Monday, November 13, 2006

The University of Phoenix and Football?

The University of Phoenix does not have a football team. In fact, it has no athletic teams at all. It concentrates all of its efforts in online and regional centers which offer pre-packaged degree programs. Student support services are less that those offered at other more traditional universities allowing the Apollo Group (the owners of the University of Phoenix) to reap higher profits by not spending money on things like coaches, counselors, and librarians.

As such, it was a shock to many when the Apollo Group actually spent $154.5 million dollars to rename Cardinals Stadium in Arizona the University of Phoenix Stadium for the next twenty years. Even though the University of Phoenix has no football team, it will now have its name on the stadium hosting the 2007 NCAA Division 1 National Championship game. As Watters (2006) wrote, “The university considers it a good marketing move. The stadium's national attention widened with the ESPN broadcast of this week's Monday Night Football game pitting the Cardinals against the Chicago Bears. The spotlight will only intensify with the Fiesta Bowl and national college football championship game in January and Super Bowl XLII in 2008.”

This move makes a lot of sense. Many people (including educators in higher education) question the University of Phoenix model. Many are reluctantly accepting online degree programs from traditional campus based institutions such as Central Michigan University and Penn State. However, Phoenix (and other similar schools) are not as accepted and are seen by many as being little better than glorified diploma mills.

Big time college athletics is one of the main ways many in the United States see higher education. Most Americans do not have a college degree. However, many of these non-college degree holders avidly follow college athletic teams. Outside of the Final Four, the BCS Bowl games (including the rotating national title game) are among the biggest sporting events in college athletics. Millions will view the Fiesta Bowl being played in Arizona. And Guess what? Ohio State (or Michigan depending on this Saturday’s game) will be playing another well known school at the University of Phoenix’s field.

Without a doubt, this will help to legitimize a University of Phoenix degree for many. A student considering college will see the game played with the Phoenix name on the screen. Employers will think that Phoenix degree is as legitimate as more traditional degree from schools that are playing in the University of Phoenix Stadium. Perhaps this will make them more willing to hire a Phoenix graduate? And for the University of Phoenix, this twenty year deal is a real bargain. Supporting a Division 1 athletic program would be far more expensive over the same period of time and would bring in less visibility.

The University of Phoenix is competing with traditional schools for students. In the past, it could not compete with the good PR that these schools get from their televised athletic events. This helps the University of Phoenix close the gap on this with these schools. In addition, it clearly shows that the University of Phoenix is the strongest and most prestigious of the mostly online schools. How can Walden University (and other similar schools) compete with the U of P marketing wise?

The University of Phoenix has claimed some prime football real estate without having a football team. The national college football game will be held at their stadium as will the Super Bowl in 2008. With this comes a great marketing opportunity which may help to legitimize a Phoenix degree. Can the traditional schools respond? Can the other non-traditional degree providers find a similar marketing opportunity to keep up with Phoenix? I am not sure of the answers but I think this was a well spent $154.5 million on the part of the University of Phoenix.

Reference

Watters, C. (2006, Oct. 18). Arena name could change soon. Arizona Republic, accessed at http://www.azcentral.com/community/westvalley/articles/1018gl-a arena18Z20.html on 13 November 2006.

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