A new type of marketing blitz for Stevenson

Posted: 8:43 pm Thu, August 12, 2010
By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

On a steamy turf field in Owings Mills, more than 100 young men are baking in the nearly 90-degree heat while coaches run drills like army sergeants and a few fatigued players stand on the sidelines sipping water under the watchful eye of a team trainer.

Welcome to Stevenson University football — the newest marketing tool for a school aiming to shed its small-time image since it changed its name from Villa Julie College two years ago.

Men’s football is the second athletics team the school has added since it changed its status to a university (women’s golf is the other), and Athletics Director Brett Adams said investing in sports is part of the plan to attract more students, offer a well-rounded college experience and keep alumni connected.

“It helps develop a passion for the university, and down the road those people give back,” Adams said after a news conference in which Stevenson unveiled its new Mustangs logo and football helmet. “In the short term, you can’t get better marketing [during the off-season] than happy football players wearing their Stevenson shirts at the beach.”

Along with the football team, which started practicing this week but won’t play its first game in the Middle Atlantic Conference until September 2011, the school is planning a 3,500-seat stadium and recently completed construction of a new gymnasium to house the men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball teams and administrative offices.

Division III schools don’t give athletic scholarships, so Adams said the costs of the football program are essentially paid for by the tuition and fees of the additional students admitted to be on the team. The program’s budget is $550,000 per year, he said.

Tuition at Stevenson is about $33,000 per year.

That will leave enough money to invest in projects like the new stadium (which does not yet have a cost projection) and more student housing.

“If you’re growing and you want that additional college experience, this makes all the sense in the world,” he said.

The school is also planning on adding “a couple” more sports teams in the near future, but Adams said he could not elaborate.

Bob Leffler, whose Baltimore-based sports marketing agency helped design the logo, said investing in sports teams was key to building a university experience that lasts — and gives back.

“Bottom line, you can’t raise money without sports,” he said. “The [schools] that have the major sports, it carries the brand further and promotes the brand.”

A new sports team — especially football — will not only attract people who want to play, it’ll attract people who want to watch, said Rick Hesel, principal of the Art & Science Group, a Baltimore-based firm that advises colleges on marketing and enrollment strategies, and isn’t involved with Stevenson.

But, he said, to really separate Stevenson from its former life as a small Catholic women’s college will require more than just new trappings.

“If you want do it right, you develop new curriculum, offer new academic programs,” he said. “The transition will be much stronger if it’s associated with substantive change.”

That’s part of the ongoing process of Stevenson’s growth, which started years before its official name change, said school administrators. Since the school gained its NCAA membership in 1995, it has grown from 11 to 20 sports teams (including football) and from fewer than 1,000 students to more than 3,000 undergraduates.

Stevenson invested in student life when it opened its Owings Mills campus and began providing more student housing, said Glenda LeGendre, vice president of marketing and public relations. Academically, Stevenson has added several graduate and professional services programs and undergraduate programs in recent years, including a sports management program launching this year, she said.

“I suspect some of our football players who will want careers that interest them will want things along that track,” she said.

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