How to Build an Athletic Department’s Brand

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People cheering

College sports are well known for their teams’ branding efforts. One could hardly expect to visit Florida without being inundated by Florida Gators merchandise, for example. When it comes to interscholastic sports and high school athletic departments, however, apparel contracts are few and far between.

A handful of South Carolina schools in the Anderson County School District are challenging the norm by signing exclusive deals with both Nike and Adidas, according to Lake Morris’s Independent Mail article, “Apparel Contracts Help Anderson County High School Athletic Departments Stretch Budgets.”

The contracts credit funds ranging from $15,000 to $25,000 to the school’s Nike or Adidas account for the purchase of uniforms. Participating departments also get discounts on all purchases from uniforms to fundraising merchandise after they reach the credited amount. By using the same supplier for everything, high school sports branding colors and team logos can be locked down uniformly across all apparel and merchandise.

The athletic directors (ADs) at these schools run their sports departments the same way their college counterparts do, and their leading-edge efforts shine through in the branding deals. Master’s in athletic administration online programs offer future ADs the knowledge and skills they will need to run successful, well-branded sports programs like those in the Anderson County School District.

The Importance of Fixed, Enduring Color Schemes and Logos

As with any product or service in any industry, the keys to an athletic department’s brand are uniformity and saturation. Anderson County’s ADs treat their sports departments like business franchises and understand that their branding begins with set-in-stone styles and consistency in marketing materials. In this respect, branding a high school sports program is no different from branding a soft drink or a fast food franchise.

According to’s “Increasing Market Share Through Strategic Branding” by Nikki Sells, all marketing materials must retain a professional and uniform look. A logo on a T-shirt must be identical to the logo on a baseball cap or beverage koozie. Uniformity leads to greater brand saturation and penetration in the local community.

Finding high school football team T-shirts and memorabilia in local shops is becoming increasingly common around the country. Athletic administrators know that a significant portion of their community is composed of people who either attended the high school in their youth, have children who are current students, or both. Offering merchandise for sale at convenience stores, grocery stores, novelty shops, and even restaurants in the surrounding community aids in brand saturation. Negotiating with local businesses helps stoke area support.

“Make an effort to consolidate [school colors] down to one scheme. The goal is to have your logo instantly recognized by anyone who sees it,” writes sports manager and coach Charles Welde in “Seven Steps to Building Your Athletic Department’s Brand” on “You want to make sure the outstanding effort of your student-athletes is being attributed back to your school and the hard work of your staff.”

Branding involves more than just colors and logos, however. Attention must be paid to the image and reputation attached to them. When customers in line for groceries spot the high school football team’s logo on a T-shirt, they should associate positive emotions with it.

Branding and Networking Are Inseparable

High school athletics are as popular as athletic directors make them. At a bare minimum, the families and friends of student-athletes attend games, buy merchandise, and participate in fundraisers. But as governments cut back on interscholastic sports funding, doing the bare minimum is no longer enough to keep a program afloat without increasing fees for student-athletes.

Soaring uniform and equipment costs can make participation in sports difficult for some students. Athletic administrators need to work together with their student-athletes, coaching staffs, and the community to “sell” their programs and raise the funding necessary to keep programs running smoothly and at an accessible cost to the players.

Welde, in his article, urges ADs to proceed from a strong mission statement when promoting interscholastic sports to the public. A mission statement should define the organization and communicate a consistent message. In the case of youth athletics, that message should be the benefit to a community’s adolescents.

The role of athletic director is one of constant networking at social functions and in the community. Chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs, alumni associations, and community service projects provide ample opportunities to keep a school’s brand where the public will see it. And ADs should devote themselves to securing coverage for their teams from local newspapers, magazines, websites, radio stations, and TV channels.

David Hoch stresses the importance of social media in athletic department branding in his blog post, “Marketing Your Program — It’s More than Filling Seats.” Hoch suggests maintaining up-to-date information on teams’ social media accounts by:

  • Posting media (photos, videos, and similar content) and accomplishments from team activities
  • Promoting fundraising events, award ceremonies, and any other activities that can benefit from public attendance
  • Providing quick updates about games, community service, and any other events promptly
  • Recording interviews with coaches and student-athletes and publishing them on social media accounts
  • Listing individual athletes’ accomplishments and awards
  • Interviewing alumni, community members, and local personalities regarding their feelings about their local interscholastic sports teams
  • Posting and reposting articles and studies about the positive effects of athletic programs on the development of adolescents

Managing an athletic department involves constant promotion and networking with influencers in the local community who can help advertise and popularize the school’s brand.

Learn More About Ohio University’s Online Master’s in Athletic Administration

Why be an athletic director unless tireless campaigning and a fast-paced environment appeal to you? Ohio University houses one of the first academic programs in the nation to offer post-graduate educational options in the field of sports administration. Since its inception, OHIO’s master’s in athletic administration online program (MAA) has consistently graduated well-rounded athletic directors capable of using every tool at their disposal to keep all of a sports department’s programs running smoothly.

Ohio University’s online courses focus on preparing interscholastic athletic directors to nurture student-athletes in any sport and run entire athletic departments.

Ohio University’s Master of Athletic Administration program is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA) and prepares students for the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) certification. For more information, visit Ohio University’s MAA page.

Recommended Reading:

An Athletic Director’s Responsibilities and Career Outlook
Effective Leadership of Sports Programs
7 Positive Uses of Social Media for Student-Athletes and Coaches

Sources:, “7 steps to building your athletic department’s brand”, “Marketing Your Program – It’s More than Filling Seats”