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Athletics Department Hits Home Run with Student Marketing Program

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Rowers compete in the Head of the Charles Regatta in October. The regatta was one of the sporting events student marketing officers helped promote.
A number of student athletes on Harvard’s 42 varsity teams have taken on another role this year: Chief Marketing Officer.

In Sept. 2017 the Athletics Department announced a new student marketing program in which an athlete from each team would work with the marketing department in Athletics to increase communication between student athletes and the department.

In the two semesters since the program was announced, CMOs have assisted the marketing department in tailoring promotional content and featured events to their individual teams and increasing student engagement in athletics.

Grace C. Eysenbach 20’, one of two CMOs for women’s heavyweight crew, said she helped the marketing department draw more students to her team’s events.

“They talk to us about what makes the most sense—like in terms of rowing, where people would like to watch it, what kinds of things would get people to come,” Eysenbach said. “I think it’s really important to get feedback from the actual athletes because we know which teams, which games are going to be competitive and fun to watch.”

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Associate Director of Athletics Susan Byrne wrote in an email that the CMOs have increased student attendance at sporting events. Byrne cited an initiative to better publicize track and field events, led by team CMO Randy R. Raymond ’18, as an example of a successful collaboration with the CMOs.

“His goal was to attract more fans through personal invitations and identify specific start times for the events since these aren't readily publicized,” Byrne wrote. “It worked since 91 students checked in on the student rewards app!”

Byrne also wrote that the CMOs have been helping the Athletics Department step up its social media presence, especially on Instagram.

“Based on feedback from the CMOs, most of their peers are active Instagram users,” Byrne wrote. “According to the data showing our interactions and reach, the Instagram stories are helping engagement and reaching our target audience.”

Though many of the CMOs have worked closely with the marketing department over the course of the year, some students have worked more closely with their teams to create team-specific projects.

Baseball player Hunter B. Bigge ’20 arranged for his team to send 100 thank you letters to former players. Bigge said the project was part of a larger goal to increase connections between current players and alumni.

“I’ve been thinking we should do more alumni outreach since I got here, and so when I saw, when I took this position I thought that was the first thing I wanted to do,” Bigge said. “I think something coming from the players, that’s a more personal touch and will make the alums feel more connected to the program.”

Many student-athletes took on the role of CMO on top of already busy schedules. The CMOs agreed, though, that the role has not required a major time commitment. Bigge said the self-driven nature of the role allows him to work on his CMO projects in his free time.

“I’ve been to three meetings for it this year, probably less than three hours total,” Bigge said. “It’s a pretty laid back position and whenever I think of ideas, I’ll literally just shoot the team an email and see if people like it or not—and if they like it, then try to move forward with it.”

Ski team CMO Allegra B. Colman ’21 said she wasn’t quite sure what she was signing up for when she volunteered to be her team’s CMO at the beginning of the year, but she said she has enjoyed her job.

“It was kind of just like a random job,” Colman said. “At the beginning of the season the coach was like who wants to do this, I raised my hand, and it was something I really got invested in and I really enjoy doing.”

As the end of the student athlete marketing program’s first year approaches, Byrne wrote that her department is looking forward to building off of the momentum that this year’s CMOs have created.

“We developed a strong foundation this year, and we look forward to building on that foundation in the future,” Byrne wrote. “We are creating a survey for the CMO’s to help us evaluate the first year and see what changes we want to implement next year.”

While it is up to the teams to decide who will be CMO next year, a number of the CMOs said they are hopeful they can continue in their role.

“It will be hard parting with the chief marketing officer position,” Bigge said. “I probably want to keep doing it for the next three years unless a freshman comes in and they’re just chief marketing officer material and then we’ll see.”

—Staff writer Madeleine R. Nakada can be reached at madeleine.nakada@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @maddynakada.

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