Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Big West Needs To Re-Group

First of all, congratulations to UC Irvine for a great season. The Eaters are a well coached team that executes very well. They took a very good Virginia team to the last out before succumbing to a late inning rally by the Cavaliers. They were the lone bright spot in a very poor season for the Big West....and yes that includes Fullerton.

I included Fullerton as a poor representative of the Big West not because they didn't have a good season...they had their typical great season...I include them because the departure of Serrano has damaged the reputation of the league a bit. The loss of one of the leagues most high profile coaches to a mediocre Tennessee team gives the perception that the Big West may not the baseball coaches destination many think it is. And...it's the second time (third, if you want to go all the way back to Augie) it has happened to a good Fullerton team...That kind of reputation will hurt present coaches from wanting to stay here in the future and future coaches from wanting to come here in the present.

A big part of Serrano's departure is the stagnant California economy and Fullerton's inability to match the salary of big, BCS rich power conferences like the SEC...but, the economy here is not going to get appreciably better to make a difference for at least the next 4-5 years.

Therefore, the Big West must redefine it's overall operating and seemingly invisible marketing strategy and figure out a way to bring in more revenue, attract more fans and create a TV presence to make it more attractive to prospective coaches and top rated recruits alike. They have been losing that battle to the PAC 10 the last few years and the emergence of Cal is going to make it even harder.

The best thing that could have happened to the PAC 10 was the storybook tale of Cal's 10 month long fight on and off the field to get into the World Series. There will be a feature in Sports Illustrated this week, and ESPN, knowing a ratings booster when it smells one, will prominently promote this tailor made, scripted Hollywood like saga Ad Naseum. All of the other me-too sports mediums will do their best to follow suit.

Perfect timing too...just when we will be tired of hearing about the Mavericks stunning 6 game romp, ESPN will probably bring in Bob Ley's Outside The Lines crew and start broadcasting the heartfelt story of a baseball team, rich in tradition and poor in the pocket and the alumni's long, non communicative and often frustrating fight with the Chancellor and AD and to save the team...That's the type of exposure even Mark Cuban's World Championship, cigar smokin' ego can't buy.

Now that uber-marketers like Phil Knight are firmly entrenched into the marketing plans of the PAC 10, you can bet that the conference will build upon this and become even more dominant than it has been.

How does the Big West compete with that??? Frankly, in the short term, they need to initially adopt the..."if you can't beat them, join them," axiom without circumventing any purposeful advances the Big West wants to gain out of the relationship...For instance...

Conference Challenge
The first step is to create a Major League Scouting Bureau/RBI sponsored Big West/Pac 10 conference challenge and rotate it between AT&T Park, Dodger Stadium,or Angels Park in mid to late March, just prior to the start of the pro season. This should be promoted as a Major League Baseball showcase of West Coast talent and covered by the MLB Network as a warm up to it's own season ahead as well as a prelude to the Draft that they cover in June.

Presently, MLB does a lousy job of connecting players to the colleges they attended. There are a lot of major stars that played at a Big West school that not many people outside of the conference know they attended...When NFL and NBA players are introduced prior to games, they are always linked to their college...

MLB needs to do the same and televising these conference challenges are a win-win for the future of the MLB player notoriety and helping make it's draft day coverage significant. It also will be a boon for the overall popularity of Collegiate Baseball as a true feeder to MLB teams...just like football and basketball. I would bet that the ratings of an event like this would exceed one of MLB Networks own broadcasts of a pro in-season game, especially since the reach of the PAC10/BigWest fans and alumni spans over dozens of major metro markets.

Second...create a West Coast Sports Network (WCSN) that features teams outside of PAC 10 football from all of the conferences...Pac 10, Big West, WCC, WAC, and Mountain West. The theory of course is that some TV exposure is better than the zero coverage that we have now. Plus, having 5 conferences sharing any upfront costs makes this a more reasonable venture...The downside is that all 5 conferences will also share revenue...as small as that may initially be.

But, the key is exposure...The goal is to educate the west coast and make them familiar with what college baseball teams offer in terms of talent, excitement and value. It also gives each conference and each school a venue to advertise their benefits to recruits. Hopefully each team and conference will take this seriously producing some pretty entertaining TV vignette's to view. This can spread to other sports like softball, basketball, soccer, volleyball and conference and regional tournaments to all sports.

