Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Getting The Message

From the first day that goprincetontigers.com became a website until yesterday, the masthead read the same way:

"GoPrincetonTigers.com - The Official Website Of Princeton Athletics."

In case you didn't notice, that changed yesterday, when the second part was replaced by new wording: "Education Through Athletics ... An Unmatched Tradition Of Athletic Success."

Why the change? For starters, it's fairly obvious that the site is actually the official site of Princeton Athletics.

Originally, most - probably all - college athletic sites came directly off the main site of the institution. In the case of Princeton, the first athletic site was princeton.edu/~athletics, which no longer exists. It was called "Tiger Web Lockerroom," an extension of a publication done for the two 1997 football games that were technically home games (vs. Fordham at the College of New Jersey and at Giants Stadium against Yale).

As schools started to go to .com sites, there was concern that going away from the school's established website would cause confusion as to what was the real athletic department website. At the time, who knew how many sites would be popping up, what shape they would take, what the would say, how they would promote themselves. In the more than 10 years that have followed, this hasn't proven to be a big deal at all.

So, with the question of what the official site is never becoming an actual issue, there's no need to have that text in one of the most visible spots on the site. If you go to the website of, say, yoo-hoo, it doesn't waste precious space by saying it is the official site of the company. It uses that space to reinforce its message.

The same is true of any product, from a chocolate soft drink to sneakers to fast food to hotels to anything else.

As an aside, all of these products have an affiliation with Princeton Athletics except for yoo-hoo, which is simply a TigerBlog favorite.

So, if this is true with any product, why not a college athletic department? The answer is "no reason."

Once that realization is made, the next question becomes what message are we reinforcing. In other words, what are we all about here? And how do we get that message out there in an effective, efficient way without having it be over-the-top?

Princeton Athletics has always been about providing the best student-athlete experience, on the field and off, while having athletics exist, as Director of Athletics Gary Walters says, "as an extension of the overall educational mission of the University."

In other words, athletics are not merely about winning. TigerBlog has written countless stories about former athletes, almost all of whom speak about the life lessons they learned through playing sports. And they don't do this to say what they think they're supposed to say; they're saying this because it's true.

Study after study speaks to the value of playing sports on the youth and high school level as a way of keeping kids out of trouble and more focused academically. It's obvious to TigerBlog that this extends through college as well, at least when a proper balance is permitted.

Athletes at Princeton (or anywhere in the Ivy League) are not bound to their teams by threat of losing a scholarship. They are free to walk away anytime they want. To be honest, TB has always been surprised that more don't choose to. Yes, there are some who do, but there are many, many more who know their playing time is going to be limited who stay with it.

Walters likes to use the phrase "Education Through Athletics" to sum up this end of what the message is. Yes, we're playing games, but those games do not occur in a vacuum. Instead, they are an integral part of the educational process.

But they do keep score of those games, and that is the other side of the message. Princeton's athletic success is a matter of historical record, and the fact that this is the Ivy League doesn't stop Princeton teams from aiming as high as they can.

The result is that Princeton has won the Ivy League's unofficial all-sports championship 23 straight years and has produced a team or individual national champion in each of those 23 years as well. Princeton has won more Ivy championships (34 more than second-place Harvard, 184 more than third-place Cornell and more than twice as many as the other five) than any other school in the league.

Princeton's athletic history dates back to 1864 and includes the first college football game five years later. Its story is one of national championships, NCAA championships, Hall-of-Famers - and all of this while operating a department that includes 38 varsity sports.

Princeton is hardly the most successful athletic program in college athletics. There are BCS schools who routinely win NCAA championships in a variety of sports and finish in the Top 5, Top 10, each year in the Directors' Cup standings. Still, Princeton is achieving what it is achieving with a budget that is a fraction of the major powerhouses - and doing so without athletic scholarships. When TB used the word "unmatched" in the new slogan, he did so meaning "unique" as much as anything else.

In other words, winning is a valued, just not at all costs. At the same time, simply saying "we lost but everyone is getting a great education" doesn't reflect the right emphasis either. That would be a crutch, and that's not what goes on here either. Instead, it's about a balance between the two.

To get that point across, the two-part slogan has now replaced the old words about being the official athletic site.

Education Through Athletics ... An Unmatched Tradition of Athletic Success.

Get the message?


Jon Solomon said...

...and yet the title tag for every page on the site still reads:

GoPrincetonTigers.com - The Official Web Site of Princeton University Athletics

Princeton OAC said...

Jon -

Actually, that's only the case on men's basketball and wrestling, which each have a sport-specific advertisement on the page that prevents us from putting the longer text on those two.

Jon Solomon said...

You're looking in the wrong place.

I'm not talking about this image:


I'm talking about the *title tag*.

If Blogger would allow me to include this bit of HTML, perhaps it would be more clear.

In your browser of choice (I checked on both Safari and Firebox) look at the very top of the browser, above where the URL would be entered.

That's where "GoPrincetonTigers.com - The Official Web Site of Princeton University Athletics" can be found.

Check *any* page on your site. I tried ten random pages and it is on all of them.


Princeton OAC said...

Ah. Got it. The wheels are in motion to fix it. Thanks for calling it to our attention.

Jon Solomon said...

Sure thing. I see it has already been fixed.

There's also an exceptionally easy way to fix the images on the basketball and wrestling pages while keeping the ads intact...