Some people think only of textbooks when they think of Barnes & Noble College, but it’s a perception Helena Falcon is working hard to change. In addition to providing FAU students with learning materials and managing operations at Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) Boca Raton campus bookstore, Falcon sees her role on campus as an essential branding partner. “We might not be the biggest name yet, but our FAU world is growing – and growing fast,” she says proudly. And one of the ways she’s helping to build the FAU brand is through the support of its athletics program.
A survey by the New York Times finds that about one-quarter of the United States population, or between 75 and 80 million people, follow college football regularly. Those kinds of numbers are responsible for an NCAA revenue figure of $871.6 million for the 2011-12 season, money it uses to help support intercollegiate athletics opportunities on both a national and local level. The success of collegiate sports also represents new marketing opportunities, a point appreciated by Joanna Koliba, who manages both the campus bookstore at the University of North Texas (UNT), and an additional satellite store at UNT’s Apogee Stadium. “In our main campus store, we’re carrying more merchandise with the university UNT logo, but our stadium store is all about the Mean Green,” she says, referring to the school’s athletic moniker.
Although new on campus, the expertise brought by Barnes & Noble College, who manages UNT’s bookstore and stadium store, couldn’t have been better timed. As part of the university’s celebration of this year’s 100th anniversary of Mean Green football, the team is introducing a new centennial uniform to honor some of the greatest players in the school’s history, including its most famous alumnus, football hall-of-famer Mean Joe Greene. Combined with the added benefit of a two-year-old stadium, the Mean Green is thriving with its move to Conference USA and eight nationally televised games scheduled for this season.
In Boca Raton, Florida Atlantic University offers 18 different NCAA Division I sports and has a brand new stadium to help power its brand. The marketing Falcon and her team bring to the team spirit is impressive. With two stores at the stadium, two trailers will also be utilized on home-game days, resulting in FAU-branded merchandise being visible everywhere. “If we’re going to be a key marketing component on campus, we need to have a strong presence,” she reasons. Promoting both new colors and a new logo this season, Falcon’s stores are stacked with FAU items ranging from pom-poms to foam fingers, tumblers to decals.
Apparel is also a big part of merchandising, which includes team logoed jerseys, polos and tank tops – even a range of children’s products. While spreading the word for FAU and The Owls, the rewards for the stadium store are also big. “At the stadium, we’ll meet customers who might only come for the game,” Falcon explains, “and with different themed weekends for parents or homecoming, we get to see more alumni and general athletic fans that we wouldn’t necessarily see at our main campus store.”
With the start of the college football season underway, Barnes & Noble College store managers are working closely with their athletic departments to fine tune their merchandise and branding strategies. Despite the additional workload, Falcon’s enthusiasm is infectious. “We’re very excited about our role supporting FAU,” she says, “and it means our staff can pass on some of that excitement to our customers – the stadium is ready to go, and on game day, we’ll be ready, too!”