Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Tom Snee

Millennials are spending more time on their devices, and a group of University of Iowa marketing students is helping the Big Ten Network, Fox Sports, and Mediacom communications reach that generation across their digital platforms.

The 16 students are part of the Tippie College of Business’ Marketing Institute, a year-long class in which students work with clients facing real business challenges and get practical experience helping them to find the solution.

This semester’s project involved researching the viewing habits of millennials, their cable cord cutting, and determining how they are currently consuming media, then applying that research to marketing "TV everywhere" services like the network's BTN2Go app. 

“It was rewarding to be involved with these inquisitive marketing students because they are digital natives, fluent in a world that has been transformed by digital information,” says Steve Purcell, Mediacom Group vice president. “As a technology company, our Mediacom partnerships with the University of Iowa reflect our commitment to new technologies for the convenience of students who are the early adopters—and to the rest of the community as well.”

Kaitlyn Beale, senior manager for strategic partnerships with Fox Sports, says the company has worked with 18 other schools as partners on similar marketing projects. Beale says the network likes to work with students for their understanding of what their peers are looking for when consuming digital sports entertainment. She says the company often uses the ideas and the research that students present, and contacts made as a result of the partnership have led to internships for some of the students.

"I was not only impressed with the innovative ideas the Iowa students presented but found immense value in their statistical and anecdotal research that provided insight into marketing tactics that really resonate with that generation.”

Peggy Stover is the marketing faculty member who oversees the Marketing Institute classes, but she’s reluctant to call herself an instructor because she’s trying to replicate as much as possible the vibe of an actual marketing agency.

“I don’t see this so much as a teacher-student relationship as a boss-employee relationship,” she says.

The UI project focuses on the BTN2Go app, a digital extension of the Big Ten Network that delivers live games and on-demand programming to customers via the web, smartphones, and tablets. 

“The students talk with their friends and other students; they know the best way to reach their own demographic,” says Beale. “With so much competition for their time, from cable and satellite TV to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, how can we get young people to become sticky customers?”

Beale and other representatives from Fox and Mediacom visited campus in February to provide background information to the students and assign their task. The 16 students then divided into teams and spent the rest of the semester doing market research, then presented their findings earlier this month to representatives from the three companies who came from Des Moines, New York City, and Los Angeles.

The students—broken into four teams—conducted various types of surveys and focus groups with UI undergrads to learn their sports-viewing habits. They learned that students don’t watch much sports on their devices, preferring instead to watch it on television. In one survey, 77 percent of respondents said they still have cable or satellite television primarily to watch sports.

Ideas they shared for bringing more attention to BTN2Go included on-campus events tied to football games, BTN food trucks, adding an on-demand streaming service, or introducing a BTN mascot similar to Cleatus, the animated robot Fox Sports uses to brand its NFL games.

“I was not only impressed with the innovative ideas the Iowa students presented but found immense value in their statistical and anecdotal research that provided insight into marketing tactics that really resonate with that generation,” says Laura Reff, consumer marketing manager for the Big Ten Network.

The representatives will take the research back to their respective teams and consider using their proposals. Some of the students may also participate in a BTN internship program with branches on each Big Ten campus, where they will work as brand ambassadors for the network. The BTN may also provide some of the students with an educational look at the television business, grooming the next crop of production and operational employees, through its Student U program. Nearly 500 students across the Big Ten’s schools participate in the Student U every year. The class is a part of FOX Sports University, a program that partners with more than 35 universities across the country and provides real-world experience in the classroom.