When Larry Scott was named commissioner of what was then the Pac-10 in 2009, it was immediately clear he wasn’t going to follow the status quo. He took some time to evaluate what was working, what wasn’t and what needed to happen in order for the conference to become a leader in college athletics.
Early in that process, he identified a problem: There was no true marketing or ticketing presence at the conference level. It was up to each school to sink or swim on its own, a set of circumstances that produced varying degrees of success.
To change that, he hired Danette Leighton to become the conference’s first chief marketing officer in 2010. Leighton, the only CMO among the power conferences, was tasked with building a team to help implement best practices in marketing, ticketing and operations among the member schools.
Just shy of four years later, things have changed.
“We’ve been very proactive in marketing and ticketing, two areas that didn’t exist here four years ago,” Leighton said. “We realized it was important to facilitate sharing of best practices.”
While the universities can be fiercely competitive on the field, Leighton said the relationships between other areas of the athletic departments should be, and are, significantly different.
“We have the opportunity to be stronger as 12 (schools) together,” Leighton said. “If one school has a great idea that’s working, we want to be able to share it elsewhere. That’s really been a part of our brand vision.
“Competition on the field isn’t a factor because everyone realizes you can learn from each other, and stealing from each other can be a good thing.”
For example, after seeing Arizona State experience success with an outbound ticket sales program, Washington and Washington State are considering similar programs.
One of the main pushes the conference has prioritized is promoting fan engagement. Several schools made a strong push through social media with hashtag campaigns on Twitter. Others have utilized technology to improve the in-game experience.
Of course, it’s not as simple as creating one master plan and expecting it to work seamlessly on every campus. The Pac-12’s regional diversity creates different challenges.
Generating college football buzz in the Bay Area, home to two NFL teams, is a different challenge for Stanford and California than the challenges Washington State and Oregon State face in smaller, more remote locations.
The Pac-12 averaged a record attendance of 53,619 at home football games in 2013, which ranked No. 4 behind the SEC (75,674), Big Ten (70,431) and Big 12 (58,899).
Nothing the conference can do with its marketing and sales arms will ever play as big a role as that of on-field success. Winners will always draw; losers will lose at the gates. Only USC, Cal and Colorado had major decreases in attendance that can be attributed to on-field performance.