I believe learning from others is invaluable in sports marketing.
Associate Director of Championships Marketing
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
The interview with Mary Eiland was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
Tell us about your role as the Associate Director of Championships Marketing of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
My role as the Associate Director of Championships Marketing for the NCAA is to lead our marketing team with the ultimate goal of selling out championships to provide the best possible experience for the student-athlete.
Many stakeholders and partners play a role in marketing an NCAA Championship – both internally and externally. My job is to work with our marketing and ticketing team to establish good working relationships with all of those partners and stakeholders.
Our daily interaction with internal staff includes the championship operations staff, the digital and social staff, the broadcast staff, and the branding, corporate, and fan engagement staff.
For individual championships, we have internal working groups that collectively plan for the championship up to 16 months in advance. Our daily interaction with external partners and stakeholders includes the host institution or conference, the local CVB or Sports Commission, the venue, the championship committee, the broadcast partner, coaches associations, governing bodies of the sport, equipment suppliers, and paid media partners.
A typical day involves a lot of meetings. I work directly on Division I Men’s Basketball preliminary rounds, Division I Women’s Volleyball, and National Collegiate Beach Volleyball. There are meetings both internally and externally to coordinate what is being done locally, regionally, and nationally to promote each championship. It is a true team effort to pull off all aspects of an NCAA Championship.
Tell us about the importance of all stages of the sport marketing process from executing on ideas to tracking data to know if an idea worked.
There are easy parts to marketing and difficult parts to marketing. Coming up with a plan and steps to implement that plan is critical to success and where we spend the most time.
The hard part is we tend to get too busy with the next project to take the time to truly evaluate the process and results of a marketing project or campaign.
However, that is where we grow which makes it equally as important as the implementation.
Did we have the right plan? What was within our control? What was our return on investment? What could we have done better or differently?
If it was very successful, let’s be proud and celebrate. Let’s determine where we can replicate the plan to see success elsewhere.
A common label people working in marketing and digital get is that they are creative (sometimes more creative than most people working in sports). Is this realistic? Beyond creativity, which you have a ton of, tell us about other skills and abilities required and/or often overlooked when working in sport marketing?
A level of creativity is important in the marketing and digital fields.
Sometimes that means coming up with a clever tagline, subject line, or a copy for a social post.
Sometimes that means being creative in finding ways to reach an audience with the right message, at the right time and at the right place.
Sometimes that means being creative in finding proven resources with ideas you can replicate or modify for your campaign. As they say, there are not many new ideas.
Our marketing team is made up of a diverse group of thinkers. Some thrive in subjectivity. But everyone is collaborative in nature and works daily to build relationships. Everyone has an organizational system that works for them. We all learn from each other daily. I believe learning from others is invaluable in sports marketing.
What is special about working in sport?
Sport has been my world since my best friend in third grade convinced me to try out for volleyball.
I didn’t even know what volleyball was and from that day on it’s driven me personally and professionally.
What’s special about working in sport is 100% centered around the people and teamwork. Working with dedicated, goal-driven people. Watching passionate, hard-working athletes. Learning from others who have different experiences than you do. There’s something very rewarding about being in an industry where being competitive and passionate is the norm.
SPMA's Final Thoughts
With 20 plus years of experience working in the sports industry, Mary Eiland has developed into a role focused on the development and creation of selling out Championships while providing the best experiences for student-athletes. Her role as Associate Director of Championships Marketing is reliant on the teamwork and creativity of others. While providing strong leadership to lead her team to success. While the sporting world is currently at a standstill, Mary sheds some light on the ever so changing industry that continues to evolve. While times are uncertain, it’s great to hear successful sports professionals such as Mary share their optimism about the industry moving forward.