10/2/06

Bad Idea: AZ Cardinal's Stadium to Get U of Phoenix Branding

The AP reported recently,
The University of Phoenix, the nation's largest private university, will pay $154.5 million over 20 years for naming rights to the Arizona Cardinals' new stadium.
The naming-rights deal is the first sports-marketing venture for Apollo Group Inc., the University of Phoenix's parent company, Apollo president Brian Mueller said Monday, and is part of a major new branding campaign for the school.

The University of Phoenix has 250,000 students, most of them working adults. Its parent company had $2.3 billion in revenue last year, ranking it among Arizona's largest companies.

"We want to lend more credibility to the students who earn degrees from here," Mueller said.
In my view, this is a bad deal for both parties and will do nothing to enhance anyone’s credibility.

From the University’s side, having a stadium named after a school will not add to the credibility of degrees. It might sell more courses to more sports fans. It might attract more registrations from football followers. But the credibility of degrees depends on the substantive achievement of educational goals, not on a higher brand profile.

The story continues with the team’s point of view on the deal,

"We are thrilled to be affiliated with the largest private university in America, one whose home base is in Arizona but that has national and international reach," Michael Bidwill, the Cardinals' vice president and general counsel said in a statement. "The new home of the Arizona Cardinals is distinctly Arizona, and so is our stadium partner."

In the NFL, naming-rights revenues are not subject to the league's revenue-sharing agreement and thus have become an even more valuable income stream for the teams involved.

Michael Bidwill said the Cardinals would use the money from the University of Phoenix deal, to be paid annually over the 20 years, to field a competitive team.

"That's what we're about is building a championship team," he said. "This revenue is a big piece of allowing the team to go out into free agency and to move forward."
From the Cardinal’s side, this deal takes money from students to buy more expensive football players to help one team to win. If I were a student, this would not inspire me to choose the U of P for my education. This deal is not good for students.

This deal smells like a ploy by executives to grasp at a fast way to make their company look prosperous. And indeed, that is what has happened before.

A few years back some dot-com companies took from their IPO monies to name stadiums as a quick road to “credibility”. There was the PSINet Stadium and the CMGI Field. Some ordinary firms, now defunct, such as TWA and Adelphia, took from their corporate funds to name sports fields.

I absolutely don’t like this deal. But one writer (Rick Aristotle Munarriz on The Motley Fool) defends the deal as follows,

…Let's not compare Apollo's lofty expenditure on naming rights … with that of past pretenders. This isn't a company that just whacked the IPO pinata, and suddenly has nothing better to do with its greenbacks. Apollo is the leader in for-profit education. It commands an $8.6 billion market cap, educating a nationwide class of more than 300,000 degree-seeking students.

The University of Phoenix is a real-world presence, and its University of Phoenix Online arm has the potential to grow even larger with naming-rights exposure. That is naturally a high-margin area just waiting to be expanded, and if Apollo gets to win the mindshare battle one Sunday afternoon at a time, the pass-happy Cardinals won't be the only ones gunning for the score.
This surface analysis ignores the U of P claim that the deal is meant to enhance its credibility. It focuses on the obvious purpose of the move – to generate more revenue. While you could argue that these go hand-in-hand, here is why I think not.

I think that capitalists make for bad teachers and for-profit-corporations run terrible schools. I insist that “credibility” in education must be earned by performance in the teaching process, not by buying visibility on the gridiron.

If so, you ask, what must a school do to achieve educational credibility? They must do lots of simple things that have nothing to do with naming a stadium.

For instance, to have any smattering of credibility, teachers must be able to fail students who don’t master the subject matter. If teachers cannot independently assess the work of their students, then they are of no value. If schools must pass all students regardless of their performance, then the degrees that they award are worthless. Does U of P fail any of its students?

And further, what kind of teacher has value? The educator whose A students excel by objective criteria and measures, whose B and C students perform less well and whose D and F students fail by any external assessment. Does U of P provide any credentials based on objective assessments?

The teacher who is popular and entertaining and the school which is profitable without such validating evidence of student achievement should gain no special credibility. The educator who knows, adheres to and enforces standards, ought to be treated to the rewards of the profession. Is that how U of P evaluates its teaching staff?

The awards to successful teachers need to be other than immediate monetary remunerations. Cash incentives may increase sales and hence success in the market place. But monetary rewards alone may tempt a teacher to give unearned higher grades, to curry favor with both students and administrators.

What type of degree then has credibility? One that derives from credible courses taught by credible teachers who are motivated by the status and ideals of a lofty profession.

There are lots more criteria to discuss when considering the reputation and credibility of a school, its staff and its degrees.

Lofty brand profile, deriving from a company’s association with a sports stadium is definitely no substitute for the traditional incentives, achievements and values of professional education.
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Dr. Tzvee Zahavy has served as a professor at the University of Minnesota, the University of California at Berkeley, the College of William and Mary, Macalester College, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and most recently at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

1 comment:

Scott Stallings, UOP Graduate said...

As a University of Phoenix student I can attest to the fact that University of Phoenix professors do fail students. I have never been failed, but I have classmates who have complained about failing grades and poor in class and online performance. My worst grade was a C- and sadly I have a few of those. I strive to be an A student, but the challenges in the coursework at the University of Phoenix are greater than the other schools I have attended. Namely, Utah Valley State College and Arapahoe Community College. The coursework has challenged me more at the University of Phoenix than anywhere else, and the professors have come to my aid to explain course concepts while illustrating their pertinence in the real world.