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Students Hit Home on Sustainability Projects for MLB, Fox Sports

PRAD students at Wrigley. Photo by Jeff Carrion, DePaul University.
Photo by Jeff Carrion, DePaul University.

Six executives from FOX Sports, 21st Century Fox and Major League Baseball sit side by side in the Daley building. Paper and pen in hand, ready to take notes, the executives greeted 24 nervous students who silently rehearsed their presentations one last time. After 10 weeks of preparation, it was time to pitch their ideas.

This spring quarter, a special topics Public Relations and Advertising class developed communication campaigns to raise awareness about FOX Sports and Major League Baseball's joint sustainability efforts. The students divided into four teams of six, worked on their plans all quarter, culminating with a presentation to six executives-turned-judges from MLB, FOX Sports and 21st Century Fox, on Monday, June 5.

One group proposed capitalizing on bike-sharing opportunities at the All-Star game. The students suggested wrapping the bikes in green with FOX Sport's and MLB's logo.

Another created the slogan "Strike Out Your Footprint," and handed each judge a baseball with the campaign logo printed on it. The baseballs could be used as a give-away on Earth Day. One group produced an example of their public service announcement concept for use in broadcast.

Students also proposed "Plant a Player," creating baseball cards with vegetable seeds inside for each player. When planted by the fans at home, the card would grow into a different plant for each player. The judges received examples of the seeded cards during the presentation.

Don Ingle, a professional lecturer in the College of Communication, explains the class allows students to gain a new understanding of the pitching process for PR agencies. It's an opportunity for students to apply classroom knowledge to real-world problems and challenges. The entire class encompasses group work, which is an experience very similar to real-world PR work, he says.

"I've learned more about myself and my strengths in relation to a team than in any other class," says Caroline Fronczak, a senior public relations and advertising student. "I know this experience will be something I take with me as I pursue a career in the sports industry."

The collaboration between DePaul and FOX Sports is part of FOX Sports University, a program that works with nearly 40 universities around the country. The program pairs classes with FOX Sports Media Group teams to address a project challenge. Projects may be focused on league and team partners, company priorities, industry trends or challenges, or major upcoming broadcast events. DePaul began working with FOX Sports University in 2014, this quarter marks the fourth year in the ongoing partnership.

"That kind of commitment is almost unheard of," Ingle says. "I can't think of another class that has six executives coming in to support the project."

Students also had multiple opportunities to interact with the FOX Sports and MLB executives. In April, executives located in Los Angeles and New York City traveled to Chicago. They spoke with students about the challenge of developing new programs to improve sustainability efforts by FOX Sports and MLB and outline the specific assignments to the class.

From that point on, the students immersed themselves in Major League Baseball, learning about sustainability efforts already in place, major events in the sport and opportunities for growth. Students interviewed baseball teams, sent surveys to their target demographic and analyzed data given to them by FOX Sports and MLB. To finalize project ideas, Ingle's class toured Wrigley Field to learn about already established environmental sustainability efforts.

"From day one, we have appreciated the students' excitement for this project, and their commitment to quality work," says Molly Stires, manager, Marketing and Strategic Partnerships at FOX Sports.

Midway through the class, all six executives connected with the students via a conference call to answer any questions and to offer feedback on concepts being developed. Leading up to the final presentation, each group participated in two rounds of rehearsals. In each round, the students received feedback from Ingle and various guest judges he invited to the class.

On June 5, the students were anxious, but prepared to pitch their ideas. After the presentations, the judges deliberated over which project provided the best answer to the challenge. Instead of selecting a winner, they asked for more time to study the campaigns.

"Like the Cubs last year, we're going into extra innings," Ingle said to the class.

The judges commended all of the students for their hard work and passionate presentations.

"We have been extremely impressed with the DePaul FOX Sports University course this quarter," Stires says. "The creative ideas presented, and the professionalism demonstrated by the students throughout the quarter have reinforced the excellent partnership that FOX Sports and DePaul share."

Ron Culp, professional director of DePaul's graduate Public Relations and Advertising Program and PR industry leader, also attended the final presentations. He summarized the students' work by saying, "These pitches were as polished and smooth as the best I've seen in my many years as a client and agency head."

Originally published in DePaul University's Newsline.