Thursday, January 16, 2014

Why the Fuss over Coaches

The end of football season, college and professional, also signal the end of the line for some coaches and their staffs. Each year, teams decide that a change is in order to improve performance and perhaps to appease disgruntled fans. In the NFL alone, seven of the league's teams will have a new head coach in 2014, including one team (Cleveland) that will have a new coach for the second straight season. Coaching changes captivated college football fans, too. Long time Texas coach Mack Brown stepped down, creating a frenzy of speculation of who would succeed him. It created a mini domino effect as his replacement, Charlie Strong, departed Louisville and created a similar frenzy there. His replacement provided intrigue in that Strong's successor at Louisville was also a predecessor: Bobby Petrino. 

What Does a Coach Have to do with Marketing?
Coaches are ultimately hired and fired for their ability to lead their teams to success on the field. Let's face it- if marketing and public relations savvy was the number one requirement for job security, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick would have not lasted very long in the league (when The Wall Street Journal runs an article describing that you smiled only seven times all season, chances are you would not be the most energetic marketing representative for your organization). Increasingly, coaches are being looked to as a marketing asset for their organization. College coaches must have the ability to connect with recruits and their parents, donors, alumni, and fans as well as their players. Similarly, professional team coaches are incorporated in relationship building efforts with sponsors and high dollar spenders on premium seating and tickets.

Coaches as a Source of Star Power
Marketing personnel cannot control what happens on the field of play, but they have several assets at their disposal to build their brand and customer relationships: Star power. In Chapter 2 of Sports Marketing, four connection points that can attract people to a sports brand are discussed:
1.                  Star power
2.                  Family
3.                  Socialization
4.                  Community
Star power is a connection point that can be leveraged and promoted in the form of players (current or former), coaches, team owner, or facility. Players are a frequently leveraged source of star power. Star players are heroes to many fans, are admired by many other people, and at the very least are highly recognized in the community. But, coaches can wield star power, too, as success breeds admiration from fans and community involvement wins respect from fans and non-fans alike. So, when a college or pro team is considering replacing a coach, it is inevitable to include whether changing coaches would result in an upgrade in the area of the head coach's star power (present or potential).

Will Smiling become a Performance Metric?
It is probably safe to assume that wins and losses will continue to rule as the primary measuring stick of a coach's performance. While it is humorous to read about Bill Belichick smiling only seven times all season, it is unlikely that coaches will be evaluated closely on how "marketing friendly" their body language is. But, as teams make new head coach hires they must keep in mind the potential of a prospective coach to support marketing efforts. And, the marketing prowess of coaches is not limited to the current leader. Former or retired coaches are often revered for their past accomplishments and can serve a team well as a brand ambassador. 

Should the star power of a coach (or potential to develop star power) be a criterion when a team is hiring a head coach? Why or why not?