Monday, October 12, 2009

Wrestling and "The Four Ps"

You’re taught “The Four Ps” in Marketing 101: product, price, placement and promotion. Any effort to sell anything must address at least these four elements. There is a movement afoot to change the “placement” of college wrestling. The National Wrestling Coaches Association has proposed a plan that would move the NCAA Division I Championships to April 11 – 13 in 2013. The initial proposal also called for moving the Division II and Division III Championships back and making college wrestling a ”one semester” sport.

The proposal is driven by two concerns – the educational success of the student-athletes and more effective marketing of the sport. The arguments are that starting the season later in the year gives freshmen more time to acclimate to college life and that finishing later moves wrestling’s collegiate championship events away from directly competing against that other tournament whose name cannot be legally mentioned here without paying licensing fees to CBS or the NCAA.

For most fans this seems to be a no-brainer. But hold on – last week I received emails from several Division III coaches debating the proposal – and many of them are against moving the season. Those that are against have valid concerns – many small school wrestling teams share facilities, staff – even athletes – with other sports. For them – changing the season increases their operating budget and thus makes hanging on to their program even more tenuous.

In the current issue of Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine publisher, Bryan Van Kley, has written an excellent editorial on the subject. He offers an alternative plan and solid logic behind it. Bryan makes the case better than I can, so I urge you to pick up a copy of WIN and read his column.

Many marketers will tell you that changing one “P” without addressing the other three will not have the effect you desire. To assume that moving the season alone will popularize college wrestling is to make the most basic of marketing mistakes.

What are our goals – to have more opportunities for the current fan base to watch wrestling on television? To attract new fans to the sport? To get more kids on the mat? Attaining any one of those will spur the growth of wrestling.


This isn’t really much of an issue. Tickets to a college wrestling meet or tournament are a bargain. However, across the board, we ought to make it easier for large groups of kids to see the best that the sport has to offer.


At its core wrestling is a great product – but it’s not perfect. And it may have lost some entertainment value over the past few years. Go to youtube and watch NCAA finals matches like Randy Lewis vs. Darryl Burley or Mark Schultz vs. Ed Banach or Lincoln McIlravy vs. Gerry Abas and compare those matches to last year’s 125 pound final. What’s needed for product improvement? There are lots of suggestions – a more universal definition of stalling, a pushout rule, eliminating the riding time point. All have merit – but maybe the answer is for more coaches and athletes to recognize the value that a more aggressive style has to the sport.


Advertising, publicity, sales and branding are all promotional elements. What is college wrestling’s “brand”? Is it – as Ed Aliverti so resoundingly proclaimed for so many years - “the world’s oldest and greatest sport”? Is it “the sport of presidents”? Is it “the sport of opportunity”? It could be any or all of those things. The brand should NOT be, as some fans like to suggest, “the minor leagues of mixed martial arts”. That’s like having Matthew McConaughey say, “Beef: you can use it in hash.”

Therein lies the real challenge – creating a unified brand for college wrestling. Wrestling is both blessed and cursed with several entities who are all trying to promote the sport, each with slightly divergent agendas. From the NWCA to USA Wrestling to the NCAA and even to Beat the Streets – everyone has a different approach. Is there a solution? Perhaps.

Could we organize “The Wrestling Promotion Council” with representatives from all governing bodies, the wrestling media, wrestling product companies – anyone that has a vested interest in the sport? Hold an organizational conference (Cedar Rapids is a very central location), develop a plan of action, raise some money and get started. Let’s not stop with changing the Division I season – let’s also get aggressive about using the other three “Ps”.

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