Click here to learn more about this conference.
Volume 15, No. 1 • Jan/Feb 2001
• Cover Story •
Exciting Sports-Related Marketing: A Game Plan
by Robert H. McDonald, JoAnn Sears, and Cindy Mitchell

Libraries face growing competition from commercial Internet communities that also want to be the first place people go when they want information. In an age where dot-coms are known more for their advertising campaigns than their content, libraries must market themselves as the only content-conscious information solution.1 To make the Auburn University Libraries more visible to our users, we undertook a series of promotional events. One central focus during the past few years has been marketing the library at demonstration tables before Auburn University home football games. We utilize a PowerPoint presentation along with innovative marketing merchandise, embossed with the libraries' logo and URL, to draw hundreds of people and tell them about the libraries' services.

Located in Auburn, Alabama, the libraries' collections exceed 2.5 million volumes, making it Alabama's largest library system. We are a member of the Association of Research Libraries and are made up of a main library and two branch libraries. Marketing our resources and services to the public allows us the opportunity to excel in our mission of outreach.

Game Day—A Tradition in the Making
Since 1997, the Auburn University Alumni Association has hosted a hospitality tent prior to each home football game. The tent (40 x 80 feet) features food, drinks, and entertainment. It also hosts tables representing different departments and organizations, and draws between 2,500 and 4,000 people each game day. The tent opens approximately 3 hours prior to kick-off, and the libraries have been involved since its inception. We and other organizations used to participate during each home football game, but the Alumni Association then changed the plan and had each department be the sole demonstrator during one game per year. So now we can concentrate our efforts on one single event.

During the 1998 season, library volunteers at the tent provided printed brochures, pencils, and plastic bags. Then, at one of these games, we observed that the other tables in the hospitality tent seemed to be doing a better job of enticing crowds to discuss their services. The notable difference between their tables and ours was that they had candy and better giveaways such as golf tees, peanuts, and coloring books. It was then that we decided that we would invest in promotional merchandise to be utilized at the hospitality tent on game days as well as for other marketing events.

Two librarians were assigned a budget of $5,000 and were instructed to select merchandise for the events. (See the sidebar for our suggestions for ordering merchandise.) They decided to focus on the libraries' electronic access and two other specialized areas: InfoQuest (our own fee-based research and document delivery service catering to customers worldwide) and extended distance education services. We knew that alumni and visitors were familiar with the physical building and its holdings—the books that they could see and touch—but perhaps not as familiar with the electronic resources that were available remotely. To capitalize on remote access, we decided that in addition to the library's name, its URL would also be prominently embossed on the promotional items. We wanted to brand the URL in people's minds; we wanted them to think of our URL more than any other URL when they needed information.2

Game Day, 1999—The Big Event
On Saturday, October 9, 1999, our first time as the solo attraction in the Alumni Association Tent, we got an early start as we began to set up three tables of library giveaways. We used tablecloths, balloons, and streamers, and we prominently displayed a large tri-fold background featuring InfoQuest and distance education services. Since alumni and companies not affiliated with the university are the primary customers for InfoQuest, we felt that this would be an ideal setting to advertise this service. Our staff had prepared an extensive PowerPoint slide show to focus on the two areas of specialization. Auburn's fight song played in the background of this show, adding to the game day excitement.

Before the tent opened to the public, other library volunteers joined us—we had a total of nine librarians, including our dean of libraries. We lined up all of our new promotional items: sponge footballs, foam drink holders, magnets, notepads, binoculars, mini-mousepads, business cards, Post-it Notes, plastic bags, brochures, and candy. (All of the giveaways were clearly marked with the libraries' logo, URL, and phone number.) As sports fans filtered in, we watched and heard their amazement: "You guys are the library?!" and "It's free?!" We repeatedly noticed their surprise as they eagerly listened to our own excitement about services and resources available to students, faculty, and, in the case of InfoQuest, to the general public.

Tips for Ordering Promotional Items

Know your vendor and its products.

  • Find out the types of organizations your vendor is used to dealing with.
  • Have catalogs and sample items sent to you.
  • Select childproof items.
  • Find out how your vendor would like to receive graphics:
  • What file type do the images need to be in?
  • Do the graphics need to be camera ready?
  • What about color codes? (There are a lot of shades of blue.)
Does your institution place limitations on how its name and logo may be used?

Give yourself plenty of time.

  • Find out how long the turnaround time is from the order date.
  • Order early—delays are inevitable:
  • Allow time for proofreading before giving the final go-ahead.
  • Selected items may be out-of-stock or no longer available.
  • Shipments can get lost or sent to the wrong address.
Budgeting—Allow for price increases, shipping & handling costs, and set-up charges for graphics.

Keep good records.

  • Keep duplicates of graphics.
  • Keep copies of all communication. This will not only resolve problems but will make it easy to order again.
Further Reading

Corson-Finnerty, Adam and Laura Blanchard. Fundraising and
Friend-Raising on the Web. Chicago: American Library Association, 1998.

Helton, Rae and Stuart Esrock. "Positioning and Marketing Academic Libraries to Students." Marketing Library Services 12.3 (1998). Also available online:

Smykla, Evelyn Ortiz. Marketing and Public Relations Activities in ARL Libraries. Spec Kit 240. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries, April 1999.

