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Newark (NY Red Bulls) mini-pitch. Courtesy photo.




Soccer, Hispanics and college
Major marketing push to boost SNHU’s national brand

01/21/16
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com, Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



Earlier this year, Southern New Hampshire University partnered with Major League Soccer by offering scholarships to League players and getting the school’s name on the airwaves during games. Now, SNHU has begun sowing the seeds with younger generations across the country by setting up small fields and offering a full ride to one local kid in each city where it builds one.

 
Why soccer?
So why does SNHU have its sights set on soccer, which has lagged behind America’s top four sports for generations?
In short, because the sport is growing and its audience is exactly who SNHU wants to attract.
“It’s in the sweet spot of students who would be interested in taking online education as young adults,” said Scott Durand, who is SNHU’s vice president of marketing and student recruitment. 
He says it’s tied directly to a long-term goal to make the school a well-known entity among the Hispanic community.
“One of the things that was very interesting to us about Major League Soccer was how their fan base is Hispanic,” SNHU President Paul LeBlanc said.
Soccer has a fan base 101 million strong — 40 percent of whom are Hispanic and 60 percent of whom are millennials. 
Demographically, it makes sense for SNHU to market the school to this group. They’re the fastest-growing segment of the population, and LeBlanc says 50,000 Hispanics turn 18 each month. But it also helps a group that’s lagged behind others in college attainment to gain access to higher education.
“We have a lot of conversations about, ‘How do we reach marginalized or underserved city populations?’” LeBlanc said.
Durand hopes the seeds he’s planting in major urban areas across the country like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Denver will bloom into a major boost in enrollment down the road. 
“I don’t think SNHU shies away from our mission to deliver education — our high-quality education — to as many people as we can,” Durand said.
The school wasn’t actively looking for a major-league sport licensing deal back when it was first approached, but Durand said MLS chose SNHU over two for-profit universities and a major state school.
“What made the difference for us choosing each other was the larger opportunities [for education],” Durand said.
 
The partnership
The mutually beneficial relationship between SNHU and MLS started last spring when a graduate of what was then New Hampshire College made a phone call. That graduate was John Guppy, the former general manager of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club and the founder of a marketing firm called Gilt Edge Soccer. On the other end of the line was Scott Durand, a fellow graduate and friend.
As Durand tells it, Guppy pitched a traditional advertising relationship, where the school buys some ad time or puts its logo in the stadiums. But Durand, his marketing team and LeBlanc had something else in mind.
“While we’ll definitely be making some soccer-specific commercials and running them through Univision, ESPN and Fox — that already fits well in our mission and how we approach the U.S. market, but it’s really about educational tie-in,” Durand said.
To start with, SNHU is offering online college education for players signing a contract with MLS. Before it made this option available, young players were faced with more attractive offers from colleges where they could play and get a degree at the same time, but MLS contracts precluded the possibility of taking a soccer scholarship. The partnership also positions SNHU as the only education provider through MLS. 
“It’s pretty unique. I would say there’s no other university-major sport relationship like this one in the country,” Durand said.
So far, it’s working out well for MLS and the players, according to Durand.
“I think, to date, we have nine players in class and another seven that are committed to start in the next term,” Durand said. 
These players are not the same players as in SNHU’s Division II home team, the Penmen, though the Penmen players (and all SNHU students, for that matter) could end up benefitting from the MLS relationship. Durand says the school began creating internships at soccer clubs, virtual senior projects to solve club issues and a series of webinars featuring MLS corporate executives for students who are more interested in the business side of the sport.
 
Mini pitches
In keeping with the title “the official education provider of Major League Soccer,” SNHU teamed up with the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Adidas and MLS to build small soccer fields (called “mini pitches”) in each of the 20 cities that is host to an MLS team. It’s called the “20 for 20 Pitch Program.”
They’re getting built specifically in disadvantaged neighborhoods at community centers and elementary, middle or high schools.
On each field, on the backstops will be Adidas, U.S. Soccer Foundation and SNHU branding in plain view of the young players.
“We’ve done five mini pitches so far,” Durand said. “We should have all 20 finished by I think July.”
The program, says Durand, does more than just build fields and walk away.
“Part of this deal through the U.S. Soccer Foundation is that three days a week, throughout the school year, there’s an after-school program called Kicks for Kids and the After School Success Program,” Durand said. 
The coaches who will come in during those programs will also be mentors to kids in more areas than athletics. And some of these kids need any help they can get.
One pitch was built in the “most dangerous neighborhood in Newark,” New Jersey, according to Durand.
“Every day, when school is in session, there are four uniformed policemen around the playground,” Durand said.
SNHU is also offering a full online scholarship to one young person from each of those communities.
“So, they’ll see SNHU in their community. They’ll certainly see us on TV. They’ll see our students on the ground,” Durand said. 





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