Losing the Core Sport Product: Marketing Amidst Uncertainty in College Athletics

Michael Hutchinson
Cody T. Havard
Brennan K. Berg
and Timothy D. Ryan

The chime of a new email went initially unnoticed as Sarah Fletcher finished reading yet another reporter’s critique of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). It had been six weeks since UAB president Ray Watts announced the decision to discontinue the university’s Division I football program. While the proverbial dust had settled, some stakeholder groups1 remained discontent following the controversial decision to become the first Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) program to disband in nearly 20 years. As the director of marketing for the UAB athletic department, Fletcher felt isolated in these historic circumstances that had rarely been faced elsewhere. As a consequence of football’s discontinuation, Fletcher’s division of marketing would be met with several challenging modifications in the coming months due to the prominent role of football in marketing communications. After announcing the termination of football as the department’s marquee sport, a video of a linebacker’s passionate and public dialogue with Watts went viral for anyone to view. This was the contentious context in which Fletcher found herself as she began contemplating the chain of tasks to be completed in the new direction of marketing athletics at UAB.