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DeVry Looks To Score With New Minor League Baseball Deal

Chicago Business, December 08, 2014

By Danny Ecker

DeVry Education Group may not have an athletic program, but the for-profit school is claiming a major stake in baseball.

Aiming to replicate the success it has seen from a marketing partnership with the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Downers Grove-based higher education company today will announce a three-year deal with Minor League Baseball that makes it the official education and career development partner of Major League Baseball's affiliate system.

In addition to signage and promotion at all 160 minor league franchises ranging from rookie leagues to AAA, the sponsorship will include 20 full-ride scholarships available to minor league players, staff, alumni and other team and league employees, as well as reduced tuition for interested players and their spouses.

Both DeVry and the governing body of minor league baseball declined to provide financial details of the contract.

The new deal stands to facilitate academic degrees for the thousands of players and employees involved with the MLB farm teams while also exposing DeVry to roughly 42 million fans that attend minor league games each year.

"These young men spend quite a bit of time focused solely on their baseball career and getting ready for going to the big leagues, but so few of them actually end up making it," said Amanda Geist, DeVry's director of partnership marketing. "Our primary goal is really to help them focus their academic and career goals and prepare them for what comes next in their post-baseball careers."

While the top minor league players are on fast tracks to the big leagues, many minor league players are drafted directly out of high school or before completing their college degree.

That represents hundreds of potential DeVry students each year but also provides a promotional tool. Much of the school's marketing has spotlighted successful case studies showing people balancing work and higher education to earn degrees.

"We want prospective and current students to see themselves in these athletes and say, 'if (that) athlete can balance training and going to college, I can balance working full-time and going to school," said Geist. "It's really about helping athletes focus on what comes next and using those stories to inspire people to go back to school."

DeVry previously had sponsored individual teams like the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers and two Major League Soccer teams, but it ditched the strategy a few years ago to redirect marketing dollars toward more national partnerships.

Aside from providing wide-ranging exposure, the deal with Minor League Baseball also may help prospective students look at DeVry in a new light, said Jim Andrews, senior vice president at Chicago-based sponsorship consulting firm IEG.

"There's always that issue of their reputation--people out there that rightly or wrongly see (for-profit education schools) as diploma mills," he said. "Tying in a very popular community activity with minor league teams—it's a good connection for them to make. It makes people like the brand a little bit more and feel a little bit more positive about them."


Minor League Baseball officials approached DeVry about the partnership this year after seeing its success with Team USA Olympic athletes.

A DeVry-USOC sponsorship signed before the 2012 Summer Olympics set up a similar program for athletes to earn degrees while training and competing full-time. The partnership started with six Olympic athletes and has grown to about 200 enrolled today, including American gold medalist bobsledder Steven Holcomb, who was featured in DeVry ads during the games.

Minor League Baseball Chief Marketing Officer Michael Hand said DeVry's education platforms met a need for many players, noting that it typically takes a player six or seven years to reach the major leagues--if they make it at all. Many now have the option to take classes online or at a local DeVry campus.

"Everyone in Minor League Baseball is trying to work to build themselves, and in many cases trying to get to the next level," Hand said. "We thought (a sponsor for) continuing education was a great complement to the lifestyle of the folks that work in the game."

DeVry is one of a handful of new partners that have signed on with the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based governing body of the MLB farm system, marking a shift in Hand's strategy toward leveraging its national reach through sponsorship deals that include all of its teams. Minor league team sponsorships historically have been local—like car dealerships and local banks—because of the community nature of the franchises.

But teaming with a higher education company that touts more than 48,000 students on 80 campuses across 25 U.S. states also helps the league reach a valuable database of potential new fans.

"We like the idea that DeVry, in a non-traditional education setting, doesn't have a school team to go root for," Hand said. "We're optimistic they'll embrace one of the teams in one of our markets."

Publicly traded DeVry is one of many for-profit education hubs that has been battling weak enrollment in recent years. Annual revenue fell by 2 percent in the year ended June 30 to $1.9 billion; its stock price surged by 40 percent since the start of 2014 to around $48 a share.