Rebuilding a Brand, Part III: Marketing 101
Marketing, marketing, that's where I belong ... among other places. -- George Carlin
In Part I of this, I talked about the whole football-school philosophy, and in Part II, scheduling do's and don'ts. Time now for Part III -- Getting the Tradition Back. Also known as: Marketing 101.
As a life-long follower of Notre Dame basketball, the current weakness in Irish tradition is frustrating and enraging. When your primary experience of ND basketball was games like this, you have a hard time understanding why students and fans can't get behind this program consistently to the extent they should.
There are solutions, all based in how this program is presented to the fans and how the fans decide (yes, decide) to accept that presentation.
Notre Dame needs better outlets on television for this program than they've had recently. The ESPN aspect of the new Big East contract is great, but chances are a lot of those games are going to end up on ESPNU, which most major cable franchises (including Comcast in South Bend) don't carry. This will have the unfortunate effect of making ND a pawn in the WWL's game of making as much money as possible, which does little for the local appeal.
There's little ND can do about the situation, but that means they need to move heaven and earth to get ND back on local television for non-conference games, even if it means a financial cost. Getting the non-conference games on webcast is an excellent start, but Kevin White, John Heisler, and all the folks in the AD office must work with WNDU or WSBT or one of the other local stations to ensure a package is put together. There's no better way to get back into the hearts and minds of the local fans. IU is on television for almost every game, so you can't tell me it can't be done.
Speaking of television, broadcast tapes exist of many of ND's biggest games, and should be made available to fans on DVD. This DVD has good samples and is a must for any ND hoops fan's library, but it would be great to be able to see all those games in their entirety just as we currently can get ND football games.
I know I talked about it before, but it bears repeating, because the product you're putting out there is part of your marketing strategy. When you want to generate crowd enthusiasm, you can't bring in the load of cupcakes the Irish did this year, and on the heels of two disappointing seasons in a row, it created a perfect storm of apathy.
I know when you have a young team, you certainly want to build confidence at the outset of the slate. The Big East dragging its feet on how many conference games for next year makes it difficult to entertain multi-year contracts, as does a coach's uncertain status for the following season -- ask John MacLeod what it's like playing out the contract string for your predecessor.
But even with those things said, ND's strength of schedule non-conference this season was galactically bad, and they can't be doing that again, let alone regularly. There are ways around it, as I noted previously, such as a slightly higher class of opponent and at least one or two more trips away from home. If it's done over the Christmas holiday, which makes for a less intimidating venue on the road anyway, it kills both the non-student home game attendance and strength of schedule birds with the same stone.
Having said that, however, the fans both student and otherwise need to realize not every game is going to be Pitt or UCLA or North Carolina. Even a decent home slate is going to have its share of Elons and Rutgerses (or is it Rutgeri?). Showing up only for the "glamorous" tussles isn't being a fan, it's being a front-runner. ND basketball deserves a lot better than front-runners. After all, not every football game is Michigan or Southern Cal -- the Irish play Stanford, too, and to a packed house.
The Gameday Experience
This has been a long-time topic on the Pit. The good news is some steps have been taken here -- fewer stoppage-of-play nonsense like the hamster ball race, better selections for halftime activities. But we remain short of where we need to be.
The NBA-ification of the player intros and the overall game progression is not necessarily a change for the good. I realize players like those intros, but there was something to be said for the simple over-the-Victory-March version. It was college basketball at its finest. Overall, there needs to be less piped-in music and more band, particularly the drum section playing cheers and cadences. Leave the sound effects for the Bulls and Pacers, because a college crowd wants college things.
But both sides have to work at this. For example (and not to pick on them because they're hardly alone in all this, but because I have some experience in the area), if there's going to be more band, there has to be a band in the first place. There should be a Varsity Band at every basketball game when school is in session, exhibition and otherwise. Putting on the crotchety alum hat for a moment, during my band days, that was the policy. If there was a conflict with marching band practice, they still sent a group to the hoops game. That late in the season, there's nothing wrong with recycling shows and charts, so full-on marching band practices should not be required in mid-November. At the very least, they can spare 40 or so kids from the 300+ they have right now. And if the band is going to be there, they should play, particularly the drum section. I realize the old cadences and cheers aren't exactly DCI-quality, but they get the crowd into things. The YouTube link at the top of the article is evidence enough of that. Forego the rudimentary whatevers and give us plenty of "Digger's Rock", "Let's Go" and "Red Eye".
