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Define Who You Are

What's acceptable? What's absolutely not acceptable?

Much of the debate over Jumbotrons and other ideas that could kill the Golden Goose of the Notre Dame brand could be answered very simply by defining exactly what the mission of the Notre Dame experience was, is and should be. From this all options should flow.

This whole notion of "everything being on the table" shows a complete lack of understanding of the special place that Notre Dame is. Most companies would kill for the unique branding that ND owns in the world of college football. In fact, attaining Notre Dame's level of uniqueness is the hardest branding issue that exists and Notre Dame owns it almost by default. Yet, if you listen to some, Notre Dame needs to "get with the times", "keep up with the competition" and "keep all options open."

Uh, no.

What ND has to protect, above all else, is its unique branding, uncompromised and steeped in tradition. What we keep hearing is how necessary it is to "be like everyone else" yet that thinking is exactly what will ruin the uniqueness, the marketability of the ND experience and ultimately make Notre Dame less dollars.

When ND looks at trying to do things like jumbotrons and then how to "PBS-ize" it to fit the ND experience (and everyone knows this is the proverbial camel's nose under the tent as Mike Coffey is fond of saying,) it's doing things ass-backward. The first question should be: Does a jumbotron enhance the unique experience of Notre Dame or does it make ND more the same as the rest of the college football world?

If it's one, then it should be explored and crafted to enhance that experience. If it's two, throw it in the bin of bad ideas. Notice, it's not judgment on the idea of the Jumbotron that's important, what's important is first knowing who and what you are and then how that translates into into the decisions that you make.

The problem is that to those who who care deeply about what Notre Dame represents, Notre Dame seems focused on using the brand to create streams of revenue. It should be focused on protecting and enhancing the "the brand" above all else and from that unique ideas (that you never considered before) will flow and make money. You usually don't get a second chance once you compromise. If you dilute the brand, you limit the corporate opportunities. If your opportunities become limited (see the BCS negotiations) you're forced to make choices that probably will dilute the brand. So diluting the brand more, limits more opportunities... and around and around the toilet bowl we go.

Here's where emphasizing tradition and experience pays off in both the revenue and branding: Once you commit to this thought process, it raises your level of thinking and creates more and unique options. If one only looks at the landscape that is revenue generation based on current methods, then you, by default, will be picking an option that dilutes the brand. If you focus on enhancing the game day experience, there are a myriad of corporate opportunities that will flow from taking this approach that will ultimately have greater value as a marketing channel for corporations and build the brand that will create still greater value. Building the brand yields greater and unique options for marketing. Having unique options allows you to enhance the brand. Enhancing the brand...

ND needs to think outside of the toilet bowl. Many companies are forced into bad choices by the market or private equity pressure. Notre Dame doesn't have that liability.

Focus on improving the game-day experience. Expound and resurrect traditions that are unique.

Resurrecting the slow, menacing "Heeeerrreee coommmmeee thhhheeee IIIrrrrrisssh," chant before the team comes out is a great way to evoke tradition and help stimulate the crowd. When people leave a Notre Dame football game they generally comment on what a unique and special experience it was. Tennessee fans who live in jumbotron-piped-in-noise hell were effusively complementary of the "Notre Dame experience." People are willing to pay for that. Now design marketing ideas around that. Perhaps a Xerox could support this initiative by printing out cards that honor a ND great and direct the crowd how and when to do this and other Notre Dame chants. "There's no copying tradition." Make it a small Xerox that fits in the overall theme of tradition. 80 thousand direct marketing pieces right there and possibly an address to a website where Xerox has videos of ND greats. You could even make it so that it folds into a little cardboard megaphone so that you enhance the noise aspect. Maybe that idea stinks and maybe it wouldn't ultimately pass the "enhance the experience" test, but it's an idea that flows from experience enhancement. Part of how we run NDNation is that everything has to add value to our members; everything has to enhance the experience (okay, except for my book.) People wonder how we've been successful, that's most of it. Our focus comes from the people who use the site and when we're in doubt, we do something very sophisticated: we ask them what they think and then we do it if we can. When NBC provided us with video we had no problem using their logo because it worked. Sure that's "advertising" in a sense, but helps our member experience to have it.

The lone bagpiper that leads the Lacrosse team also seems like a unique idea football could adopt. Where some want a Jumbotron to play video highlights to honor former ND greats, seems to me a simple bagpiper playing in honor of the that person with some other recognition, perhaps unfurling a giant picture on the field, would be a unique experience that would enhance the branding of Notre Dame. Perhaps NBC, which works with ITunes already, could download the latest tribute on ITunes with some Notre Dame highlights so that we could relive the experience. I don't know, I'm just brainstorming. But if a lone bagpiper came out to honor Moose, I'd be in tears (okay, I'm emotional.)

