Beth DeBauche, OVC Commissioner, Talks Sports Branding and Marketing
We are a fan of Beth DeBauche , our MVP for sports marketing for Nashville and the Ohio Valley Conference. As head of the OVC, she shepherds sports for twelve university teams, including Tennessee teams Austin Peay, Belmont, TSU, Tennessee Tech, and UT Martin. This year, she served as the Chair of the Nashville Local Organizing Committee (NLOC) for the 2014 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Final Four, the largest event in women’s college sports that brought 30,000 fans to Nashville. Here what she has to say on OVC branding, women in all areas of sports and whether women will ever play college football. Oh, by the way, we said 5 questions but Beth was so interesting we actually asked her 7!
1. How have your new branding efforts enhanced the image and reputation of the OVC? And what’s new for 2014-15?
The OVC is entering its 66th year as an athletics conference and has sustained over the years because our member institutions have a similarity of mission and our focus is on the sustaining values of promoting academic success for our student–athletes and competitive excellence as a means of teaching valuable life lessons. The OVC has great stories to tell, but we needed more direction and coordination in telling them to the broader public.
Accordingly, the membership recently identified a new tagline: “Inspiring Excellence Since 1948”. We selected this tagline because it highlighted our commitment to excellence, both on the playing fields and in the classroom. The tagline also gave the Conference a wonderful platform to describe how both the intercollegiate athletics experience and our student-athletes’ accomplishments can be inspiring. We currently are featuring many stories of inspiration and excellence on our Website.
Two years ago, thanks to the OVC Board of Presidents’ leadership, we established the OVC Digital Network, which provides free of charge, HD quality coverage of over 800 sporting contests and other University programing via the Worldwide Web. I am thrilled with the network, as it gives us more control over our message and allows us to reach current and new fans around the world. Most importantly, it lets us tell our student-athletes’ stories.
Additionally, we have established a new blog entitled OVC Extra, which is intended to distinguish the OVC from our peers by highlighting the fun and personal side of our intercollegiate athletics programs and truly allow folks to get an inside view of the real OVC intercollegiate athletics experience.
Together the Excellence Campaign, the OVC Digital Network and OVC Extra provide a comprehensive platform to promote the OVC. Please enjoy these resources at OVCSports.com
2. How has women’s sports changed in the OVC in recent years?
It may surprise you, but there has not been much of a change regarding women’s sports in the OVC over the past few years. The reason being, women’s athletics has long been part of the fabric of the OVC. Having sports programs that provide student-athletes with an opportunity to compete at the highest level, but in a way that is integrated into the overall academic experience, is central to the OVC’s mission. It is critical to our OVC membership that our student-athletes, regardless of gender, use their athletics opportunities to enhance their overall educational experience. In the OVC, we sponsor 18 sports and all are treated the same, regardless of the gender of the participants. We would like to see the level of support and sponsorship for women’s sports increase and, therefore, have made it a Conference priority.
3. What is the most exciting project you are working on now? Why?
It is a busy time in the OVC Office and in the Conference as a whole. Five years ago, when I first assumed my role as commissioner, we took the opportunity to engage in a new strategic planning exercise. I am pleased to report the Conference has accomplished most of its strategic goals and objectives. Accordingly, it is an appropriate time to refresh the OVC’s strategic plan, as we eagerly look to the Conference’s future. Led by the OVC Board of Presidents, we are using a collaborative, membership driven process; and while we are in the preliminary stages, it appears the Conference’s priorities will be focused on:
- Further enhancing the OVC’s brand;
- Continuing to promote the academic success of our fine student-athletes;
- Furthering our competitive excellence in men’s basketball;
- Better defining specific success goals and objectives for success in our “Olympic” sports; and
- Building on our success in football.
Beyond our strategic planning efforts, both the Conference Office and member institutions are busy trying to grow and enhance the OVC Digital Network. This HD quality network provides our fans around the world access to OVC sports programming free of charge. The member institutions do a great job of producing programming and the network provides a wonderful platform, from which we can highlight the stories of the OVC and our student-athletes.
Finally, we are presently working on a project, which I am very excited about because of the potential it brings to open an important new chapter for OVC student-athletes.
On October 20, the OVC has invited our team physicians and athletics trainers to an OVC Health and Safety Summit. Participants will have an opportunity to hear from the NCAA’s new Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brian Hainline, and then engage in discussion regarding health and well-being issues impacting our student-athletes. Our health care professionals currently do a fantastic job of serving our student-athletes, but I am thrilled about the opportunity to enhance the level of dialogue and collaboration throughout the Conference on these important issues.
4. Have women become accepted in all parts of sports? Coaching? Management?
Women have made great strides in the administration and management of intercollegiate athletics. In my personal experience, I certainly have felt accepted and valued throughout my athletics administration career; whether it was working at Vanderbilt, the Southeastern Conference, the NCAA or now at the OVC. While I feel responsible to be a good role model for both our male and female student-athletes, as a female commissioner, I am charged by the OVC Board of Presidents with helping to lead the OVC and my gender just cannot, and should not, be an issue. My experience seems to be shared by my fellow female commissioners, as well. However, it is interesting to note, that of the last six Division I commissioners hired, four have been female. In total there are now eight Division I female commissioners out of a total of 32.
