U. of Phoenix Basks in the Super Exposure the Super Bowl Brings

January 31, 2008

As the Super Bowl media frenzy reaches its peak this weekend, the University of Phoenix is riding the wave. And loving it.

The university is aiming to capitalize on the worldwide attention focused on the game, which will be played this Sunday in the stadium that bears its name.

The mammoth for-profit institution paid $154-million in 2006 for 20-year naming rights to the National Football League stadium near its Phoenix headquarters, even though the university does not field a football team, nor any other sports teams. Now it is hoping that the Super Bowl exposure—from the usual media hype as well as some of its own game-day advertisements—will translate into a surge of inquiries and applications. The game will be broadcast nationally by Fox and seen internationally by about 100 million viewers.

"Our Web site gets visited more" after the stadium appears in local and national broadcasts, such as the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, said William J. Pepicello, president of the university. "We certainly expect that the Monday after the Super Bowl will be very active."

In expectation of that activity, Mr. Pepicello said the university would "make sure we have a full complement" of admissions representatives on duty on Monday and Tuesday.

The university, which enrolls 325,000 students around the world on campuses and online, employs about 5,500 admissions representatives in various locations.

The notion of building interest through sports is hardly unusual for colleges, but the strategy employed by Phoenix, which caters to working students, is a tad different. Rather than investing heavily in a student athletics program in the hope of getting teams to championship events that put the institution in the limelight, as many traditional universities do, it simply linked its name to sports by buying the naming rights to a football stadium.

The university has already received reams of free publicity, thanks to the thousands of articles about the NFL championship game in newspapers and on television shows and Web sites that mention the location of the game.

Viewers of ESPN have also been seeing the words "University of Phoenix Stadium" for weeks, on the continuous "crawl" of text that scrolls along the bottom of the screen giving updates on scores and forthcoming games.

In addition to that free exposure, the university plans to buy two 30-second commercial spots during the pre-game show, which will also be broadcast by Fox, and a total of four spots on Westwood One's radio broadcast of the much-anticipated showdown between the undefeated New England Patriots and the New York Giants.

The university has not bought any ads during the game itself, hoping instead that at least a few of the 30 or so cameras deployed by Fox might land for a few seconds on one of the University of Phoenix Stadium signs inside the facility (there are four, including two in the end zones and one beneath the broadcast booth).

The university declined to disclose information on how much it plans to spend on Super Bowl-related promotions. (Ads that appear during the pre-game show are going for less than half the cost of spots during the game itself. Game spots are running for as much as $2.7-million for 30 seconds.) Whatever the cost, it can probably afford it; the university is the flagship property of the Apollo Group Inc., a company that generates annual revenues of nearly $3-billion.

As a member of the Super Bowl Host Committee, the University of Phoenix has also been a visible player in the many local community and entertainment events scheduled as part of the buildup to the game, including an event on Wednesday designed to promote education and salute teachers.

The university also developed an online manual that the host committee used to train 10,000 local volunteers—including 300 from the university—who are helping out at various events. Ayla Dickey, the university's spokeswoman, said the university provided the materials free of charge. The training was branded with the words, "Powered by the University of Phoenix."

The university doesn't know how much publicity all the activity will generate, but it expects to find out; it has hired a company that will track and analyze its Super Bowl media exposure.

Until then, Mr. Pepicello and other top Apollo executives can just sit back and relax and get ready for some football. And they'll certainly have a good view. The university's sponsorship includes a luxury suite in the stadium that it plans to put to good use during the game, with Mr. Pepicello and Apollo officials—including its president, Brian Mueller, and communications officer, Terri Bishop—playing hosts.

Ms. Dickey declined to disclose the guest list, "in deference to our guests' privacy." But in response to a reporter's question, she at least provided a hint of who will not be there: No state or federal lawmakers will be among the guests.