This spring, Heider College of Business marketing students enrolled in another university – FOX Sports University (FSU).
FOX Sports University is a program that FOX Sports developed with prestigious academic and athletic institutions from around the country. College marketing students partner with a FOX Sports Media Group business to address a marketing, research, technology or strategy challenge that the business faces and then create real-world solutions to solve it.
For the inaugural semester-long partnership between Creighton and FOX Sports University, students in Public Relations, taught by Tim McMahon, PhD, associate professor of practice in the Heider’s Department of Marketing and Management, were challenged to develop an over-arching messaging strategy for on-air, social and digital media that FOX Sports and its client, Major League Baseball, can utilize to promote joint sustainability efforts.
Public Relations presented the perfect platform for the FSU partnership. Each semester, students in the course adopt a real-world organization or issue, says McMahon, who builds their learning around the challenge. In past semesters, his students have devised PR campaigns for the School of Medicine’s MAGIS Clinic and created a promotional campaign for a country/western singer. Students in this course have even taken on controversial issues, such as the dispute between the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the National Rifle Association in the wake of the 2018 Parkland shooting. Last year, students crafted both student and administrative responses to the University’s vote to divest in fossil fuels.
“So, the FOX Sports University assignment was a natural,” McMahon says, because PR is rooted in public opinion.
Major League Baseball, along with its thirty clubs, is committed to environmental stewardship. So, McMahon’s students faced a challenge: creating messaging for the various MLB sustainability efforts – recycling, water conservation, energy efficiency, food donations, garden activations and composting – through the lenses of ballpark operations, promotion of sustainable practices and community engagement.
The project launched in January when a representative from FOX Sports and the MLB flew to Omaha to brief the class. The students, divided into six “agencies,” presented their preliminary plans halfway through the semester via Zoom, as COVID-19 had closed the campus. The amount of time spent researching, strategizing, creating action plans, crafting communications and evaluating the effectiveness of the plans was staggering. McMahon estimates that each agency invested nearly 100 hours in the creation of their public relations plan.
McMahon says the judges were “delighted by the students’ commitment, enthusiasm and creativity,” despite the challenges of remaining focused and prepared to deliver under trying circumstances.
Agency 5, consisting of seniors Christian Carrillo, Saige Steffensmeier and Matthew Witzofsky and recent graduate Allie Suedbeck, BSBA’20, was the winning team.
“Overall, Agency 5 tied multiple relevant and impressive elements together in a meaningful way,” FOX Sports says.
For one, Agency 5 formalized MLB efforts of diverting plastic from landfills into the “Strikeout Plastics” initiative. They also leveraged participants of MLB’s Players for the Planet program, using players as influencers to advocate for and lend authentic voices to Agency 5’s campaigns, says Carrillo.
The pandemic did throw a wrench in many of their initial plans, which often included hands-on activities at ball parks, such as pop-up shops and tee-ball games to “strike out” plastic.
“We quickly switched our campaign from being driven by on-site experiences to a digital and social campaign,” says Carrillo. “We created a social media challenge to involve all MLB fans at home to drive the story to more fans, even if they weren’t attending the All-Star game. COVID roadblocks helped us capture new audiences by utilizing emerging technology and platforms to reach audiences at home while keeping people safe.”
Typically, the winners would have been invited to either the Field of Dreams game between the Yankees and the White Sox or the MLB All-Star game, but both events were cancelled this past spring. Still, the students walked away with some FOX Sports swag and, more importantly, a sense of accomplishment and phenomenal learning experience.
“Students always appreciate real-world assignments,” McMahon says, “and the top-flight national challenges presented by FOX/MLB made the assignment a great opportunity to showcase their talent and to ‘audition’ for top-level executives.”
Sophie Spicci, BSBA’20, account executive at Presley Media in Papillion, Nebraska, and former FOX Sports University participant, agrees.
“It’s all about going back and tweaking and revising until you and the client have come to something you’re both super proud of. A project like this is important for marketing students because it allows them to get experience with clients under their belt and presents an opportunity to make a few mistakes and learn a few lessons without any of the associated risks,” she says. “Marketing is emotional! The motivation to impress the client and the nerves of presenting to someone like FOX Sports are emotions that are just as important to master as the test material.”
McMahon says FSU is a great precursor to the new Agency Practicum that the Heider College of Business is launching this coming spring. He is also happy to report that FOX Sports executives have invited Creighton back for the spring 2021 semester.
“As a college, we pride ourselves in preparing students to compete and succeed under real-world conditions, and getting access to high quality and very promotable properties, such as FOX sports and its many partners, is a truly valuable opportunity to challenge our students,” McMahon says.