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New marketing tool helps wrestling coaches position programs for success

By Gary Brown

Coaches in just about any college sport these days are responsible for more than just X’s and O’s. They’re also accountable for marketing their programs, especially for Olympic or non-revenue sports that don’t get the bulk of attention from athletics department marketing personnel.

Former Indiana wrestler Coyte Cooper is working with the National Wrestling Coaches Association and the NCAA to do just that. He has developed a step-by-step marketing manual to help coaches position their programs for success.

Cooper is founder and CEO of Elite Level Sport Marketing and currently an assistant professor in sport administration at North Carolina. He also wrestled at Indiana from 2000 through 2004, which fueled his interest in giving back to a sport that has meant so much to him.

“My bottom-line goal is simply to help a sport that has done so much for me,” Cooper said. “There may not be anything more important these days than having a marketing mindset and understanding how to position your program.”

The manual, developed with input from the NWCA and the NCAA, helps coaches understand why a marketing mindset is important, how to establish a brand and build it within the campus community and extend it to external audiences, and how to use technology – particularly social media – to gain an advantage.

The goal isn’t only to keep wrestling programs from being eliminated – on the contrary, it’s to demonstrate their value and help programs grow.

Cooper said he based much of the manual on previous research he’s done about what matters most to administrators when it comes to Olympic sports. While winning was among the responses, it wasn’t at the top of the list.

“The priority for them was conduct, both on and off the mats, courts and fields,” he said. “Administrators want these programs’ academics to be in order and to have them positioned as ambassadors for the institution. That means building relationships and establishing a positive presence in the community.”

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to building and maintaining such integrity, the marketing manual helps coaches understand how to produce a positive product, regardless of the resources available to them.

Mike Moyer, executive director of the NWCA, calls the manual a “turn-key” product for coaches to either take on themselves or hand to an assistant or someone else in the athletics department or perhaps even the business school to manage. The tool can either supplement larger athletics department marketing staffs that already devote resources to wrestling, or it can be a valuable asset for wrestling coaches at smaller schools who because of staff resources have to be their own marketing personnel.

For Moyer, whose organization already has emphasized to coaches that they need to be the CEO of their programs, this marketing component is an extension of that philosophy.

“They’re already proficient at the tactical aspects of coaching, but in today’s athletics environment, coaches need to be proficient in CEO skills like marketing, fundraising, promotions and communications ethics,” said Moyer, who is a former wrestler himself. “We want college coaches to increase their spectator base, increase traffic on social media and develop more of a following on campus in the regional community and with stakeholders.

“This training naturally occurs in football and men’s basketball, but it’s unusual if it ever occurs in Olympic sports, and as a result, we want to be more intentional about it.”

The effort will start Aug. 3-5 at the NWCA’s annual convention in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. The marketing manuals will be distributed there, and the NWCA will retain Cooper as a resource for coaches to use in the coming months for advice.

“We want to ensure that our coaches are the best possible stewards of their programs, as well as communicate to decision-makers on campuses that wrestling wants to hold itself to a higher standard,” Moyer said. “This marketing resource is designed to help our coaches make their programs an asset to the athletics department and the university overall.