November 27, 2020

UPDATE: Webster billboard states chess players are its best recruits

UPDATE 1:42 p.m.: Webster University Director of Marketing Communications John Costello said the Webster University chess billboard was “a unique opportunity that we could not pass up.” Webster’s promotion stating “Our top recruits are chess players,” sits on Interstate 70 less than 10 miles after seven billboards owned by the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Costello said the billboard is not about the chess team. Webster Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin said the words on the billboard aren’t meant to be taken seriously.

“The point of the billboard was humor,” Giblin said. “I think most people driving down that freeway will know that simply because of all the Mizzou billboards that come right before it.”

The Mizzou’s billboards promote its nationally ranked Division I athletics like football and volleyball.

Giblin said all Webster administration members were told about the billboard before it was published. Costello said Assistant Provost for Student Affairs and Athletic Student Affairs Office Paul Carney was not informed but probably should have been.

“It has just moved so fast,” Costello said. “We went into this with the specific goal that we might be able to get some PR out of this. So far it’s working marvelously.”

Costello said Webster has owned that billboard for three years. He said the message is a “one-off” and was not apart of Webster’s planned marketing campaign.

Webster University's billboard is within 10 miles of the University of Missouri-Columbia's billboards that advertise its D-I athletics. CONTRIBUTED BY WEBSTER MARKETING DEPARTMENT

Webster University’s billboard is within 10 miles of the University of Missouri-Columbia’s billboards that advertise its D-I athletics. CONTRIBUTED BY WEBSTER MARKETING DEPARTMENT

UPDATE 9:13 a.m.: Susan Polgar, Webster chess head coach and Director of Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) said the billboard was made to start a global conversation and attract students who are interested in chess.

“It was a brilliant move,” Polgar said. “I think the relatively low money spent on that billboard is money well spent.”

Polgar said the advertisement was well timed with the World Chess Championships in India beginning on Nov. 11.

Polgar said she did not know what the billboard would look like, but does not want to start an internal controversy with Webster Athletics.

“I really hope Webster looks at what is in the best interest of the university,” Polgar said. “This was just one idea that was tried and it got global attention so I think from a marketing standpoint I think it was successful.”

A billboard along Interstate 70 in central Missouri paid for by Webster University states “Our top recruits are chess players.”

Webster athletes started to share an article on Twitter from the Wall Street Journal about the billboard. The article states Webster spends “under four figures per month” to keep the billboard along I-70.


Senior forward on the women’s soccer team, Katie Aubuchon was one of the first Webster athletes to share the story through Twitter.

“It’s like a slap in the face,” Aubuchon said. “It just pissed off a lot of athletes and they (Webster) aren’t giving us the recognition we deserve.

Webster’s chess team moved from Texas Tech University in 2012 and tied for first place at the Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship last year.

Freshman forward of the men’s soccer team, BJ Dryer said the billboard was “off-putting” as an athlete.

“I think it is a knock against athletes,” Dryer said. “I don’t want to take away from the chess team but other teams are doing great too.”

Webster athletics is a member of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and has won the All-Sports Award all but two years since the award began in 1989. The award is given to the school which earns the most points throughout the year in terms of what place they finish in conference competition.

Aubuchon said she remembered a sign in Marlettos about the chess team after its 2012 national championship. But she said there was no sign when the baseball team finished as one of the 10 best teams in the country in the Division III College World Series.

“I don’t understand why they don’t want to spend so much money on the chess team and not us,” Aubuchon said.

Webster Center fielder senior Corey Lasky said he sees the message as something he can’t control.

“We’ve accomplished some stuff too,” Lasky said. “Hopefully the athletes don’t buy too much into it.”

Check back for tomorrow as The Journal continues its report.

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