It may be Clemson’s football team that will face off with Alabama for the national title, but in many ways, the whole university stands to gain from the appearance.
The Tigers’ success over the last few years has helped fuel enrollment growth at the university and new construction.
When the team won the 2017 game against Alabama, it helped increase the university’s national presence. After winning the game in January 2017, searches for “Clemson University” reached a five-year peak, according to Google Trends data.
“To be at the pinnacle of the sport for a protracted period of time really just raises the profile of the entire institution,” Mark Land, Clemson’s vice president for university relations, said.
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Land said the sports success also gives the university opportunities for free advertising.
The week of the 2017 title game, the university had more than 250,000 visits to its website from people outside of the region, 4,500 people browsed information on at least three undergraduate majors, 910 people looked up campus tour information with 215 registering for tours, 1,000 people clicked on admissions application materials, and another 760 looked at the university’s career opportunity information, according to Land.
In total, the 2017 game led to 27 million total social media impressions for the university’s pages and 10,800 new followers, Land said.
Applications to Clemson have also increased along with the Tigers’ winning. In 2008, 15,542 students applied for freshman admission to Clemson. In 2018, 28,844 students applied, an 86 percent increase.
Land said it is hard to know if that is directly related to football, but said the wins certainly do not hurt.
“Not a lot of students say they chose to come to Clemson because we won a national championship, but there is a significant number of students who said their first introduction to Clemson was through attending an athletic event,” Land said. “Athletic success serves as a front door to the university.”
The big games can be a low investment but high reward in advertising. In 2017, the university spent about $30,000 on advertising around the game. This year, the school anticipates spending $25,000, Land said.
The university views the big games as a “business opportunity” and a way to talk about the other things happening on the campus, Land said.
But, even during the regular season, football provides a chance to talk up the academic side of the school.
“Those seven home games are opportunities for us to get 200 to 300 people together in the president’s suite to hear about the Clemson story,” Land said. “Those are workdays.”
With the 2019 game on the opposite coast, it also gives the university a chance to reach a broader audience that may not have heard of the school or know where it is located.
For major games in the past, the school has set up sessions with local guidance counselors to advertise the university. While it could not organize something similar in Santa Clara, the university has set up a list-serv of local counselors to email them information leading up to the game.
Land said Santa Clara in particular is a place of interest for attracting students to the university because of Silicon Valley.
During the ACC Championship in Charlotte, Land said the university backed off some from advertising since many people traveling there were already familiar with the school. In California, there is more opportunity to introduce new eyes to the university.
While the football wins can benefit the academic side of Clemson, Land said the university is also mindful that the increased exposure also comes with increased scrutiny.
“The brighter the spotlight, the bigger the target,” he said.