New course gives students real-world sports marketing experience

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A group of students and faculty huddle together and make the bear claw motion with their hands.
Dr. Laura Boman, far right, and her baseball sports marketing students are shown at the cornhole tournament they hosted on Cruz Plaza on April 26. Photos by Chris Smith

Mercer University students went to bat during a new business course this year. Twenty-five Bears got real-world experience working with an athletics department and team during Dr. Laura Boman’s yearlong baseball sports marketing course. 

The class worked with Mercer Athletics to build awareness and increase attendance at Mercer baseball games. The School of Business already has some yearlong market research classes but wanted to offer one specifically for sports marketing to better prepare students for future careers, said Dr. Boman, assistant professor of sports marketing and analytics.

Following a successful first year, the course will now be offered every year and be required for sports marketing majors. Other students can take it as an elective. 

“They really get to take a strategic marketing plan from start to finish,” Dr. Boman said. “It gives them a look at what it would be like to work for a real team and handle all different parts of the process. It’s a class that allows them to have something tangible to put on their resumes. This class is really unique. It lets them take what they’ve learned in their other classes and apply it.”

The fall semester of the course was devoted to research and planning. The students chose the Mercer student population as their main target audience and the community as their secondary audience, said Ella Austin, a junior sports marketing and analytics major. 

They surveyed more than 400 members of the student body about how to improve Mercer sporting events and the fan experience, said Lewis Ashe, a senior marketing and sports marketing double-major who will stay at Mercer for one more year to earn his Master of Business Administration. Students also polled local residents to find out their preferences when it comes to games and the best ways to reach them, Austin said. 

From that research, students developed marketing plans to implement during baseball season in the spring semester. They met with members of Mercer Athletics to discuss their plans and budget and receive approval, and they hit the ground running when the season opened Feb. 17, Dr. Boman said.

“Having the opportunity at Mercer to be able to have a full season with a team is beneficial because you get to know the ins and outs of the game from a production standpoint,” said Erica Eades, graduate assistant for external operations with Mercer Athletics. “It was good to have that volume of games with that much experience for the students.”

The students’ plans led to six game theme nights, including alumni night, Greek life night, jersey giveaway night and other freebies. Class members also planned three outside events to promote the games. They hosted a contest that challenged contestants to throw as fast as a Mercer pitcher, and a well-attended, baseball-themed trivia night at Amici.

Two rows of cornhole boards are shown on a field with students beside them.
Students compete in a cornhole tournament hosted by the baseball sports marketing class on Cruz Plaza on April 26. Photo by Chris Smith

They wrapped up the semester with a cornhole tournament on Cruz Plaza on April 26. The entry fee was $5 and included a hamburger/hot dog dinner. The first-place team scored a $200 cash prize, and second and third places received restaurant gift cards, Dr. Boman said. 

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the execution,” said Augusta Thramer, director of fan experience for Mercer Athletics. “You could be in a classroom all day long, but then actually getting out there on the field and in the stadium, interacting with the fans, seeing the plan come to life is a big part of what we do, and I think this really helps those students that are looking to create their careers in sports marketing.

“Seeing their faces and having them be a part of the experience and be the reason why people come back or have a good time at the game was really enjoyable.”

Students were also required to log 30 hours of baseball promotion work outside of class time, Dr. Boman said. They passed out doughnuts and game flyers on campus and worked the games and special events, in addition to other activities. Ashe said he conducted sponsorship sales, visiting local businesses to request support. 

“I think what I enjoyed the most was actually being involved in what’s going on and not just learning about what’s going on … being hands-on and getting experience with the athletics department and seeing how a professional athletics department operates and learning how the real world works,” he said. 

Ashe said he gained experience in professional communication and event planning and got a taste of how athletics departments operate. He’s interested in a career in music marketing, and a lot of the skills he learned in the course will carry over into that field.

The course showed Austin how to communicate and compromise with a group of people and how to successfully promote when an event is happening, which is often the main hurdle. 

“I love learning by doing,” said Austin, whose brother Trevor Austin was a shortstop on the baseball team and is about to graduate with his master’s degree. “Getting to plan these events and run them is a good experience. It was a great class.”

 

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