Rather than a jumbtron, what if Verizon, with NBC provided phone replays? There's also a company that makes video devices (palm-like) for sports events (saw it a VC show it's designed for golf) you could rent these out for highlights and have merchandise order tie-ins that you could order from then pick up on your way out of the stadium at a window. Think how many merchandise orders ND leaves on the table because customers have to wait in lines? Maybe Verizon, or whomever, can design a web phone system for ND fans to order merchandise for window pick-up. I don't know. I don't know what the answer is, but we should start by thinking outside the toilet bowl.

Maybe let AT&T step up and provide highlights on their new IPhone. You could negotiate a rate cut for ND alumn as a give-back. Imagine how much that would mean to AT&T over the years? Thinking into the future, a jumbotron could be outdated in ten years (or less) as technology changes. It's not like it's new technology right now. You can already buy a NBC ready color LCD tv for 50 bucks to watch replays. Negotiate a discount from the manufacturer, make a 20 buck profit on 10,000 a game and you've got half the revenue that would be projected from a jumbotron. Have them design one specifically for ND. I don't know that answer and most of these ideas probably aren't workable in the end, but they are ideas that are outside of traditional revenue streams.

After you define the experience, then figure out corporate tie-ins. Meet with their marketing heads, outline your vision, tell them to come up with ways to enhance tie-ins, then choose wisely (don't compromise - keep the bar high!!!!) It's a marketers dream to be able to work on something like this. Corporations would kill for an embedded association with Notre Dame Football. And the more you strengthen the brand, the more they'd kill for it. Force them to meet you on your ground and they'll love you for it and you'll likely invent an idea that will enhance, the experience, your revenue and your resume (for those who have higher ambitions than ND.)

Are these definitive answers? No, just ideas, but they're ideas that flow from a mission that everything Notre Dame does should first pass a litmus test of "what is the ND experience and does this idea enhance the ND experience?" In the end they'll make a hell of a lot more money than a Chevy tie-in to pimp a few cars.

The reason I liked the corporate box idea is that it actually makes the stadium look more traditional, it moves corp seats out of the game day atmosphere, helps keep in real noise (not 'piped in' noise) and enhances revenue. Not my idea, but one that would fit my idea of enhancing the Notre Dame experience.

The anti-NDNation line and on those who visit our site is that we don't want to move with times, that we want to live in the Rockne era. That's not true as you can see from the ideas above. Rockne believed in innovation, not following. What made Notre Dame a universal name was unique marketing to begin with. He got it. We just want to, above all else, ensure that we and future generations will always be able to understand and feel a part of the ND experience and not lose this connection between generations through short-sighted thinking.

Right now the test seems to be, "can we generate corporate dollars without pissing off the fan base?" That's not vision, it's aspirational mediocrity. The surest way to kill a brand is to not first understand who you are and to the many who follow Notre Dame like a religion, it doesn't look like those entrusted with the Notre Dame brand have defined exactly what it is, what it represents and how that is part of any decision-making process. If they have done this self-evaluation, it needs to be explicitly articulated because when it's not and decisions are made that don't add up, distrust is created.

If they haven't done this basic homework and self-definition... I mean, we're talking branding 101 here folks.

And a caveat here. Some are interpreting this article as a proxy for Kevin White bashing. Well, he's part of the process, this but article is really about developing a process that will ensure Notre Dame's uniqueness and not functioning from short-term thinking. No one I know thinks Kevin White is a bad guy. And it should be noted that Kevin White, from accounts, attempted to aim high when it came to recent (five years ago) coaching hires in basketball and football, but he was also forced to deal with the wishes the administration at the time (not that we're disappointed with who we have now. ) Also, under appreciated kudos for switching referees from the Big N to the Big East. Long overdue.

~ The Rock


Anonymous Anonymous said...


2:25 PM  
Blogger John said...

this article is very well-said. Bring the whole crowd into the experience, with chants, not artificial impromptu garbage from a TV. Keep it real, keep it old school, keep it ND, and stand out and be different.

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Mike sculati '76 said...

My wife and I went to the ND Fla. State game in Tallhasse---it was an awful experience--The Jumbotron itself, ads over the speaker as well as the jumbotron, artficial turf--just disgusting. Is this the path we are on? I pray not as the unique Notre Dame experience will be ruined

8:37 PM  
Anonymous John Mel '85 indy said...

Good ideas. Most importantly, TV timeouts need to be fewer and shortened. It's ok on the couch at home, but in the stadium it almost kills the experience (not to mention game momentum).

12:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We brought some dear friends to their first ND game/experience and their comment was "how can anything compare to the beauty of the campus, the excitement in the stadium.....ND is the total package, don't change a thing"
We don't want to be like anyone else, keep it simple and real and the fans will keep coming for the joy of the experience!


9:34 PM  

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