by Cynthia Tintorri
May 10, 2013
The Lehigh Valley Steelhawks indoor professional football team would like their brand to be as ubiquitous as that other Lehigh Valley sports institution, the Iron Pigs. Making that happen without breaking the bank just makes good business sense.
Michael Clark, Steelhawks executive vice president/general manager, and John Zima, assistant coach and director of player personnel, decided to seek some help -- and help some students in return -- by going to local colleges' business programs to offer a win-win partnership.
"We're interested in a project that would help us increase our ticket purchases, build our merchandise revenue and our brand in the Lehigh Valley, and an advertising plan," said an introductory letter from Zima. "The Steelhawks would be the beneficiary of the final plans and recommendations. The students would get hands-on experience in building a business plan, presenting their recommendations to our management team, implementing the plan and
evaluating the results."
Lehigh University, Kutztown University, and Northampton Community College's Business Club took the Steelhawks up on the offer. For Wendi Achey, associate professor of business/marketing and club advisor, it was too good an offer to pass up for her students.
"It's a chance to apply what they're learning in the classroom to a real-world scenario, to exercise their knowledge in the fields of marketing, management, budgeting, public relations and social media."
After an initial meeting in February, during which Clark and Zima provided students with background about the Steelhawks and outlined their needs, the Business Club got to work planning their strategy. Two more meetings followed where the students pitched their ideas, and Zima offered feedback to help them refine their plans.
In between were long hours for the business students, spent discussing strategy, contacting potential vendors and advertisers, and polishing their presentation. Several club members even attended an April 20 Steelhawks home game at Stabler Arena to do research, polling attendees about what kind of merchandise they would like to buy and observing their pre-game behavior.
The final presentation, attended by Zima and Clark as well as NCC President Dr. Mark Erickson, came on April 30. The Business Club presented their "Marketing Blitz" game plan in a PowerPoint show that included professional-looking graphs, charts and statistics about merchandising, ticket sales, demographics, fan loyalty rewards, website improvements, and promotional ideas.
The result? "You've made me a very happy person," said Clark. "I love to see actual numbers and percentages, and you've done that. You took our suggestions and nailed it." He plans to implement several of the ideas the Business Club came up with.
According to Zima, "Every school we worked with on this project targeted different ways to do what we wanted. You are the most impressive one we've seen."
Clark then presented the club and Professer Achey with a plaque. But the students who worked on the project will take away much more. Club member Bill Rowe summed it up on behalf of all the participants: "This was a real-life project with real deadlines. It gave us an opportunity to develop our skills, especially working in a group. I'm grateful -- we all are."
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