Chess players are breaking the stereotypical school social order in a Missouri college, and the jocks are not happy.
Webster University, located in suburban St. Louis, put up a billboard on a freeway between St. Louis and Columbus, Missouri late last month advertising its chess team. It is a tongue-in-cheek homage to the billboards the University of Missouri-Columbia (“Mizzou”) displays on the same highway, advertising Mizzou’s powerhouse football team.
Here’s Webster University’s billboard:
Webster’s athletics teams may be Division III, but its D-I chess team is the reigning national champions. The title presented “a unique opportunity that we could not pass up,” the university’s director of marketing communications John Costello told the school’s paper, The Journal.
“The point of the billboard was humour,” Webster’s director of public relations Patrick Giblin said.
But most student athletes were not laughing.
A group led by a member of the school’s women’s basketball team took to Twitter with the trending topic #WUBillboard to air their opinions. Many understood that the billboard was not overly serious, but they found that it still degraded their athletics department, which many students believe lacks sufficient funding. An example:
A catalyst for the anger was a New York Times article from last year in which chess coach Susan Polgar said that Webster was financing the re-launched chess program with the aim of making it elite, and that chess players would be eligible for scholarships. Webster student athletes are unable to receive athletic scholarships.
The polarising ad is fitting right into Webster’s marketing plan, however.
“We went into this with the specific goal that we might be able to get some PR out of this,” said school marketing director Costello. “So far it’s working marvelously.”
The ad is relatively cheap, too. It costs the school “under four figures per month,” Costello told The Wall Street Journal.
Not all students are getting worked up, though. This guy channels Drake (channeling Kobe Bryant) to make light of the situation:
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