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Washington Nationals Partnership

The Challenge: 
In 2012, AU entered into a strategic partnership with the Washington Nationals professional baseball franchise. In 2014, as we entered the partnership’s third year, we focused on building AU awareness, creating a sense of community, and improving alumni engagement. Like AU’s WONK brand campaign, our Nationals partnership uses strategic, integrated marketing to boost pride and identify AU as one of America’s best universities.

UCM looks for unexpected ways to promote AU, which has a history of unique marketing efforts. A partnership with professional baseball is not typical for an institution of higher education, but neither is our WONK campaign. In fact, baseball—considered by many to be an intellectual’s game—is a perfect match for AU. The WONK campaign celebrates those who are smart, focused, passionate, and engaged—much like those who enjoy America’s pastime.

The Nationals’ fan base aligned well with AU’s target demographics. Our targets range from a 17-year-old prospective student to an 80-year-old donor, with students, faculty, staff, alumni, employers, and Washington, DC, influencers in between. Nationals fans are highly educated, affluent, and more likely to be politically active, hold high-level positions, and volunteer. They are also likely to be considering an advanced degree, according to Scarborough Research.

The Solution:  
Our initiative included UCM, Development and Alumni Relations, Special Events, Student Affairs, and the Office of the President. The partnership began on opening day in April and continued through the postseason in October. Advertising elements included radio spots, rotational banners, 200 in-park screens, playing of AU’s “Sleepy College Town” video, in-game WONK challenges with key faculty, and LED banners around the park. AU’s signature partnership event, A Night at Nationals Park, was held on August 22, 2014.

We engaged many of our audiences through promotion and distribution of 25,000 Nationals WONK T-shirts, a first pitch by sports journalist and AU alumnus David Aldridge, a national anthem performance by an AU a cappella group, lineup delivery by AU president Neil Kerwin, AU mascot participation around the Presidents Race, and pregame events for the AU community. Almost 34,000 people attended the game on AU Night.

We recognized an opportunity to extend our partnership by partnering with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to provide extended hours of operation for Metro during postseason games. By helping game attendees get home safely, AU showed its commitment to the DC area. Creative campaign elements also included in-stadium signage, WONK Challenges, and radio spots.

The Nationals conducted a fan survey in May and October, 2014, with a total of 27,500 game attendees that explored, among other topics, opinions and awareness of sponsors. AU saw a high increase in aided recall from wave 1 to wave 2:

  • Awareness increased by 225 percent and unaided recall by 24 percentage points, the highest of all Nationals sponsors in the survey.
  • Recall of the WONK Challenges increased to 73 percent, higher than recall of GEICO, T-Mobile, and Toyota.

AU also increased perception of community involvement and uniqueness:

  • Shortly after the postseason announcement that AU would keep the Metro open, perceived community involvement increased by more than 250 percent.
  • When asked about brand perception, the percentage of those who said they know “moderate/a lot” about AU increased 27 percent (compared to 4 percent for other DC universities). The percentage who said they like/love AU increased 16 percent over 2013, the highest among universities.
  • The perception that AU has a unique personality increased by 6 percent from wave 1 to wave 2 (Georgetown University decreased 2 percent and George Washington University increased 1 percent).

AU’s Metro partnership generated approximately 80 news stories, and our Facebook ad campaign garnered 105,259 impressions, a click-through rate of 2.07 percent, and 1,722 new page likes.