A Semester at the Ballpark

Image of Danny DeKeyser posing in stadium with Buster Bronco and Tiger mascot

The warm air, smell of hot dogs and popcorn, and the energy of fans excited to socialize with their friends and cheer on their favorite team— the excitement of a packed baseball stadium in the summer is infectious.

Behind every game is a team of people working hard to make sure sports fans have a fun time at the game. In some cases, the team includes a group of students ready to take on the challenges that come with sports marketing and enhancing the fan experience. 

While not every business student will pursue a career in the sports industry, many will encounter the world of sports marketing at their future workplaces. And the goal of John Weitzel, faculty specialist in marketing, is to make sure they are ready when the opportunity to leverage sports marketing arises.

In the college of business, Weitzel teaches the sports marketing and advanced sports marketing courses. In addition, he collaborates with Dr. Jim Lewis, associate professor and coordinator of recreation/sports management in the college of education and human development, to create opportunities that benefit students interested in this special area of marketing. 

Several years ago, Weitzel and Lewis sat down to create a new opportunity to expose students to real-life scenarios in the world of sports. They connected with Chris Praedel, B.B.A.’08, associate director of engagement at the WMU Office of Development and Alumni Relations, and the front office at the Detroit Tigers baseball team. 

What they created is WMU Day at Comerica Park. Now in its third year, the event brings together Broncos and baseball fans alike for a night all about Bronco pride during a Detroit Tigers home game. Fans attending can enjoy a pre-game stampede tailgate, WMU on-field activities and wear limited-edition game day hats—Detroit Tigers baseball caps in WMU brown and gold. Much of the promotion leading up to the event is coordinated by students. 

“The WMU Day at Comerica Park project is typical of our efforts to offer students real-world experience while collaborating with industry professionals, event planning specialists and a sports organization where the students can develop business relationships,” says Weitzel. 

The students involved have so many opportunities to grow professionally and build relationships and new skills during the project. 

“The students provide so much added value through their fresh perspectives and energy,” says Praedel. “Across the enterprise, we should always be thinking about how to enhance the academic experience, even in areas that may not seem obvious. This is an experiential learning opportunity where it’s okay to think outside the box and where students can see real-world results.”

Seeing the fan experience is one of the most exciting parts of the event for students participating. 

“The project was a great way to learn how to work in teams in a real-world scenario,” says Codie Lynn Sieb, a marketing student and past participant in the project. “This was much more than a case study that you would typically do in class, and we were able to use everything we learned and see the results in real time.”

With guidance from Weitzel, Lewis and Praedel, the students advise on promotional strategies and how to target the event to segments of campus. The students receive access to limited funding and staffing resources to support their best outreach ideas. When game day arrives, they get to see their work come to life when fans fill the stadium and have an eventful day cheering on the Tigers and highlighting their Bronco pride. 

And it all happens through hard work and collaboration—something all Broncos involved agree on as the key to success.

“Professor Weitzel and I have a shared vision of what’s important in today’s sports management and sports marketing environment,” says Lewis. “We believe it’s critical for sports organizations, media and sponsors to focus on the fan experience. And we make sure that’s at the forefront of our students’ minds while they’re working on this project.”