Published on December 18, 2019 by Morgan Black  

At the Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, 10 seniors in Samford University’s sports marketing concentration presented months of research identifying how the global brand could leverage their sports partnerships to better engage Generation Z.

The presentation, which served as the students’ capstone project, was representative of a collaboration between several partnerships between the program in Samford’s Brock School of Business and worldwide corporate brands. From sports properties like Birmingham’s Legion FC and the Atlanta Braves to global brand leaders like Nike, Samford has forged numerous mutually beneficial industry collaborations for students to gain real world experience while providing fresh eyes for industry partners to maximize insights. The partnerships result in students trained with workforce-ready skills and executives better connected with a pipeline of trusted talent. 

Students have gone on to work for organizations such as ESPN, the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans, just to name a few. And, two students who are a part of this current group of seniors have already accepted positions with the Atlanta Hawks and will begin following their graduation in May 2020.

In this latest collaboration turned capstone project for Coca-Cola, the students tapped into data from a nationwide study of 2,200 Gen Z sports fans accessed through a partnership between Samford’s Center for Sports Analytics and Tigris Sponsorship & Marketing in Denver, Colorado. Students also analyzed the social data of more than 170,000 Gen Z sports fans thanks to another partnership with Affinio, an augmented analytics platform that surfaces deep consumer insights within social media data sets.

The data was presented through the digital lens of a private Instagram page for a Gen Z character, Sam Pemberton, a fictional descendent of John Pemberton, inventor of Coca-Cola in 1886. Throughout the presentation, the students tied their findings and suggestions back to key attributes about Gen Z that they believe will be crucial to Coca-Cola’s sports marketing success.

The students then dove into the attributes of Gen Z football and soccer fans to develop activation strategies that Coca-Cola could implement with sports properties like the NFL, college football, Major League Soccer (MLS) and the U.S. men’s and women’s national soccer teams to engage this group.

“I thought the team represented Samford University beautifully and their sports analytics and marketing capabilities were on full display. The team gave us a ton of great things to consider and we look forward to taking the next step on our end, leveraging the amazing work that was shared,” John Mount, vice president of sports marketing and region assets for Coca-Cola said. 

The project kicked off during the summer of 2019 when marketing major Ashlee Fincher was hired to intern in the Coca-Cola sports marketing department in Atlanta. Following her internship, several Coca-Cola executives came to campus in August to discuss the project and unveil what they wanted the students to produce for them. During the on-campus meeting, they had Desmond Howard, a football analyst on ESPN College Gameday, and Alex Morgan and Kelly O’Hara, both from the U.S. women’s national soccer team and FIFA World Cup champions, give the students a “shout out” to encourage them to do their best work on the project.

Feeling like they needed a permanent location to do their best work, the students found a room in the basement of Brock School of Business’ Cooney Hall that they could call home for a few months. They coined the room the “Coca-Cola Strategic Planning Bat Cave,” and by the semester’s end, they had every square inch of wall space covered with easel-sized sticky notes with thousands of facts and statistics about Gen Z. 

Carter Verchot, a finance major and a fellow in the Center for Sports Analytics, said, “One of my favorite parts of the entire project was moving our team out of the classroom and into the basement of Cooney Hall. As funny as it sounds, most of our ideas and direction for the project came out of ‘The Bat Cave.’”

Prior to the final presentation, students worked with mentors to do practice runs and get feedback from Samford’s Entrepreneurship, Management and Marketing department advisory board, its sports marketing advisory board, and executives from the Atlanta Braves organization, who serve as mentors for the sports marketing students year-round. 

“To be able to work for Coca-Cola and provide them insights and ideas that they could implement into their marketing strategy was really fulfilling,” Fincher said. 

The students have been invited to give an encore presentation of the project in January at the corporate retreat of the Bruno Event Team, one of the largest sport management companies in the U.S. whose corporate headquarters is located in Birmingham. 

“Over the last decade we have been able to forge dozens of strategic partnerships with professional teams, leagues and brands which have paid huge dividends for our students,” Darin White, founding director of the sports marketing concentration, said. “In 2019 alone, our graduates have received job offers from 11 different professional sports teams across the NBA, NFL, EPL, and more. We look forward to nurturing these relationships and developing new ones critical for student success and job placement in the highly competitive sports industry.”