Students present marketing plans for international event

Tuesday, May 21, 2013 4:40:00 PM

Erin Hills

By Sara Woelfel

On a picturesque Tuesday evening in May, 13 Stritch students stood atop a hillside overlooking a panoramic view of the first hole at one of the country’s premiere public golf courses. Outfitted in professional attire, the group enjoyed a brief tour and much-needed fresh air prior to heading inside the Erin Hills Golf Course clubhouse to present their proposed marketing plans to General Manager Andy Bush and Director of Golf and Marketing Rich Tock.

As host to the 2017 U.S. Open, one of four annual tournaments in the PGA tour, Erin Hills is poised to join an elite tier of golf courses. The management agreed to hear 30-minute presentations from Stritch undergraduate sport management majors, who worked in teams of three or four to create comprehensive plans focused on a four-year marketing strategy leading up to the tournament.

“These students are working with a multi-million dollar sport property that’s going to hold the annual largest golf event in the world in 2017,” Stritch instructor Dan Underberg said. “Most agencies would kill for the opportunity to present something for a half an hour in terms of how they should approach their marketing.”

Two years ago, Underberg reached out to Tock and invited him to speak to a Sport Facilities class. The two men kept in touch, and reconnected recently at a time when Tock sought recommendations for a marketing intern and Underberg approached Tock with an idea for this final project for his Sport Marketing class.

“It’s just been one of those wonderful kind of symbiotic things,” Underberg said. “It just happened to work out. And Rich has been great.”

From these discussions, Tock recruited intern James Wold, who is pursuing his master’s in sport management degree from Stritch and will continue to work this summer with Tock on various marketing projects. And Underberg found a way for his students to apply their lessons in marketing to an actual venue in preparation for a major international event.

“So that’s how this whole thing started: Dan calling and asking me to speak,” said Tock, noting that Stritch is the only school working with the golf course. “One thing led to another, which is the way the world works, so it’s been good. Of course, Stritch has a great name, too.”

Tock visited campus twice during the semester to speak with the Sport Marketing students, introducing the golf course, describing the event, and providing guidance as they developed their marketing plans. The groups brainstormed and researched target audiences, demographics, media outlets, sponsorship opportunities, promotional ideas, and logistical issues to create comprehensive plans intended to promote both the golf course and the 2017 U.S. Open. Four teams competed against each other to produce the best comprehensive strategy.

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Winning team Eric Harrer, Billy Vranek, and Kevin Worm won narrowly over another team, edging out the competition with a plan focused on sponsorships, a statewide tour of a traveling U.S. Open-themed event, a partnership with the Milwaukee Brewers, and a clever tagline. The Erin Hills management liked that some of their ideas could be implemented right away.

“Both Rich and Andy looked interested in everything we were saying, and wrote a lot of notes during all the presentations,” Harrer said.

“We’ve taken those presentations and we’ve pulled out a bunch of ideas that we thought were worth discussing, which we will,” Tock said. “Some of the stuff we already do; some of the things we’ll never do since they’re a little more out of the box than we wanted.”

Tock felt grateful for the work of the students and said their plans validated many ideas and plans already in discussion by the Erin Hills’ management. According to Tock, some of the stand-out ideas included: adding a search bar to the website, sponsorship leads, the traveling U.S. Open event, a father-son event focused on Father’s Day, inclusion in the 2015 Tiger Woods Xbox game and golf simulator software, marketing at downtown Milwaukee restaurants, and the taglines.

Underberg said some of the presentations and projects reflected master’s-level work. In addition to gaining a better understanding of marketing concepts, Underberg hopes students also walk away with a better perspective of what is expected in the professional world.

“I think that really hit home about how hard they need to prepare and how important the presentation is and how you need to be confident in what you are doing,” Underberg said.

Harrer definitely learned some lessons.

“It is very time consuming to research and put together a presentation for a company,” said Harrer, who hopes to pursue a career in marketing and advertising. “It is also very nerve wracking to present in front of a multimillion-dollar company.”

Worm, who also hopes to work in marketing, found it difficult not to get too carried away with the size and scope of their plan.

“We had a lot of big ideas, but had to bring it down to a level where we could present it and make it orderly and make it look good,” Worm said. “It was hard because some of our ideas were just so huge we had to really rein it in and focus.”

Even though he admits he is not a fan of golf, Worm said he will be tuned into news of the 2017 U.S. Open in the next several years and keep his eye trained on the ways Erin Hills promotes itself and the event.

This is the first time the Sport Marketing class partnered with an organization on a final project like this. Underberg is hopeful the University can create more opportunities for future students.

“I just hope we can continue to develop more relationships like this for all of our students in these classes and allow them to really taste what it’s like to work with and work for a multimillion dollar organization,” Underberg said. “It adds to their experience, their growth, and adds to our program and its reputation.”

Tock said he looks forward to meeting with Underberg again soon to discuss whether to continue working together for future classes.

“Yes, we benefited from this but the main thing is I hope the students benefited from this and the discussions that we had,” Tock said.