P.J. Fleck is off to Minnesota, but his impact will remain at Western Michigan for years to come.
Following the Broncos' undefeated run to a MAC championship and a Cotton Bowl appearance, the MAC hired Ann Arbor, Mich.,-based marketing firm Joyce Julius & Associates to quantify how much media exposure Western Michigan's 2016 football season translated into real dollars.
The result? $69 million.
JJ&A studied five "high points" from the 2016 season -- a Nov. 1 MACtion win at Ball State, College GameDay's Nov. 19 visit to Kalamazoo, a win over Toledo in the regular season finale, the MAC Championship defeat of Ohio and the Cotton Bowl loss to Wisconsin. The firm the Toledo win was worth $8.1 million, the MAC title game $6.9 million and the Cotton Bowl a whopping $41 million.
Additionally, wide receiver Corey Davis's fifth overall selection was worth $15 million on its own in exposure to Western Michigan. "Worth" here is defined as what WMU would have to spend in advertising to receive the equivalent exposure in various television, print and online media platforms:
To collect the data, Joyce Julius & Associates used industry-best practices and proprietary calculators, gleaning exposure information/values across four mediums: television – game broadcasts, TV news coverage, print media and internet news. Outside of the exposure value summary, Joyce Julius determined the number of “impressions” from the MAC sample size – mentions of Western Michigan throughout the various outlets – at over 1.1 billion views.
And, sure, any study like this should be taken as a grain of salt -- especially one commissioned by the school or conference in question. But Western Michigan's entire athletics budget for 2016-17 was $30 million, meaning Fleck's Broncos provided the entire university -- not just the athletics department -- with exposure that Western Michigan quite literally could not buy.
“The 2016 Bronco Football season, MAC Championship, national ranking and appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl game made for a truly special season that did deliver significant recognition to Kalamazoo and Western Michigan University,” WMU AD Kathy Beauregard said in a statement. “Our student-athletes’ individual accomplishments, both on and off the field, also brought our community and program great exposure. The values and impressions, as assessed by an independent third party, do demonstrate tangible recognition and value accruing to our University for its investment in Intercollegiate Athletics and Bronco Football.”
While the actual effect of Western Michigan's 2016 season cannot be precisely quantified, so, too, is the impact that the season will have on WMU in the years to come. A successful, once-in-a-lifetime season exposes the Western Michigan brand to potential students that never would have considered WMU before. Some of them will attend the school, graduate and either stay in the Kalamazoo area after graduation or fan out across the country and spread the WMU gospel wherever they wind up living -- while, hopefully, donating to the university as alums.
When college presidents talk about athletics being the front porch to their university, Western Michigan's 2016 football season is what they have in mind.