Monday, March 29, 2010

Burritos To Go

TigerBlog Jr. played the tenor sax for the middle school jazz band at the high school music festival this past weekend. One of the songs they played was entitled "Burritos To Go."

This piece, a nice catchy tune, apparently has no lyrics, and as is the case with all such music, it left TigerBlog to wonder why it's called "Burritos To Go." Really, it could be called anything. Why not "Apples and Oranges" or "Grass Stains" or "Stroll Down Fifth Avenue?" Who would be able to tell the difference?

TB has two containers of body wash in his locker in Caldwell Field House. One is called "Ocean Breeze," while the other is called "Mountain Fresh," both of which smell essentially the same. TigerBlog has spent much more time at the ocean than in the mountains, though he's spent enough time at both to know they have completely different scents.

In other words, it's all in the marketing. There were probably endless focus groups that concluded that "Ocean Breeze" and "Mountain Fresh" conjure up images of fresh air and happy times, and therefore the huge vats of body wash could be pumped into bottles that will then have alternating labels placed on them. Or maybe the composer of the piece felt that "Burritos To Go" sounded better than "Chicken Parmigiana Sub To Go."

And, in truth, the marketing works. TigerBlog was low on one body wash, so he bought the other. And, "Burritos To Go" is a catchy tune, and it comes across as having a little Southwestern/Mexican flair to it that it wouldn't have if it had been called "Stuck In The Mud In Ohio."

TigerBlog watched the NCAA basketball games this weekend, and it's his contention that the NCAA's "We're All Going Pro In Something Other Than Sports" campaign is perhaps the best example of branding/marketing he's ever seen.

If you've never seen the ads, they basically show athletes in a variety of sports balancing their academic and athletic responsibilities and always conclude with: "There are more than 400,000 NCAA student-athletes, and most of us are going pro in something other than sports."

The message is crystal clear and it speaks to something TB has often said when asked about the state of college athletics. Big-time college football and men's basketball is the highest profile part of college athletics, but they are a small part of what college athletics is all about.

It has to make the NCAA cringe when stories come out about football and men's basketball players who get arrested or who get kicked out of school or any of the other headlines that are so common that they don't even raise an eyebrow anymore. And that doesn't even take into account all of the high profile coaches who bolt from one school to the next without any sense of loyalty to anyone or anything other than themselves and their bank accounts and egos.

And really, while that may be what college athletics seems to be to the casual observers, that's hardly what it is in reality. The NCAA is right. They do have more than 400,000 student-athletes, and almost none of them will ever play a professional sport. Most of them will never play in front of huge crowds or for coaches who make millions of dollars a year.

Their love for the games they play may not be greater than those who get more of the spoils of big-time DI football and men's basketball, and maybe the 99% who play at a much less visible level would gladly change places with those who fly charters and play every game on ESPN. But the point isn't if they would. It's that they can't, and they still put in all of that effort to compete.

There was another ad during yesterday's games about NCAA TV/broadcasting revenues and what the money actually goes to. It was a commercial TB had never seen before, and it essentially said that 96% of the revenue goes to funding most of the athletic programs that don't make any money. It ends with: "In other words, we're putting our money where our mission is."

It's another great ad. Basically, the point of the NCAA's campaigns is to show that college athletics are a positive, character-building endeavor that provides wide-ranging opportunities to many people who use that opportunity to the fullest.

Princeton had 19 teams compete this past week as the winter season championships continued to overlap with spring events. Of the 19 teams who competed, only two did so in games that were televised. The men's basketball CBI semifinal game was on HDNET, while the women's lacrosse game at Georgetown was on Verizon Fios 1, but only in Washington, D.C.

If you ad up the attendance for the 19 teams that competed, it pales in comparison to the crowds that the NCAA men's basketball tournament drew, and those crowds in turn pale in comparison to what an average BCS football game draws.

And yet the athletes who competed for Princeton this week make up exactly what the NCAA ads are screaming about. They were athletes who are committed to playing their sport at the highest level they can, to the best of their ability, and at the same time they are not shutting themselves off to the rest of what is available to other Princeton students. Through competition, they are learning valuable lessons for the rest of their lives, while at the same time making lifelong friends and having experiences they won't forget.

It is what we have branded "Education Through Athletics," which fits with the NCAA's broader themes.

Not every one of the 19 teams had a successful week in terms of wins and losses, but that wasn't the whole goal of what they were doing. No, these Princeton athletes, like so many in so many sports around the country, were participating in something very special, something very remarkable - intercollegiate athletics.

It wasn't about having the biggest stage or the richest coach or the fanciest plane. It was about doing what they love to do, until that day when they go pro - in something other than sports.

No comments: