Leader here at Hustle Belt, I’ve enjoyed a lengthy career in higher education. Work around it, hang around it, or read about it long enough and you’ll find someone in the .edu crowd bemoaning the amount of resources that schools spend on athletics. The crux of the argument is a fallacy as the majority of athletics revenue is self-supported, but facts rarely get in the way of a good witch hunt.

Those who are pro-athletics will point to things like admissions numbers, notoriety, engagement for alumni and community, etc. as ways to rationalize and justify the standing and expenses of athletics on a college campus. You’ll probably hear the phrase “front porch of the university” and it stands true. For most, athletics is their connection and a major point of pride for good old state U. And let’s not ignore the fact that no one has crammed 15,000 into a stadium to see someone take a chemistry test.

Those things are widely accepted by those who buy in to sports and their position. But for some, the fact that there is no hard and fast quantifiable data makes those sorts of things less impressive and harder to deliver a death blow to the ridiculous argument centered around sports basically becoming an extra-curricular activity only. The Western Michigan Broncos have changed the game, though, and put some actual data and numbers to their Cinderella season last year.

Per WMU’s release:

Western Michigan’s 2016 undefeated regular Mid-American Conference championship season and Goodyear Cotton Bowl appearance paid major dividends for the University and nationally No. 15-ranked Bronco Football program.

This past spring, the Mid-American Conference (MAC) sought to better understand the value of its media exposure and the media exposure value of its member institutions. The MAC engaged Joyce Julius & Associates Inc., an independent, third-party marketing agency out of Ann Arbor, Mich., to conduct the research.

While not every game that Western Michigan participated in was included in the MAC’s survey, the analysis of five high points during the season was evaluated. Included in those was the midweek game at Ball State, ESPN College GameDay in Kalamazoo, Toledo at WMU regular season finale, the MAC Championship game and the Goodyear Cotton Bowl. All five of these events occurred after the first of November and totaled a media exposure value of nearly $69 million dollars. The biggest value was the Goodyear Cotton Bowl with a price tag of almost $41 million, followed by Toledo at WMU on Nov. 25, which was graded at just over $8.1 million, slightly higher than the MAC Championship game at $6.9 million.

“The 2016 Bronco Football season, MAC Championship, national ranking and appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl game made for a truly special season that did deliver significant recognition to Kalamazoo and Western Michigan University,” said WMU Director of Athletics Kathy Beauregard. “Our student-athletes’ individual accomplishments, both on and off the field, also brought our community and program great exposure. The values and impressions, as assessed by an independent third party, do demonstrate tangible recognition and value accruing to our University for its investment in Intercollegiate Athletics and Bronco Football.”

To collect the data, Joyce Julius & Associates used industry-best practices and proprietary calculators, gleaning exposure information/values across four mediums: television – game broadcasts, TV news coverage, print media and internet news. Outside of the exposure value summary, Joyce Julius determined the number of “impressions” from the MAC sample size – mentions of Western Michigan throughout the various outlets – at over 1.1 billion views.

In addition to the survey conducted by the MAC, there were other major moments of the past season which added to the Broncos’ value that have been quantified and a few others, including wins over Big Ten opponents Northwestern and Illinois and spending 11-straight weeks in the national polls, whose worth was not determined as a component of this research.

The NFL Draft continued to bring exposure in a big way for Western Michigan after the season was completed. The Broncos boasted three NFL Draft picks - WR Corey Davis (fifth overall-Nashville), OL Taylor Moton (second round-Carolina) and Keion Adams (seventh round-Pittsburgh), as well as received coverage for our Campbell Trophy recipient, QB Zach Terrell. The Campbell Trophy is known as the “Academic Heisman” and was presented to Terrell by the National Football Foundation in December.

According Crain’s Detroit Business, Joyce Julius & Associates reported the media exposure of Davis’ NFL draft selection, in and of itself, was valued at $15 million. ESPN and the NFL Network offered the University more than 10 minutes of direct attention in on-screen analysis and coverage. More than 220 television programs and 7,300 news articles at the local and national levels across the country alluded to Western Michigan and about 1,800 social media posts offered more exposure throughout the weekend, the news release said.

One final piece of data collected was in a Brand Perception and Awareness survey conducted by WMU’s Office of University Relations, which noted that in the last three months, WMU Football slogans and taglines had been heard/seen and recognized by 68 percent of those polled in the West region of the state of Michigan.

“There are several takeaways from the research that has been conducted,” Beauregard said. “Athletics is proud to be an outlet to showcase and represent our great University and community. We’ve been excited for the past several months as we’ve been at work in pursuit of similar results for the 2017 season. We are extremely proud of these student-athletes for their dedication and it was their commitment to excellence that made this a reality."

The entirety of this data is impressive, and it’s not just because of the amount of zeros on the number. It’s actually the fact that it’s a quantifiable way that schools are able to justify the expenditures of athletics and the priority that it gets on many, if not most, institutions these days.

As funding for higher education in most every state continues to drop, there’s a battle coming if it hasn’t already started at your favorite school. As the pot of money shrinks but the number of hands reaching in it stays the same (or in some times grows) every department, academic or otherwise has more eyes on it than ever before. This sort of data and evaluation puts real numbers and real data to sports like never before. Other MAC schools need to take notice.