Hunter Lochmann has worn many hats in his career, from vice president of marketing for the New York Knicks to selling sponsorships in and around NASCAR, with stops at the NBA corporate office along the way as well. Now Lochmann has taken on a new challenge, in the intercollegiate athletics world, as the first-ever Chief Marketing Officer on a college campus, at the University of Michigan. The Wolverines under athletic director Dave Brandon have led a new way of thinking in college athletics, looking at the business of college sports as just that, a business that needs to be properly and consistently marketed and packaged to the largest possible audience, and there are few college brands more powerful and engaging than the one in Ann Arbor.
As the Wolverines prepare to meet number 2 Alabama at Cowboys Stadium this Saturday, we caught up with Lochmann to talk about the business of Michigan athletics and what makes it different
Michigan, one of the strongest brands in college athletics, under Dave Brandon has undertaken a unique approach in sport marketing for a University. What is your primary role in the process?
My primary role under Dave is to drive two key strategic platforms – building the brand and growing our business. Within these two drivers are countless strategic initiatives and objectives that keep me and many others busy!
Having spent a good part of your career in the NBA at the league office and with the Knicks, what are some of the best practices that you have been able to bring to Ann Arbor?
At the Knicks, I learned how to activate the resources around me, especially with a strong brand. This led to us looking under every rock in order to sell tickets and keep the brand in as positive a light as possible. Additionally, the NBA is all about innovation and trying new things – I’m proud to be an alum of that thinking and i think a lot of us “NBA grads” have benefited from that and it’s in our DNA now.
Are there one or two initiatives that have launched since you arrives that you are most proud of?
I am proud of implementing some ticket initiatives – some new ideas and activating a great partner in Paciolan – to drive some great results. I’m also proud of focusing on building and cleaning up our internal marketing assets to drive our business and build our brand. Also, we have introduced smart, digital advertising to support our 29 teams.
Most sports fans are aware of “The Big House” and Michigan football, from a sports business perspective what other programs away from football have the most value?
The big three are always going to be football, men’s basketball and hockey – in that order of revenue. Men’s basketball has the most potential in terms of capacity – tickets to be sold, licensing, etc – and hockey is a steady and successful force – even more so with a renovated arena. but there are a handful of other sports that i think we can make the leap to become six figure revenue sports. We have high hopes for lacrosse in their second year. Softball is a dynasty and we have to figure out how to maximize their success. Tthere is no reason we can’t compete with the big women’s basketball programs out there with our new coach (Kim Barnes Arico) and our fantastic facilities. Finally, baseball is a sleeping giant with our history and our talented new, young coach – Erik Bakich.
What type of brands do you see as being able to enter the college space and make the biggest impact?
College sports is a few years behind the pros so you will continue to see the brands and business practices follow suit. folks like Stubhub (here already), ideas like dynamic pricing, external sales groups like aspire. Additionally, IMG has seen tremendous growth in their college business as they continue to sell nationally – similar to a league property. Finally, with the amazing passion at the college level, i think you will see digital and licensing ideas and innovators starting here and then going to the pros, etc.
To the general public Michigan probably needed some brand adjustment given the downward turn in football and basketball. Although that has changed, did you see businesses being more receptive as on-field performance improved?
That is more a question for our rights holder IMG but yes, the new leadership at UM – Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke – both Michigan men – has laid the foundation for a re-birth in UM’s perception locally and nationally.
How valuable is the alumni base at Michigan to brands? is there a way to quantify it?
Incredibly valuable. That is how we fill the big house each Saturday, remain one of the top schools in licensing activity each year, have one of the most popular websites in college athletics, etc. all of these metrics help drive the bottom line.
The traditions of college athletics can sometimes be a hindrance from a business standpoint. How receptive have administrators and coaches been to growing the sports marketing platform for Michigan?
They have been terrific. I of course needed to learn the various context of certain practices and traditions but at the end of the day, the coaches want fans at their games, fun atmospheres at their games, and to see their team brands grow – for recruiting and for their fanbase.
Are there other institutions who have looked at what Michigan has done from a sports marketing perspective and have started to emulate it yet?
Similar to the mindset we had at the NBA – where best practice sharing is the norm – we most definitely have had numerous conversations with other institutions, both about things we have done/tried and what they are doing.
What are the biggest challenges you face going forward?
Competing for the entertainment dollar as well as the home market. Thus the focus on atmosphere – things you can’t experience sitting on your couch at home. Additionally, making sure we don’t out price our fan base but also making sure we compare favorably across the landscape as we benchmark our competitors on their donation pricing and ticket pricing. Finally, staying on top of the content available to us and to learn what is exclusive to us, what our league controls, what the digital side controls, etc.