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Boost tries to earn its ‘cool’ back with NCAA athletes

Boost Mobile is taking advantage of the NCAA rule changes that went into effect this summer, signing college athletes to spread the word about Boost’s prepaid phone service.

It started last month with Hanna and Haley Cavinder, who play for the Fresno State basketball team. Immediately after the new rules took effect, the twins, who are all over TikTok and Instagram, announced an endorsement deal with Boost, complete with a more traditional outlet: a billboard at New York’s Times Square.

Today, Boost said it aims to bring more than 500 athletes across a range of sports to the “Boost Team” by the end of the year. Affiliations include Alabama State, Georgia, Baylor, Auburn, University of Minnesota, University of Kentucky, University of Arizona, University of Houston and UCLA, among others.

In addition, Boost Mobile is partnering with professional athletes to serve as mentors and guides for students as they navigate brand sponsorship. That effort includes a Boost Advisory Board of veteran athletes to advise on everything from brand ambassadorship to social media strategy. Former NBA champions Metta World Peace and Baron Davis are committed to serve on the board.

“Boost Mobile is focused on enabling customers to live more connected lives, and we are proud to empower NCAA athletes as part of our team,” said Stephen Stokols, head of Boost Mobile, in a statement. “Like athletes in the heat of competition, Boost is in a battle with big carriers, and we’re looking for like-minded players who share our passion.”

Sign of the times

To understand where Boost is going under its relatively new Dish ownership, it helps to know where Boost came from. In its early days, the brand hooked up with hip-hop artists, including some personalities before they became household names (Kayne West, anyone?). The brand made it clear it was going after customers that many others in the wireless space ignored at the time.

Stokols acknowledged that this is about going back to Boost’s roots in a way, but it’s an updated version.

“We’re trying to move Boost up market… moving into a broader market, giving more of a cool factor to it again,” he told Fierce, adding that the company’s latest TV spots will be about empowering the consumer and getting away from the industry positioning around “fastest network,” which the big carriers are all claiming.

Once again, Boost needs to find its own way if it’s going to cut through the clutter in the wireless landscape. One way to do that is to align itself with a kindred spirit, of sorts, and it’s finding that in the college athletes who are also finding their way. It started through an email thread between Stokols and Dish co-founder and Chairman Charlie Ergen.

Boost has about 8,000 stores across the country, so it’s in a lot of college towns. Rather than paying top dollar for a few NBA stars, they decided to hook up with athletes across a range of sports — local heroes who are well known in their communities.

“They share our passion,” he said. “We’ve been talking to hundreds of athletes,” across a variety of sports. “We’re trying to go after all the markets,” broadening the brand and doing so with a grassroots presence.

Of course, payment terms are confidential and nobody’s talking about that. The beauty of using talent who’s lesser known is the expectations are lower in terms of those payments. They might be happy with free cell phone service for a few years, or to be paid as they engage. The overarching theme is they’re not demanding big dollars right now, so the brand can engage a lot more athletes.

New postpaid brand coming next year

While Boost has been establishing itself under Dish’s ownership, it’s been embroiled in a well-publicized battle with T-Mobile over the shutdown of the old Sprint CDMA network. A lot of Boost customers still rely on that network, and T-Mobile informed Dish that it will be shutting that network down come January 2022.

LightReading recently reported that T-Mobile intends to shut down the Sprint LTE network by June 30, 2022. That’s six months past the CDMA shutdown, so it’s not as time-sensitive, but it’s got to be on the radar. Stokols said the bigger priority right now is contending with the CDMA shutdown.

Last month, Dish announced it signed a 10-year agreement with AT&T that makes AT&T the primary network services partner for Dish MVNO customers. Worth at least $5 billion, it was largely interpreted as a reaction to Dish’s falling out with T-Mobile.

Meanwhile, Dish is getting ready to introduce a new brand next year focused on postpaid wireless, also first reported by LightReading. That’s similar to what the other big carriers are doing in terms of offering a postpaid service alongside prepaid, the lines of which continue to blur.

“We’re looking at a postpaid play,” Stokols told Fierce. Migrating users from prepaid to postpaid and being able to give them better offers and better device financing are motivators there, he said. At the same time, there’s a big market to tap into.

A lot of MVNOs use multiple networks and provide the best option for the consumer depending on where they’re at. Dish still has a long-term deal with T-Mobile, which boasts a great 5G network, so it’s feasible that Boost customers could use either the T-Mobile or the AT&T network depending on whichever has the best performance where they’re at. That could apply to both prepaid and postpaid, Stokols said.

T-Mobile’s prepaid brand recently launched an offer targeting Boost and Cricket customers. Stokols described it as an “aggressive” offer. It’s one that Boost doesn’t intend to match but it’s watching it closely, he said. “We’ll see what happens in the market.”

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