WKU defeats Army 17-8

Western Kentucky players celebrate after their 17-8 win over Army on Oct. 12 at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

Eyes were on the “front porch” of Western Kentucky University last fall, and the school was looking good from the outside.

Highlighting the year in the athletic department – what athletic director Todd Stewart refers to as the “front porch” of the school – was the football team. The Hilltoppers’ turnaround 9-4 season brought nearly $35 million in exposure to the school, according to a study conducted by Joyce Julius and Associates, WKU announced Thursday in a release.

“I think, from an exposure standpoint, it shows you it’s a great investment because if you didn’t have athletics, then that’s $35 million of exposure that Western Kentucky University would not be receiving,” Stewart said in an interview with the Daily News. “We take a lot of pride in being the front porch of the university. This is a great university. It really is. I think it’s a very underrated university from an academic standpoint. Any time we can bring attention to the positives that are happening at this university outside of athletics, we feel like that’s something that we should do and that’s a responsibility that we have.

“If we’re going to be the front porch of the university, then we need to make that front porch look really nice so people get the right impression of this university. Hopefully within that $35 million of exposure, it’s opened some people’s eyes up to our entire university and really how strong it is across the board in every area, which in turn can really impact enrollment.”

The study takes into account national television, TV news coverage, print media, internet news and social media from Aug. 1 through Jan. 15. Joyce Julius and Associates – an independently owned and operated research company that has provided independent sports, special event and entertainment program evaluation since 1985 – valued the total exposure generated by the WKU football program at $34,880,591.60. That number is based on how much the media exposure would cost in the open market if purchased at current market rates, according to the release.

The nearly $35 million in exposure is roughly $12 million more than WKU’s total athletic operating budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The 9-4 season came after going just 3-9 in 2018. Of the nine wins, five were against teams that competed in bowl games. The improvement under first-year head coach Tyson Helton was the third-best in the nation.

The program received nearly $19 million in exposure through internet news, with over 18,000 mentions and articles over 670 million impressions. It generated more than 84 million social media impressions, valued at $2.4 million in exposure. It produced nearly $2.4 million in television news coverage and nearly $3.8 million worth of print media coverage.

“Athletics just brings more eyeballs to a campus than virtually anything else. And we bring more people together. I think sometimes people overlook that too. Nothing brings students together more than athletics,” Stewart said. “We’ll have five, six thousand students at every home football game. There’s not five or six thousand students, other than commencement, probably ever coming together for anything. ... I think athletics plays a huge role, but certainly the exposure is at the forefront.”

Two primary focuses of the study were WKU’s wins at Arkansas and over Western Michigan in the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl.

The 45-19 win over the Razorbacks in Fayetteville, Ark., on Nov. 9 was broadcast on the SEC Network and featured Ty Storey successfully dismantling his former team in his home state. WKU’s graduate transfer quarterback threw for 213 yards and a touchdown on 22-of-32 passing and added 77 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. The game was valued at roughly $500,000 in national television exposure.

The bowl game – the Hilltoppers’ sixth bowl appearance in the last eight seasons – was broadcast on ESPN. The game, which kicked off at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 30, had a value of $6.8 million in national television exposure alone with nearly 1.3 million impressions. The study uses a scientific approach to quantify graphics, mentions, helmets, logos, coach apparel, highlights, mascot time, jersey identity, bottom line graphics and sideline personnel and equipment, according to the release. In total, the conservative estimate on the media exposure value of the First Responder Bowl was over $13 million.

“There is value in every one of these bowl games, and that’s what that report shows,” Stewart said. “The fact that the exposure from the First Responder Bowl was close to $13 million is pretty amazing. That’s tremendous value.”

The firm’s national television exposure value is based on Recognition Grade methodology, which takes into account elements such as size of the identity, screen position, brand clutter and any applicable brand integration, according to the release. When directly comparing on-screen time and mentions to the program’s 30-second commercial rate (without applying RG methodology), a national television exposure value of $9,959,877.98 is realized.

WKU beat Western Michigan 23-20 in the game at Southern Methodist University to cap off the turnaround season. The two were tied 20-all in the closing seconds and a last-second heave to the end zone by Storey fell incomplete, but a flag came out after the play. The Broncos were called for having 12 players on the field and the call was confirmed after review. The Hilltoppers were given an untimed down, and freshman Cory Munson kicked a career-long 52-yard field goal to win it.

“I was at the national championship game this year when LSU beat Clemson and the LSU players were obviously ecstatic when they won that game, but I guarantee you when Cory Munson’s field goal was good on the last play of the game, our players were every bit as happy in that moment as the LSU players were when they beat Clemson,” Stewart said. “I think a lot of times that’s what people don’t really realize.

“No, we weren’t playing for a national championship, but for Western Michigan and Western Kentucky, it was really important and it was a great experience for both teams, but obviously for us in winning the game it was a positive experience of a lifetime for some of our kids and you can’t put a price tag on that.”{&end}

– Follow sports reporter Jared MacDonald on Twitter @JMacDonaldSport or visit bgdailynews.com.

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