Can PR Take College Football to the NFL Level?

In 2014 college football playoffs will replace the abhorred BCS system established in 1998. The playoffs will feature four teams facing off in three games, eradicating the political and mathematical technicalities that have plagued the BCS rankings. College football believes the playoff system—which could produce up to $5 billion over a 12-year contract—can leverage the sport’s already wild and lucrative popularity. PR will play an integral role as the sport seeks to attract more fans and achieve the cultural prominence of the NFL.

America has a big date with college football on January 11, 2014. The event is two years away, but the hype machine has already begun as ESPN, sports analysts, college football fans, universities, bars, restaurants, wing sauce factories, beer producers, chip/dip aficionados, foam finger manufacturers, hat makers, and body paint supply stores are all gearing up for college football’s Championship Game, the collegiate version of the Super Bowl.

While the NFL captures fan bases that encompass entire cities and geographical regions, colleges are more localized. To increase viewership, college football’s PR efforts must focus on people who don’t typically watch football, or even like it for that matter. It’s imperative that PR strategies position the Championship Game as a cultural spectacle; the type of event where your friends ask, “So, where are you watching the game?” That PR machine is already in place; it’s what inspired this blog post.

Recent negative publicity, however, is haunting the sport’s PR efforts. The Penn State Jerry Sandusky tragedy has demonstrated what blind college football loyalty can do to society. And evidence mounts about how concussions resulting from ferocious hits can horribly impact brain functionality. Many academics also lament the loss of academic values as the crass commercialization of college football assumes center stage. Just how far can PR take college football into the American mainstream remains unseen, but billions of dollars are at stake—for everyone, that is, except the players.