A few days ago, the NCAA in its wisdom, ruled that college players could have unlimited meals and snacks. For players, coaches and parents, it was a relief. Who wants to have a literally starving player on the field or court? Who wants to be in violation for buying a player a taco? “Stay hungry” should be a metaphor, not a training technique (unless you’re a wrestler – but that’s another subject altogether). For marketers, it’s an opportunity. Why? Because when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Which means that to marketers, everything is a marketing opportunity. Particularly when sports are involved.
So here’s the question some enterprising organization is going to ask. When you can eat anything you want and as much as you want, what do you want to eat? Now granted, it’s also a violation for any company to commercialize and corrupt the fine young amateur student-athletes populating our college campuses. Leave that to the schools, the conferences and the NCAA itself. But that doesn’t mean smart purveyors of snacks and meals favored by college students can’t make a few judicious suggestions. And as Shabazz Napier — Mr. Go-To-Bed-Hungry himself — prepares for the NBA Draft, you have to figure that the bidding war for his services will go far beyond shoe and sports drink contracts.
Cynically, this is just another opportunity for NCAA member institutions to monetize the players who play only for glory and a high draft position. What’s the official snack of Sooner Nation – Now and Later candy? If you root for ‘Bama, is it Roll Tide or Cinnabon Roll Tide? Maybe War Eagle Snacks at Auburn? How about Tony the Clemson Tiger Frosted Flakes? This is too easy.
What other changes of the NCAA’s draconian rules might provide commercial opportunities? Do NCAA players have enough toothpaste/soap/shampoo/deodorant to satisfy their needs? The Fighting Irish and Irish Spring? Touchdown Jesus approved. The range wars that have been fought by Nike and UnderArmour, Adidas and Reebok would be small skirmishes compared to what could happen if Unilever and Kraft get into the act.
The serious side of this is, of course, the ridiculous consequences of some NCAA restrictions. Players, many from financially constrained homes, frequently miss the chance to have their parents see them play in the greatest moments of their college careers. It’s against the rules for anyone to give the parents a plane ticket to the Final Four or a bowl game. Once there’s an Official Airline of Moms Who Want to See Their Kids in the Tournament, the problem pretty much solves itself, doesn’t it? Just think about how moving and effective the Proctor & Gamble “Thank You Mom” commercial was during the Olympics and you’ll get a small idea of how touching this could be. Bonus? The NCAA gets the credit (and the money), not the blame.
If you think any of this is exaggerated, just imagine how well this simple phrase might work: “You aren’t Shabazz Napier when you’re hungry.” Snickers, are you listening?
Claudia Caplan is Senior Vice President, Business Development at MDC Partners, Inc., holding company for more than fifty advertising and marketing agencies. Throughout her career as a writer and creative director she has worked on accounts from Honda Dirt Bikes to the Baltimore Orioles. You can find her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @claudiacaplan.