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March Madness: Two NCAA Basketball Teams Claim $1 Billion Multiplier/Equivalency AVE Metrics

Wichita State 555M AVE Claim

Welcome to the continuing saga of AVE metrics.

This may be March Madness and April Fools (note the lack of an apostrophe) all wrapped up in two rather unfortunate claims.

First, let’s define our issue.  AVE (Advertising Value Equivalency) is used to value public relations efforts by attempting to establish what earned media would cost if it were paid media. (Source)

The two AVE metrics efforts (links below) are intended to justify, in part, the value of NCAA athletics at two universities. They want people to see these numbers and think, “Wow, athletics is so valuable in so many ways.  Let’s not only keep them … let’s support them more!” … or something like that.

The AVE Metrics Stories

The two stories are AVE (advertising value equivalency) claims that grew out of the NCAA basketball tournament. Wichita State claims $555 million in AVE value from their appearance. Butler claims $512 million AVE for this year … and over $1 billion over the last two years.

H/T and thanks to Bill Sledzik, as it was his Facebook post’s comments that led me to these stories.  There was true irony there as the links were posted as justification for athletics by another commenter.  (See a further explanation at the end.)

There have been many stories written about AVEs recently.  One commentator even compared AVE to herpes and zombies.  We can’t seem to cure it or kill it off.

“…we’ve seen from the PR industry’s experience that AVE is the unstoppable zombie, the annoying Magic Relighting Birthday Candle, the herpes of metrics.” ~ Mat Morrison, Social Media Strategy Director at Starcom MediaVest Group - London, United Kingdom.

AVE intends to make us believe that, if this coverage were equivalent to ad purchases, our university really reaped a huge profit … without spending anything.  First, the universities did spend a lot of money.  Their sports information offices were churning out stories left and right.  Second, the coverage does not equate to ad prices/costs.

You may read these resources to learn more:  CIPR and PRSA.

The two stories:  Wichita State and Butler University.

How far away from AVE has the PR industry turned?

“The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has announced that any entry in its 29th CIPR Excellence Awards that uses advertising value equivalency (AVE) will be given a score of zero for research, planning, measurement, and evaluation. [sound of enthusiastic applause]” ~ Source: KD Paine’s Measurement Standard

Gee, that kind of says it all, right?

Perhaps athletic departments (and others) will learn this … one day. Yes, AVE is appealing – if only because it looks so darn good. However, it doesn’t add up … the claim of value is a mirage (and some might call it a smokescreen … or herpes).


IMO … More thoughts on this … thinking out loud. How to explain this fallacy of earned media equals paid media to others.

An anecdotal note about where I found these two stories.  The person that posted links to the stories is a lawyer with the U.S. Justice Department, of all things (and an alumni of the university that was being criticized for a completely different reason).  I don’t imagine he is too up-to-date on (or interested in) measurement standards in PR.  He is not aware of the differences.  This happens all the time, right?

That anecdotal note is one reason why AVEs still prevail.  Understandably, few people are aware of proper measurement standards.  They see these numbers associated with multipliers & equivalency and they buy into the comparisons. They think, “Hey, this sure looks like a great value to me.  It’s all media, right. All media is the same.”

Think inductive reasoning where one argues the logical connection between a premise and a conclusion.  This is where one believes:  your comparison of two or more things makes sense.  These comparisons, however, are sometimes both incomplete and inconsistent.  This comparison of paid to earned media is not deductive, as in mathematics: A = B and B = C, then A = C.

With paid versus earned media, we’re talking inductive – as in “Robert is a teacher. All teachers are nice. Therefore, it can be assumed that Robert is nice.”  Now come on, we all know that one’s questionable on so many levels. In short, there’s more to it than the perceived similarities.  Look deeper.

Questions to ask:  How is paid and earned media the same?  Do these ad equivalencies lead to true quantifiable benefits? Have you identified and measured these benefits?  What are they?

And, there is always the ever popular – “Show me the money!”

Has the university benefited by increased revenue (other than NCAA payouts)? Has enrollment gone up?  Can you tie that enrollment boost to the NCAA appearance?  Did the enrollment boost lead to more revenue or more costs for the university?  Have donations to the university increased (other than boosters giving to athletics)?  May we see the spreadsheets and receipts?  It goes on and on.

Those are some of the metrics used to justify PR today.  Not AVEs.  If you have the evidence, great.  Yes, there are benefits to athletics – but, this earned media valued as paid media is not one of them.

For some reason, I just couldn’t get this out of my mind.  ;o)

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