The University of Notre Dame: An Examination of the Impact and Evaluation of Brand Equity in NCAA Division I-A Football

By Bruening, Jennifer E.; Lee, Min Yong | Sport Marketing Quarterly, March 2007 | Go to article overview

The University of Notre Dame: An Examination of the Impact and Evaluation of Brand Equity in NCAA Division I-A Football


Bruening, Jennifer E., Lee, Min Yong, Sport Marketing Quarterly


Introduction

The purpose of this case study is to examine the impact of Tyrone Willingham's tenure as head football coach on the brand equity of the University of Notre Dame. Brand equity is traditionally viewed as a cyclical phenomenon (Gladden, Milne, & Sutton, 1998) with longitudinal examinations being the preferred method of evaluation. This case study focuses on a three-year time period for reasons grounded in the literature and, as in this particular case, the practical consideration that Tyrone Willingham's tenure at the University of Notre Dame lasted three years. Notre Dame University's brand equity can be intensified locally and expanded globally given its long-standing tradition of football and, as of the beginning of the 2004 season, Willingham's distinction as being one of only five African American NCAA Division I-A football coaches. The team, the football program, the University of Notre Dame community (including students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni), and the community beyond the Notre Dame campus are evaluated as part of this brand equity equation. (N.B. All names have been changed to protect the confidentiality of those who participated in interviews for this study).

Brand Equity Theoretical Background

Aaker (1991) is often cited in the business literature identifying awareness, perceived quality, and loyalty as the elements that compose brand equity. Brand equity is defined as the collection of these associations "linked to a brand, its name and symbol that add to or subtract from the value provided by a product or service" (Aaker, 1991, p. 15) and is evaluated primarily from a financial standpoint (i.e., revenue).

Applications of the elements of brand equity to professional and collegiate sport have followed Aaker in recent years as well (Gladden & Funk, 2002; Gladden & Milne, 1999; Gladden et al., 1998). Gladden et al. (1998) explain the process of developing brand identity as an interplay between team, institutional, and market forces or antecedents. They also emphasize that "brand equity is created in the minds of consumers" (Gladden et al., 1998, p. 2) as these consumers are made aware of a brand, evaluate its perceived quality, make associations with that brand, and develop loyalty to that brand. Gladden and his colleagues even address the University of Notre Dame football program specifically in relation to its exclusive television contract with NBC, something that "would not be possible if Notre Dame did not have brand equity in the marketplace" (Gladden et al., 1998, p. 1). What distinguishes sportrelated brand equity research from the business-based literature is the recognition that evaluating brand equity "in the sport setting should include both tangible and intangible indicators" (Gladden et al., 1998, p. 4)

Robinson and Miller (2003) utilized the Gladden et al. (1998) model for assessing brand equity in NCAA Division I athletics in regard to the impact of Bobby Knight on the Texas Tech basketball program. Robinson and Miller (2003) posit the outcomes in terms of the tangible increase in "national media exposure, sales of team merchandise, donations and corporate support, sales of season tickets and personal seat licenses" and the intangible addition of an "exciting atmosphere at Texas Tech games" (p. 58). By specifically examining the effect of a "proven winner" (Robinson & Miller, 2003, p. 56), the Texas Tech study addresses the team-related antecedent (Gladden et al., 1998) of the head coach in the brand equity equation. While Coach Knight possesses an impressive career winning percentage and graduation rates for his players, he is not without a substantial amount of behavioral baggage from his years at Indiana University. However, Robinson and Miller's (2003) initial findings support that Knight's presence has had positive effects on the brand equity of Texas Tech men's basketball.

In examining the antecedents of brand equity established by Gladden et al. …

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