UTEP Athletics And Their IMG (Incompetent Marketing Group)
Over the last few years, many of our Sportstalk listeners have been critical of UTEP Athletics' marketing efforts. They claim that the school has a lack of visibility around the city and as a result, many El Pasoans are out of touch with Miner Athletics. Things finally came to a head a few weeks ago when UTEP Athletic Director Bob Stull called into my show and the two of us had a memorable discussion that better resembled a Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed heavyweight title match. Last Monday, two members of the UTEP Athletic Department: Director of Marketing and Promotions Daniel Veale and Senior Associate AD for Development and External Operations (SAADDEO) Chris Park joined us for 90 minutes to discuss the school's marketing and promotional efforts. The conversation that day was so positive, that it left us feeling that UTEP understood where they needed to improve in order to better connect with the community and students. It also helped illustrate that the root of the marketing problems had little to do with UTEP Athletics. Instead, the attention should have been focused on the university's marketing agency, IMG College.
IMG College bills themselves as America's Home For College Sports. If you examine their website, you can learn that IMG has exclusive rights to 90 universities and conferences, including two-thirds of BCS member schools, in 51 of the top 56 Nielsen markets. Despite their large footprint in college athletics, they apparently have ignored their high standards of excellence in El Paso. Since 2006, UTEP Athletics has been marketed by IMG College, which was known as ISP until 2010. What that means is the school's multimedia rights are controlled by IMG College, and in return they would pay UTEP close to two million dollars annually. Bob Stull jumped at this opportunity, knowing his athletic department would get a large guaranteed sum of money for the partnership. The agreement also put all of the pressure on IMG College and not UTEP for creating sponsorships, radio and TV deals, etc.
When ISP first took over UTEP's multimedia rights in 2006, they approached many local businesses that had been loyal UTEP sponsors over the years, but suddenly doubled their renewal rates. When these local businesses asked why the sudden increase in rates, ISP's response was nothing but pure arrogance. "We're now in the big leagues," ISP officials claimed, and in doing so, chased away some of the loyal supporters the university's athletic department had relied on for so many years. In the nearly eight years that ISP/IMG College has been handling UTEP Athletics' marketing, they have slowly built a disconnect within the community and Miner fan base. No games have been televised locally this season, and UTEP fans have started a movement to try and change this. Instead of targeting their wrath on the school's athletic department, the focus needs to be on IMG College, since they have the final say as to whether Miner road games can be seen on TV.
The latest screw-up involved Saturday night's UTEP Women's game against East Carolina. The Miners are promoting the game as Pack The House Night and they printed 15,000 free ticket vouchers. Each voucher had four free tickets so a total of 60,000 tickets are available for Saturday's game. Of course, the Don Haskins Center only holds 12,000 fans but at least fans would have a better chance to break the all-time attendance mark of 7,500 for a women's game. The idea for the vouchers came from Keitha Adams, who has seen similar promotions work well in Kansas and other parts of the country. Even in El Paso, former Diablos owner Jim Paul printed up thousands of paper tickets good for free general admission tickets to see the team play and would have them available at local 7-11 and Circle K stores.
13,000 UTEP women's basketball vouchers were available at Papa John's Pizza, and they were attached to pizza boxes over the last few weeks. The remaining 2,000 vouchers were advertised to be available at all Howdy's locations. However, when I went to the Howdy's on Sunland Park and Doniphan this afternoon, the two clerks at the convenience store had no idea of the promotion and had not received the vouchers. During Sportstalk today we found that other callers had similar experiences at other Howdy's locations. Then, we learned that IMG College failed to contact Western Refining, who operate the Howdy's Convenience Stores in El Paso. Instead, they dropped off the 2,000 vouchers to the Howdy's on Montana and Airway, but never notified the other stores of the promotion. It is the latest embarrassing incident that UTEP's "big time" marketing company was responsible for. Sadly, fans will direct their anger towards the UTEP Athletic Department and Howdy's instead of at the real perpetrators, IMG College.