Although they're a national school, ND has thousands of alumni within driving distance of campus, especially in metropolitan centers like Chicago, Indianapolis and Detroit. ND could take 100 tickets for some games, especially games where the students aren't on campus, and have an event for one or more of those Alumni Clubs -- game, Mass, meal (with maybe one of the coaches and/or players), hotel, the whole thing. Make it an event the Clubs can use for fundraising or family activities. It even makes good financial sense -- spend a little money to bring them back to the fanbase, and you'll make a lot of money when they remain fans or come to other non-event games on their own.
The Clubs, for their part, need to get more active in this. ND basketball, as I said, is an opportunity for them, and they need to take advantage of that opportunity, even if they're not geographically proximate. Call Chuck Lennon and tell him you want to have an event around a basketball game. Call the basketball office and encourage them to play a road game in your neck of the woods. Go after your membership and help sell them on a good time. It helps not only the basketball program but also your club membership -- the more fun family events you have, the more people will want to be part of the club.
Those of us who are a little long in the tooth can remember games like the one I linked above as a semi-regular occurrence. But 10 years of mismanagement has severed the link to the tradition. While supporting the current product, ND needs to do a better job in promoting the past. Ideas, some better than others, include:
- I know former players are at a lot of games. ND should introduce them to the crowd along with some facts from their playing days. If and when the new scoreboard goes in, video highlights will help.
- The bi-annual player reunion should be done in-season around a home basketball game so the students and fans can "meet the players". In addition to introducing them at the game, there should be an autograph session or some other public interaction. Perhaps a dinner, much like what was done with the All-Century team, but more comprehensive and less expensive.
- ND should offer a one-credit-hour class on its basketball history as an elective. If I could get a credit hour A for sign language and SMC orchestra in my time, and my brother could get one for "social issues", I hardly think basketball history is a deal-breaker. One credit hour isn't going to kill anyone. With guest lecturers like AC and John Paxson and Pat Garrity, it'd be a natural. Hell, I'll volunteer to teach it for free.
You know, that's not a half-bad idea -- watch this space in the offseason for further developments
While Notre Dame needs to work harder to get their product in front of their audience, the audience needs to meet them at least halfway.
The local fans need to decide they want to support major college basketball and not walk away at the drop of a hat. Coaches do not own this program, the students and fans do. Walking away from the school because a coach pissed you off or someone associated with him pissed you off or you just flat out don't like him is incredibly lame. It also, more often than not, is an excuse of convenience, because most good coaches have, shall we say, severe social personality deficits. Digger Phelps turned people off his entire 20-year career at ND. Charlie Weis is more than capable of being an asshole. Bob Knight's career speaks for itself, and most South Bend folks worship the ground he walks on. Decide this is your program and come out to support it.
The student body needs to make the same decision, particularly since they're a stronger stakeholder in the program than alumni or locals so more is expected. Some seasons are good, some seasons are bad. I find it difficult to believe the same students who sat through Bob Davie's and Tyrone Willingham's "efforts" in coaching somehow aren't able to stomach Mike Brey, who has done more at ND in his career than both those men (and Gerry Faust, for that matter) combined. Spare me the "football is different" stuff -- it didn't used to be, and it's a function of a choice you make. You need to make a different choice and show the administration you're willing to hold up your end. Educate yourself on Notre Dame's basketball tradition (insert self-serving plug for book here), because it's worth learning about and following. If you don't want to do that, that's up to you, but don't complain then when your ticket allocation is reduced and you're not sitting courtside. At the very least, show the support so the students who come after you have the opportunity to do the same.
Remember, there's no busier man on campus than Charlie Weis, and if he can come out to support the team on a regular basis, so can you.