At the coaching level, it also appears women are accepted within their profession and judged based on their competency and quality of character, rather than their gender. Nonetheless, there are a few trends that warrant noting for their potential impact on the number of females in the intercollegiate athletics coaching ranks. More and more, men are applying to coach women’s intercollegiate sports teams, which I would argue symbolizes more acceptance of women’s intercollegiate athletics. This is occurring at the same time as we see a number of women leaving the coaching ranks after a few years in the profession. It is speculated the reason a number of women leave the profession is because coaching demands are not conducive to the life demands many women face. As athletics administrators, we need to address some of these life-work balance issues, for coaches of both genders, because we need to make sure we keep good coaches in the profession.
Additionally, our female student-athletes appear to be accepted on campus. This acceptance is critically important because we need to make sure our female students are provided the same opportunities to receive all the positive benefits that stem from athletics participation. Benefits such as teamwork, self-confidence and feeling comfortable with competition must be available to students, regardless of gender.
While there is general acceptance within the administrative and coaching ranks of women, where women’s intercollegiate athletics appear to be lagging behind is in the area of support. Attendance for women’s sports, sponsorship and media coverage all need to be improved. There are some fantastic opportunities for smart businesses to sponsor, and promote, women’s intercollegiate athletics, for our female student-athletes are a terrific “product”.
5. With your role as Chair of the Nashville Local Organizing Committee of the 2014 NCAA Division Women’s Basketball Final Four, what benefits did you see for Nashville and the OVC?
It was a true honor for the OVC to partner with the Nashville Sports Council to serve as the host of the 2014 Women’s Final Four. In addition to the over 30,000 fans that visited Nashville for the Semifinal and Final games played at the Bridgestone Arena on April 6 and 8, it is estimated the event left over a $20,000,000 economic impact on the region. Equally as important is the legacy this event has left behind, with the many programs that occurred in advance of the Final Four that are now sustaining for the benefit of the young people in the region. These sustaining legacy programs included:
- The Music City Girls Lead leadership program, housed by Lipscomb University’s Andrews Leadership Academy.
- The Champions 4 Women luncheon project.
- Funding for the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame exhibits intended to promote women’s athletics.
- Additional financial support for the women in the media project, including coverage of TSSAA women’s basketball games.
- Support for the Metropolitan Arts Commission to provide additional programming for young people.
Perhaps the most important aspect of hosting this Final Four was the pride that came from a job well done. The NCAA staff reported Nashville was the best Final Four to date! Nashville and the OVC institutions should be proud of the passion and effort it took to successfully hosting the 2014 NCAA Women’s Final Four. We had such great support from the city and tremendous backing from our citizens, with over 1,000 volunteers giving of their time and effort to make sure the many programs went off without a hitch. We were able to show to the world, what we have long known: Nashville is a world class city that can host large scale events.
On a personal note, I am proud of the OVC membership and our staff for a job well done, pleased with the additional publicity for the OVC and grateful for the many new friends I have made as a result of this experience.
6. Where will you be during the first football game of the season? And when you are not rooting for OVC teams, what’s your college team?
Growing up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, I am a huge football fan, so it is a real pleasure for me to follow our outstanding OVC football programs. The OVC plays football at the Division I level in the FCS subdivision (which means OVC schools can offer 63 scholarships, rather than 85 scholarships, which is the limit at the FBS level). FCS football is outstanding quality competition and the OVC schools provide an excellent game day environment.
During the course of the football season, I will make a point to go to games on each of the 9 OVC campuses that play football. It is wonderful to spend time with the administrators, coaches and fans while witnessing the accomplishments of our student-athletes. As the competition for the OVC championship heats up toward the end of the season, I typically make a point to again see the teams in championship contention as well as follow our teams as they enter into the Division I playoffs. The OVC had three teams in the Division I playoffs last year, so we have reason to be optimistic about this upcoming season. I am very anxious for the OVC football season to start and busy planning my travel schedule.
In addition to actively following the OVC football teams, I have a keen interest in following the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish, as Notre Dame is my alma mater.
7. Will we see women play football at a college level in the foreseeable future?
While there are still many challenges relative to the growth of women’s intercollegiate athletics and full Title IX compliance, we should not lose track of all the progress that has been made in the area of women’s sports, since the adoption of Title IX 42 years ago. There are more opportunities for women to participate in intercollegiate athletics in a broad range of sports than ever before. Furthermore, institutions are doing a better job of monitoring and tracking sports trends and participant interest. The NCAA also has developed an Emerging Sports Program to help guide the development of new sports to ultimately achieve championship status. There are a number of new women’s sports that appear to be on the rise including: sand volleyball, triathlon and cheer; along with growth in traditional sports such as: soccer, softball and volleyball. To answer the specific question, it does not appear there is a strong movement at the youth, high school and college levels to establish girl’s/women’s football at this time; but given the general popularity of football, who knows what the future holds.
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