BY JOE FAVORITO
ON N.J. SPORTS MARKETING
Many laughed out loud when the New Jersey Institute of Technology decided to move its athletics to Division I status a few years ago.
The laughter grew louder when the Newark engineering school was snubbed by local conferences, forcing the Highlandersl to join the Great West Conference, whose members are not anywhere near the East Coast.
The laughter was almost deafening when NJIT ended the season four years ago with a 0-29 record. Crowds were sparse for the few games the school played at the Prudential center in Newark.
But the laughing has died down now. The team has a Great West regular season title and a shot at grabbing some national attention as a part of March Madness - the NCAA's annual championship tournament.
While many of the state’s Division I programs fell short again this year, NJIT found a way to do it right, bringing in diverse student-athletes to build the program. They were also able to help raise the profile of the school beyond the state and beyond academic circles.
Brand recognition is not easy to build, especially in the world of college athletics. Fans love underdogs, but they love winning more. NJIT's Highlanders appear to have found the balance in both winning and keeping fans interested.
So what could be next from a sports branding standpoint? A lot.
The success in hoops this year will serve as an interesting test for an athletic brand that is not well known. Can the Highlanders cut through the college clutter and gain some new media exposure? Will success on the hardboards translate into new sponsors and increased alumni donations?
The biggest boost may come from the sports fans, who may come to identify with a successful NJIT team.
In the end, NJIT is, and always will be, a highly sought after academic institution. But now it can balance that with athletic success, especially in men’s basketball. That will be a nice addition for the school, one that has produced countless engineers and now an athletic brand.*** *** ***
Joe Favorito has almost 30 years of strategic communications/marketing, business development and public relations expertise in sports, entertainment, brand building, media training, television, athletic administration and business. He has been head of communications for the New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, the USTA and other entities and now runs a successful strategic communications and marketing consultancy based in New Jersey and Manhattan. He is also an author and instructor at Columbia University. You can find out more at joefavorito.com or follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@JoeFav).