A successful FBS collegiate football program means millions of dollars worth of exposure for its university — even for those not among the Power Five.
Western Kentucky, a Group of Five program in Conference USA, discovered this following a comeback season in 2019, when the Hilltoppers went 9-4 — improving by six victories over 2018 (3-9) for the third-best turnaround in all the land.
The Hilltoppers’ transformation brought tremendous exposure to the program, athletic department and university. A new analysis has valued that media/marketing exposure at nearly $35 million.
The study completed by Joyce Julius and Associates, Inc. — which takes into account national television, TV news coverage, print media, internet news and social media from Aug. 1, 2019, through Jan. 15, 2020 — valued the exposure generated by WKU football in that window at $34,880,591.60.
That figure is based on how much the exposure would cost in the open market if purchased at current marketing rates.
“This study brings great perspective to the positive impact of WKU Athletics in many areas,” WKU athletic director Todd Stewart said. “We often call athletics the ‘front porch’ of the university, and that’s never been more evident than this marketing exposure valuation, particularly in regard to our bowl game victory — one of four in the last six years.
“Considering this analysis looked at just one of our 16 programs and that the total number for our full department would be significantly higher, it becomes clear how bright the spotlight of WKU athletics shines on Western Kentucky University.”
The season included a lopsided 45-19 win at SEC foe Arkansas and concluded with a 23-20 victory over Western Michigan in the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl, which concluded with Cory Munson’s 52-yard field goal. It marked WKU’s sixth bowl appearance in the last eight seasons.
According to the valuation, WKU football generated nearly $19 million in exposure through internet news, fueling more than 18,000 mentions/articles and over 670 million impressions. Some of the top outlets within that coverage were Yahoo!, MSN, Business Insider, the New York Times, USA Today and Forbes.
Two of the season’s top moments that were a primary focus of the study were the Hilltoppers’ road win at Arkansas on SEC Network and its walk-off victory in the First Responder Bowl on ESPN. The nature of both victories was a catalyst toward significant exposure through other media as well.
The national TV exposure from the bowl game was valued at $6.8 million with nearly 1.3 million impressions. The study uses a scientific approach to quantify graphics, mentions, helmets, logos, coach apparel, highlights, mascot time, jersey identity, bottom line graphics and sideline personnel/equipment.
All told, Joyce Julius puts a conservative estimate on the media exposure value of the First Responder Bowl alone for WKU in excess of $13 million. The win at Arkansas was valued at about $500,000 in national TV exposure.
The program generated more than 84 million social media impressions during the 2019 season, with that exposure valued at $2.4 million.
WKU also produced nearly $2.4 million in television news coverage, led by mentions on outlets such as CBS, CBS Sports Network, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, ESPNU, Fox Sports 1 and NFL Network.
The season generated nearly $3.8 million worth of print media coverage from leading outlets such as USA Today, the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Daily News.
The Hilltoppers, then, were big winners in 2019 — in more ways than one.