The libraries' laptop computer, with its cellular modem connection, proved to be valuable. With it, we were prepared to answer the reference questions that arose. Patrons were pleased to receive instant service, rather than simply hearing, "Stop by the library later, and a reference librarian will be glad to help you." After all, it was this kind of instant, remote access that we were marketing.

Another tool utilized that day were blank address cards; with them, we collected names and addresses of people interested in receiving our new promotional newsletter, Auburn University Libraries' Highlights.

Throughout the morning, we had a librarian photographing the event with the libraries' digital camera. We planned to cover the story later in our electronic newsletter, Bits & PCs ( We sought permission from individuals to include their photos in the newsletter and we collected their names and addresses; later we mailed them each a copy of their photo along with the Web address where the article appeared. This was an extra touch that impressed people. We hoped that they would share their enthusiasm about the library with friends, and that the publicity would extend beyond the morning's event.

When kick-off time was near, the band, cheerleaders, and school mascot, Aubie, came through the tent. (We recommend to anyone planning a promotional event to contact your own school's mascot to schedule an appearance.) Finally, the crowds headed toward the stadium. It had been a dynamic morning, and our day's giveaways were nearly depleted. We had handed out over a thousand items in just a few short hours and had talked with hundreds of people about exciting new developments available at Auburn University Libraries. We heard from several people throughout the morning that they would call InfoQuest for their business' research needs, and that they would remind their children—who were students at the university—to make better use of the library. The Alumni Association extended kind words as well, saying that we had done a great job and that we were very well received.

Our Planning Tips and Suggestions
Marketing events will not invent themselves. It takes commitment and a real team effort. At the same time, it also requires administrative participation.3 Once you get these people to buy in, it's essential that you don't drop the ball with regard to planning. Even if you are required to start small due to budgetary constraints, remember to plan ahead. Whether you have a single person in charge or a planning committee, they must take care of local arrangements. The following are good questions to ask when planning this type of event: What type of space will this event require, and what is available? Are there electrical outlets? Is there heavy foot traffic? (Our event was held directly across from a stadium holding more than 80,000 people.) Will your library have all of the properties (tables, chairs, clipboards, and pens) required for the event? Can your library purchase these items with its budget or should you rent them or find another source? How will your properties and other giveaways get to the event site?

Don't forget about volunteers. Usually for a high-profile event, volunteers will be ready to help. However, good management of the volunteers' time is crucial to any successful campaign. Consider scheduling shifts of volunteers so that no one group will have the burden of manning the whole time period. Also, consider having refreshments for the volunteers or other door prizes that will create an alluring environment and will generate volunteers for years to come. And always remember to thank all the people who contributed or helped with the event in any way.

It's important to not be afraid of this sort of "commercial" publicity. We've found that some academic librarians feel that offering commercial products to entice people to the library somehow weakens library services. But as we discovered with the Alumni Hospitality Tent experience, people get excited when there are prizes; they help build enthusiasm. And remember: Corporations have used giveaways as marketing tools for years. And non-library information providers won't hesitate to market to your users. Believe it or not, on our own libraries' bulletin boards, we've seen posters that attempt to draw our students to commercial information Web sites. Libraries must actively advertise their services if they have any hope of winning in today's information services game. You want your students to be rooting for the home team: your campus library.

One final suggestion: Don't forget to promote yourself! It is important to let others within your organization know what you have accomplished with your marketing projects. The amount of administrative support and resources (budget, people, time) that you get in the future are closely tied to this idea. Also, by sharing the success of your endeavors with colleagues, you may inspire some of them to participate in such events in the future. You can do this self-promotion by word of mouth, a library newsletter, a librarywide e-mail distribution list, or a display located within your building. In addition, letting your political friends (provost, deans, president, board, etc.) know about such projects is a good idea. Besides promoting your own hard work, this gives others a "heads up" before their colleagues or friends mention that they saw your library represented at a local event.

Marketing at football games works wonders for us because football is big at Auburn. Something else might work better for you. If you choose your marketing event carefully, pick merchandise that's appropriate for your event and budget, and have a good overall strategic marketing plan in place, then you, too, are likely to score big points and make new fans.

Robert H. McDonald is the Web Development Librarian at Auburn University Libraries. He holds an M.L.I.S. from the University of South Carolina­Columbia and an M.Mus. from the University of Georgia­Athens. His e-mail address is JoAnn Sears is a science and technology reference librarian and the chemical and mathematical literature specialist at Auburn University Libraries. She holds an M.L.S. from Indiana University­Bloomington in Indiana. Her e-mail address is Cindy Mitchell is the manager of InfoQuest, the Auburn University Libraries fee-based office. She holds an M.L.S. from Indiana University­Bloomington in Indiana. Her e-mail address is


1. "Online Ads on The Good, the Banner and the Ugly." Mediaweek, 10.6 (2000): n. pag. Online. Bell & Howell Information and Learning. ABI/Inform. 15 May 2000.

2. Stan Gibson, "Three Big Things: Brand, Brand, Brand." eWEEK 15 (May 2000): 62 and 66.

3. James R. Gregory and Jack G. Wiechmann, Marketing Corporate Image: The Company as Your Number One Product, (Lincolnwood, IL: NTC Business Books, 1991), 22­23.

• Table of Contents Marketing Library Services Home Page