The following article by Joe Favorito appeared on HuffingtonPost.com on Friday, Nov. 25, 2010.
This past week the U.S. Military Academy at West Point posted as football win over Kent State University, which, given the fractious state of the economy on the country's continued involvement in the global war on terrorism, may not seem like a big deal. However, for Army, for some communities that pin their hopes to the dollar value of smaller football Bowl games, for brands that spend millions on engaging casual fans and a core audience of men and women in the service, and for vets around the world, the win was very significant.
With the win, Army joined fellow academies Navy and Air Force as being eligible for a post-season bowl, only the second time since 1960 that all three of the service academies, the good will stories and their large followings, will go to a bowl game in the same year. Coming on the heels of Veteran's Day, and with what could have been a ho-hum Army-Notre Dame game at Yankee Stadium this weekend, the Cadets win last weekend could not have been better placed.
But again, why does this matter? For many reasons. First, there is perhaps no group that is more brand loyal than the families of service men and women. They are in many cases young families, first adopters and savvy with their spending. They also tend to spread information about brands very well by word of mouth, and are very supportive of the brands that support them. Brands who also invest in the military and the academies usually see a string uptick in sales and recognition, especially around the fourth quarter of the year. So added buzz in football gives those in the service more reason to be engaged with those brands, and gives those brands an added platform to activate. The service academies, with all their tradition and pomp and circumstance, also tend to draw the casual sports fan even in the slowest of times. Winning and exciting programs bring more eyeballs, and that is good for both those brands and for the messaging that the military can incorporate into those added broadcasts and interest.
In addition, each of the Academies, although Bowl eligible, and not near the top of the BCS rankings. This means that the academies will head to lesser bowls in cities like San Diego, San Antonio and Shreveport. Without the academies, those Bowls may struggle to fill seats and bring in ancillary dollars. With the academies, those Bowls now ratchet up their visibility, their dollar value, and their pageantry, all good things in a struggling economy. Also there is the dollar spend that the military makes in sports itself. That spend is traditionally in the millions for recruitment and other types of programs, and with winning football programs the affinity for recruitment and recruitment spending becomes even higher, an element which an all-volunteer military cannot place a dollar value on.
Then there are the brands. From Under Armour, which invested large dollars for a recent program with select schools (Utah, Maryland and Texas Tech) to honor the U.S. Armed Forces on a national platform in the week leading up to Veteran's Day, to Tostitos, which will again take a group of ex-NFL stars abroad during Fiesta Bowl week, the value extracted in military support can usually outweigh the expense and planning put into the projects.
It is true that win or lose, those young men and women who attend and graduate from the academies are still great stories and are more than worthy of attention, as are all the people who put their lives in harm's way for the sake of others. They are America's leaders past and present and those future accomplishments will never be diminished by a few more W's. However with success on the field, the platform for attention, and probably the respect level by a casual fan or follower, rises as well. The respect level rises the interest on the business side, and that can help lift communities and brands who may otherwise struggle without that trickle down boost.
No, Army, Navy and Air Force being successful won't have the effect on the global economy that an effective stimulus plan would have. But in many ways that success can have a positive effect on moral and sales both home and abroad, and it is more worthy of praise and a pat on the back than perhaps the success of any other intercollegiate programs this fall.