College sports branding and business

September 6, 2023

Last weekend, we had the privilege of returning to our alma mater, the University of Washington (UW). The experience was more than just a trip down memory lane; it was an inspiring journey into the world of college sports and the remarkable branding strategies that have made programs like UW's Huskies legendary. As founders of Cadi, we couldn't help but draw invaluable lessons from our time spent as fans and, now, as business professionals.

Tradition is Timeless:

For the best collegiate brands, football and the institution itself are not just aspects of life; they are life itself. College football, for fans, is nothing short of magical. As entrepreneurs, we stand in awe of the strategic brilliance that has shaped college football into the cultural phenomenon it is today.

The University of Washington holds a special place in the hearts of almost everyone in the Pacific Northwest. It stands unchallenged in the realm of college sports, with a brand so powerful that it's arguably one of the driving forces behind Seattle's economic boom over the last three decades. The passion of UW fans and the strategic decisions that have underpinned this remarkable brand's rise serve as a wellspring of inspiration for us.

Here are three principles to build strong brands like Washington:

#1 Familiar Traditions that Span Generations: College sports marketing is never afraid to take chances. It's a world of innovation where new traditions are born and tested with an eye on positive fan response. The Huskies' first game dates back to 1891, and Huskie Stadium, one of the nation's finest, was constructed in 1920, providing a breathtaking backdrop on the shores of Lake Washington.

The stadium view, engraved in every Huskies fan's memory, sets the stage for a unique gameday experience. UW offers "sailgating," where fans tailgate on boats, creating an unforgettable tradition. The recognizable purple and gold, the popular "Go Huskies" chant, and the Air Siren scoring celebration all contribute to the allure of the Huskies brand.

College athletics are programmed to perfection, with the same traditions, advertisements, and stunts unfolding at every game. It's a commitment to creating consistent and memorable experiences, a key factor in brand building. Cadi, too, seeks to establish programs that promote regular, ingrained traditions in the world of golf—a sport rich with its own unique customs.

#2 Leverage All Available Resources for Success: College sports have thrived on a unique model, often driven by free labor, underpaid staff, and volunteers. This concept, though occasionally debated, is at the core of college sports' business model. Student-athletes perform in exchange for scholarships, while many behind-the-scenes operations rely on underpaid staff. Game days, multifaceted and complex events, come to life through the dedication of volunteers. This model, while controversial, is the backbone of college sports and a significant contributor to the memorable experiences created on gamedays.

This got us thinking about how entrepreneurs, including us at Cadi, should strive to maximize the value of every dollar spent. We've often leveraged overseas workers to build our technology and free up time for other branding initiatives. But there's another resource that college sports have mastered—crowdsourcing. Fans play a pivotal role in sharing UW content and creating buzz. By enriching the Cadi experience, we aim to turn golf enthusiasts into our most passionate advocates.

#3 Masters of Brand Deals and Licensing: College programs like UW's have established extensive networks of alumni and business partners. They've combined philanthropic fundraising with strategic business dealings, resulting in powerful brand partnerships. When you step onto Alaska Airlines Field at Huskie Stadium, you're surrounded by branding from every angle. UW has harnessed the success of local businesses, effectively riding the coattails of thriving enterprises to bolster the Huskies brand.

It's easy to admire UW's achievements, but replicating them is a challenge of a different magnitude. For Cadi, the path forward involves forging more partnerships and striking deals that build our brand. The key is to start with smaller collaborations that have the potential to blossom into transformative partnerships. Recently, we joined forces with the City of Seattle and its four public golf courses. We believe that by delivering value through this partnership, we can open doors to iconic collaborations similar to Alaska Airlines and the University of Washington.

In Conclusion:Our return to the University of Washington's hallowed grounds has reaffirmed our belief in the power of branding and tradition. As we navigate the path ahead, we're committed to infusing our Cadi brand with the spirit of legendary traditions, resourceful innovation, and strategic partnerships. Much like the University of Washington's Huskies, we're on a quest to make our mark and build a brand that stands the test of time.

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