Laura Smarandescu’s promotional strategy class at Fighter's Heaven

Laura Smarandescu’s promotional strategy class at Fighter's Heaven, which was once used as Muhammed Ali's boxing retreat.

Lehigh Marketing Students to Help Promote Muhammed Ali’s Fighter’s Heaven

Professor Laura Smarandescu’s promotional strategy class is providing ideas to increase attendance to the retreat, as well as website and social media traffic.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Laura Smarandescu

Approximately one hour from campus, in the woods of Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, Lehigh marketing students in Laura Smarandescu’s promotional strategy class spent a recent Monday afternoon touring log cabins that were once home to the boxing retreat of three-time heavyweight world champion and social activist Muhammed Ali.

Today, Fighter’s Heaven, sprawled out over six acres, features log cabins that include Ali’s former gym, which has been converted into a small museum, a kitchen that can seat and feed approximately 20 guests and two bunkhouses with seating for 50. The retreat was added to the National Register of Historic Places in August.

While not all of the students knew who Ali was when General Manager Mick Stefanek asked for a show of hands, they did by the end of the tour. As students took in the sights around the retreat, they learned about Ali’s background, his cultural impact and the different buildings on site prior to their main task—constructing a creative brief for Fighter’s Heaven that would increase attendance and drive traffic to the retreat’s website and social media channels.

“We really got to learn about its significance to Ali and how he used it as a retreat to get away from a lot of the chaos that he faced with being such a prominent boxer during that time,” Sofia Ferrucci ’25 said. “We really got to see why he enjoyed it so much.”

Smarandescu, a teaching associate professor in the College of Business, hatched the idea for the field trip after she heard of Fighter’s Heaven, which is owned by Mike Madden, the son of the late Hall of Fame football coach and commentator John Madden, and visited it herself in October 2023.

“I thought this would be a great opportunity for my students to work on, considering what a prominent cultural figure Muhammad Ali was,” Smarandescu said. “ And Fighter’s Heaven’s administration were very interested to have Lehigh marketing students work with them, fine tune their marketing message and increase awareness of Fighter’s Heaven and its linkage to Muhammed Ali’s legacy. Although the location is attended by boxing enthusiasts and international visitors, many locals, in particular younger generations, do not know that Muhammad Ali trained in Pennsylvania.”

Stefanek is also excited about the partnership.

“We feel that the benefits are twofold,” Stefanek said. “One, the students get an opportunity to use the camp for their project and are exposed to one of the most influential persons to ever live. Two, the camp gets a chance to examine, review and increase its social media presence and get some possible new ways of marketing the camp.”

Fighter’s Heaven, whose visitors over the years have included Andy Warhol, Dizzy Gillespie and The Jackson 5 and is where Larry Holmes, world heavyweight champion from 1978 to 1985, got his start as Ali’s sparring partner, is currently open to the public by appointment. Smarandescu said Fighter’s Heaven hopes to attract team-building retreats and day trips for high school students but believes her students can help guide a more focused plan on identifying target audiences.

“[The project] offers a compelling blend of local relevance, educational opportunity, interdisciplinary learning, creativity and measurable impact, making it an ideal subject for student engagement and exploration,” Smarandescu said. “It's interesting because it has the historical part, there's some sports component, marketing and tourism.”

After deciding on its intended demographic, students will create a campaign that includes where they would reach their audiences and the type of messaging. The goals include attracting more website traffic, improving the website and suggesting materials to distribute via social media.

As part of Smarandescu’s class, students work on brand promotional scenarios and case studies, but Smarandescu said a trip such as this one presents students with a real brand scenario, an experiential learning opportunity that presents additional complexity to a textbook case study. Students learn to work with a real client, ask questions, identify issues that need to be addressed, develop an appropriate promotional strategy for the nonprofit and create engaging advertising materials.

Ferrucci, a graphic design minor, said she noticed Stefanek wearing Fighter’s Heaven merchandise and felt the logo was outdated and immediately began brainstorming new ideas. She also said she had ideas to improve its social media accounts, which she believes already has a significant following for a nonprofit organization.

“Because we were able to go and get that tangible experience of the sights, what it's about and being able to see everything, that makes such a big difference,” Ferrucci says. “It's a 300 level class. A lot of us are going to be applying to, or already have, internships. [Real world experience] is so important because in the classes you're just getting all the curriculum-based stuff.”

Ferrucci said that real word experience is crucial for her, especially in marketing.

“Obviously, there is the psychology behind it and the tactics that you can use but it's not really until you have the real world experience that you can use that and apply it to different brands and companies,” Ferrucci said.

Once the students have completed the creative brief, Smarandescu said the class will meet with Fighter’s Heaven again to present their plans.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Laura Smarandescu

Related Stories

The 1-MBA cohorts traveled to California this year to visit major tech companies and engage with industry thought leaders for their course studying societal shifts.

Lehigh’s 1-MBA Program Jumps Up 32 Spots in U.S. News Rankings

The new ranking is the largest gain of any business school in its category.

Data privacy and security background. Internet cyber security concept. Digital lock protection from viruses and malware. CGI 3D render

Generative AI Becoming Concern for Supply Chain Managers

Lehigh Business Supply Chain Risk Management Index shows cybersecurity risk #1 for fifth straight quarter.

LUPD's dog Grace

Outside the Box: Lehigh Ventures Lab Helping Ideas Take Flight

Meet the entrepreneurs whose ideas could change the way people date, bank, protect their dogs from ticks, and more.