Branding and RPI are the Same Thing
The Big West should never, ever again be limited to two Baseball teams to the NCAA Regional Tournament on Selection Sunday. To paraphrase a quote by the late Ad great genius Davis Ogilvy, "Every game and every schedule is part of the long-term investment in the personality of the brand." Every Big West team can't schedule like Stanford did this year, but it wouldn't hurt to make that the goal. Stanford is a brand in of itself...They have a formula for the type of players they recruit to endure and compete against that purposefully tough schedule they play year in and year out. The same could be said of Fullerton and Cal this year as well. Bottom line, tough schedules can yield positive results.

The Big West Baseball teams need to schedule tough and offer challenges and exposure all season long. Doing so will be a big assist when recruiting players, courting a bigger, more loyal fan base, hiring a deserving coach and of course, impressing the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. It's a long term investment that everyone in the conference will benefit from.

Game Day
Every Big West AD should go to a SEC game and watch, listen and learn...then execute at home....Their games are exciting events, full of great food, a little pre-game tail gating, and in-game, between inning fun. UCSB may be Soccer Heaven...which to Big 3 (baseball, football and basketball) sport fans is more of a negative than a positive...But, the Big West needs to position itself as "Baseball Heaven".

Fullerton has by far the best atmosphere... on Friday nights at least...Long Beach serves beer...after that...Yawn...I can't take another Big West game that has a few hundred listless fans, zero fan involvement and food that consists of a card table full of Skittles, melted Snickers bars and luke warm, soggy, foil wrapped hot dogs from the student cafeteria.

The conference needs to mandate change in this regard and set guidelines for Game Day activities to form a consistent Game Day experience like they do in the SEC and Big 12 South. This is an important piece of the puzzle that HAS to to be implemented or the conference will continue to sink and lose players to PAC 10 schools...ie..like what Horton is trying to build in Oregon.

More Financial Commitment
Wouldn't it be nice to play at home and on the road at sold out stadiums that have tremendous atmosphere? They do in the SEC, Big 12 South, ACC and many teams in C-USA. They all also have great facilities that were built with the fans in mind...The "If you build it,, they will come philosophy works...." It worked in the SEC at South Carlina, Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, as well as at Texas, ECU, and other universities...Of course on a larger scale it worked in MLB Parks in San Francisco, Dallas, Phoenix, Seattle, Milwaukee and more...

Each Big West baseball team and it's facility should be NCAA Regional ready....That means having a stadium that holds a minimum of 2500 fans and have TV Network approved lights, because you don't want to be in the situation that Cal was in this year and miss an opportunity to play at home during a regional...

Of course, having lights opens up local TV opportunities to broadcast regular season night games during the lucrative prime time TV slots that can be seen not only in households, but sport bars and restaurants across the West coast as well. This will ensure additional exposure for those teams featured.

Also, fund raising should not be the sole responsibility of each individual school...Conferences need to be a part of the negotiation process to bring in revenue for TV contracts, organizing conference challenges, hosting regional tournaments and more. The more money, the more leverage to grow, compete and be a part of something greater. College baseball will continue to grow nationwide and the Big West needs to take a leadership role to make sure it is not left out of the picture.

The Big West can't be a deep conference like the SEC and Big 12 if it still has schools that can't fully fund it's 11.7 scholarships..which in my opinion is already too low...but that's a bigger issue to fight with the NCAA and the other member schools. Northridge, Davis and UCSB aren't fully funded...That is unacceptable.

The conference needs to step in and create strategies to help each school meet it's 11.7 requirement. If the Big West wants to build a nationally recognizable baseball brand...it needs to have participation from all teams to build a deeper, more competitive conference from top to bottom.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A College Development Team That Delivers...Big League Style

I have written a few times about the baseball club known as NorCal...based in Northern California. They deserve the notoriety...

On Day One of the draft, Norcal had three players picked in the 1st and supplemental rounds of the draft. On day two, they had by my count, 11 former players picked in the draft..some High school... most college players...Did Rob Bruno get them drafted? No, that was up to the skills and work ethic of the players.

Did he give them opportunities to take it to the level? Did he expose them to top competition to give them a benchmark on where they stood talent wise so they could see what areas they needed to work on? Did he put them in front of scouts for evaluation? Did he act as a reference to college coaches inquiries to get some of those college players into the college of their choice?

Yes! Yes! Yes! and Yes!

That is the mark of a great College Development Program..With Day 3 of the draft upon us, we will definitely see more NorCal players taken. When choosing a College Development Program in your Area...make sure they have the track record, the contacts, the respect of the recruiting community...This stuff ain't cheap folks...And in these tough economic times, you need to make sure that you get more than what you pay for.

For programs like NorCal...the value, the service and the results of the program more than justifies the cost of the travel and instruction. Good luck to NorCal on Day 3...Good Luck to them with their young clubs this summer at all of the major events they are attending...