What is the brand of the WIAA? The question may be synonymous with what is the identity of the WIAA.
Branding is a term often stereotyped as being tossed around conversations in large corporate marketing and sales strategy meetings, but the true worth of a brand transcends that generality.
Why is a brand and protecting a brand such an important concept? Because a brand is more than just a visual identity, logo or clever tag line. A brand is how an organization such as the WIAA is perceived by its many constituents and how we as a membership perceive ourselves.
In essence, we have been building our brand for more than 123 years, and it encompasses all that we stand for in education-based athletics. Our brand is who we are and what we do, and when we reference “we,” it means everyone associated with providing life-enriching experiences through education-based sports for student-athletes, schools and their families and communities.
Integrity, reputation and respect are all integral components of the WIAA’s brand. Our brand reflects the purpose of the association as stated in our constitution, including uniformity in directing interscholastic athletic programs, maintaining policies that encourage good sportsmanship and citizenship, and amateurism in warding off exploitation from outside, unsolicited interests. In addition, the WIAA brand also represents the image and value of high school sports here in Wisconsin.
By their voluntary membership in the association, members agree to maintain institutional control of their programs in order to provide students with the positive, life-long lessons connected with participation. Providing these opportunities is the true cornerstone of the brand that can never be taken for granted.
With participation as the crown jewel, it’s important to understand why students choose to participate. Surveys have indicated the number one reason teenagers of varying skill levels participate in high school sports is for fun. Much of that fun is afforded because of the amateurism of high school sports, which may be the final bastion of organized amateur athletics.
The past couple of decades have escalated the erosion of amateur sports and the rise and influence of club sports. While our rules and regulations seek to prevent outside influences from exploiting member schools and their students, these outside interests only seek to hijack a school’s programs and opportunities for their own recruiting or club’s interests.
Sportsmanship is another fundamental element that has always been associated with the WIAA brand. To illustrate its importance, a framed quote, attributed to former long-time associate director Matt Otte, hangs in the WIAA office that states “Without sportsmanship, we really have nothing at all worth having in school sports.” In its simplest terms, sportsmanship is the expression of respect extended to others in a sport setting and prescribing to playing by all the rules, which are created and enforced in a uniform and consistent matter. Sportsmanship, as an essential part of the brand, has had to be defended from time-to-time because of scrutiny and criticisms from outside this membership that have little understanding or interest in the education component of interscholastic activities.
To take it a step further, the sportsmanship component of the brand is also tied in with our continued efforts to retain and recruit WIAA-licensed officials. If officials leave the ranks or choose not to initially register because of the unsporting behavior of coaches, parents and spectators, who’s left to officiate the games? Without officials, there are no games. So you see, it’s quite simple in this example to make the correlation on how the availability of officials is essential to the WIAA’s brand.
Furthermore, it’s not difficult to understand how the quality of the game officials has an influence on the WIAA brand. Those sitting in the stands and those on the sidelines connect high school officials to the WIAA, despite the fact game officials are independent contractors. But to many fans, parents and the coaches serving in member schools, perception is reality. Their opinion of the quality of officiating becomes their perception of the WIAA brand.
It also is understandable how the image of the WIAA brand is impacted by how our member schools conduct their programs and how they are perceived. This often is directly linked to the exploits, both positive and negative, of the coaches and the student-athletes participating in our schools’ programs.
The brand is looked on favorably when teams and individuals are celebrated for their commitment and accomplishments, both athletically and academically. Conversely, each time there is a code of conduct violation, a player or coach ejection, a fight or allegations of wrongdoing or cheating is lodged against a member school, a missed call during a game, or an inadvertent omission or error in our publications or tournament broadcasts, the image and virtue of the WIAA brand takes a bit of a hit. This is why it is imperative that a sense pride and a responsibility in protecting the brand needs to permeate throughout the entire membership.
The WIAA brand and high school sports in Wisconsin has tremendous value, and not only for its stated purpose. Further evidence of the brand’s value is ascertained by broadcast rights fees for our Tournament Series, required licensure agreements to use the WIAA logo on apparel and other products, corporate partnership agreements and officials licensing.
Another enhancement of the brand we have begun pursuing, which was the subject of recent Area Meeting discussions and meetings with the leadership of WADA, is the value of our membership data. We are currently in the discovery phase of following the lead of other states that are realizing the value and convenience to the membership of cultivating season schedules, regular-season and post-season results, conference standings, statistics and officials assigning. Various entities have sought a financial agreement to require schools provide the data, but we have held to the belief these arrangements may be counterproductive and counterintuitive to the membership’s brand.
Our brand touches everything we do. It provides recognition of who we are, how we stand out from other sport clubs and organizations, keeps us all focused on our purpose, and is how we are perceived by all those engaged with the WIAA.
For these reasons, we continually seek to enhance and protect the brand of this membership and invite your help and support in this never-ending endeavor. ●