It's been a forgettable year thus far for fans of Georgia roundball. Tonight, our beloved but beleaguered Bulldogs take on the LSU Tigers in hopes of notching their first conference win of a season in which their biggest triumph so far came against Southern Cal.
Here on Dawgsports, we've been discussing the somber state of Georgia men's hoops for a few weeks now. (Check out Chuck's take on the coaching situation, where we opened a lively discussion on this topic). Coaching, recruiting, empty seats...it seems like the sky is falling for our Hoop Dawgs. But such troubles make this the perfect time to open up a more widespread discussion about the state of our basketball program. Even for those of us who aren't necessarily avid basketball fans, if at all, we all have a vested interest in the state of our University and a storied tradition of excellence in our athletics.
So what can we do to give our basketball program some help, apart from staff changes and recruiting?
Marketing and support. Or in the words of hilariously intense Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin, a "culture change". (Forgive the reference, please.)
Last time we heard, Greg McGarity was 100% behind Mark Fox. And in my opinion, that's fine if he chooses to stick with that line of thought. However, if he wants to do that, this makes the marketing and support aspect much more important. He's going to have to support Coach Fox the way he supported Coach Richt, providing whatever he needs to help create an atmosphere of success.
Most days this season, it takes the Coliseum a pretty long while to fill up even halfway for a men's basketball event. We've discussed on several threads at Dawgsports how the Coliseum looks quite empty on TV. First of all, this has to be discouraging for our players - I'm sure that's not what Kentavious Caldwell-Pope signed up for when he committed to this fine University. After all, he had probably been encouraged by the success of Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins and Co. and better days at Stegeman -- and who would blame him?
And this is where it gets sad. Athens is home to world-class athletes and very competitive champion-caliber teams in a variety of sports -- football, gymnastics, women's basketball, swimming, baseball, tennis, golf, equestrian...where's men's basketball, one of America's favorite sports, in this mix?
To start off, let me tell you how marketing the basketball program goes nowadays.
- An occasional email goes out encouraging each student to buy tickets online or at the bookstore.
- I walked into the bookstore yesterday to purchase a ticket for tonight's basketball game (first time I've ever purchased it at the bookstore since I usually do it online). It took me a minute to realize that the unmarked table at the front of the store was where I needed to purchase my ticket. No signage inside nor outside.
- On occasion, during the school week, UGA promotions assistants will be passing out black-and-white text-heavy flyers at Tate Plaza with information on them, usually about upcoming men's and women's hoops, and gymnastics too. Sometimes, small candies are attached to these.
- Sometimes inside the dorms you'll see black-and-white text-heavy posters posted with game information and promos for these games, but I actually haven't seen many of these this year.
- They are bribing us with delicious chicken. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.)
- This year, the athletic department let University Union (the student group that also hosts "Dawgs after Dark" and other social events during the semester) organize its biggest attempt at marketing -- "Basketbash", a free pep rally of sorts designed to get the students and the public pumped up for the year ahead. I headed over to the Coliseum for what seemed like a promising event, and, no offense to the hard-working students at Union, but I only stayed for a few minutes because it was a disaster. People were stampeding through the concourse to get their free t-shirts and Chick-fil-a, and it was just total chaos. (And the saddest part was, I believe it was the fullest I've seen the Coliseum all year for any basketball-related event.)
To start sowing the seeds for a successful program, one needs 1) good marketing to start it off and 2) a good culture surrounding it. Take our football program for instance. Nowadays, the team needs relatively little marketing to captivate its target audience -- millions of people have an emotional investment already in our brand of football, tickets to the games are a hot commodity, and students and fans pack the stands as soon as the gates to Sanford Stadium open. Hell, all the world needs to see is a picture of a bulldog clad in a red and black jersey to think "Georgia football."
Georgia basketball is not so lucky. I know several people on campus who could care less about our Hoop Dawgs, but love roundball and are huge Duke basketball fans. DUKE. (C'mon, really? I know they're very good, but why!?) When Kentucky or Florida comes to town, Stegeman does fill up, but there is way more blue in the seats than I ever care to see.
The athletic dept. needs to start from square one. And we have money to do that...we just happen to be very miserly. To change the culture though, outside of directly overseeing the basketball staff, the athletic association first needs to look at the students -- an energized college stadium starts with the students.
Marketing generates awareness. Awareness generates interest, and eventually, hype. (And if you don't believe me, ESPN has perfected this art. See: "Game of the Century 2011", Notre Dame's "goal line stand for the ages", and Alabama vs. Notre Dame.) So what can we do to start building a supportive and inviting fan base for basketball, despite our W-L record?
Here are a few of my own personal ideas:
- Bookstore and Tate Plaza signage: We do not need undergrads standing in the middle of Tate Plaza handing out pieces of paper that (even if they manage to get it into the hands of a student trying to avoid all the people with flyers) will inevitably end up in the garbage. But we do need to utilize the hub of campus -- thousands of students pass through the plaza each weekday. Eye-catching posters need to be on the bulletin boards, hung from the rafters of the roof connecting the Tate Center and the bookstore, and placed in other key places in the area. Chuck had a great idea of investing in larger signage such as an LED advertising sign to catch students' wandering eyes. Also, for anyone that's attended a football game and walked through Tate Plaza, you've probably seen a sign outside the bookstore advertising some sort of sale or Vince Dooley book signing. Why not use this sign when the table for purchasing basketball tickets is set up inside? Customer service 101, no one's gonna buy what you're selling if they don't know what you're selling.
- Posters: I know, this seems like such a no-brainer, but if you didn't know any better, you wouldn't know we had a basketball team if you look at various ads and posters around campus. Though I briefly touched on posters above, it's absolutely essential that we get these up all over campus in places outside of the Tate Plaza area. Dining halls and dorms are a great place to start. And most of the academic buildings have bulletin boards that can be used as well. These need to be easy on the eye and captivating - no black & white schemes, no text-overload. There are enough marketing and graphic design people in the Athens area who I'm sure would jump on the chance to design something neat for a basketball ad campaign.
- Interaction between the team and students: Okay, so the pep rally thing was a good solid attempt at this. But that just got way out of control. Think of it this way -- there's a real sense of camaraderie between students and the football team. Besides being a very consistent and successful program, the football team interacts very publicly with the students -- they get involved with various campus events, hold Picture Day, an annual Tailgate with the Team, and other events. And Coach Richt himself interacts frequently with the students. He attends several campus events along with the team, visits the Redcoats at practice at least once, and comes over to the student section to acknowledge us every time we win a battle on the gridiron. For our basketball squad, perhaps such actions would help boost support among the students. One idea I suggested in a comment earlier was street painting on Sanford Drive prior to the start of the basketball season and making an event out of it, where the team can mingle with students. Perhaps a "pep rally" just for men's hoops would be good if organized and executed properly (you tried, Basketbash, you tried.)
- Reward the fans: Personally, I feel that $15 per ticket for the general public is a little steep given the state of our program right now, but that's not the major issue nor will it change, so it simply stands as my own opinion on the matter. However, we could reward loyal fans and families who come out to the games. Little Bulldogs are the future of our fan base after all, so we want to see the young'uns cheering and waving those red-and-black shakers. But look at it this way: for the LSU game tonight, a family of four would have to shell out $60 to see what we've been seeing all season. And that doesn't include the extras like food, parking, etc. Yikes. (Though a family is not so concerned about a W-L record as much as having a good time, it still is nice to see their beloved team win or at least play competitively!) Perhaps the athletic department should consider pricing tickets differently for adults and youths or family discounts or circulate coupons along that line of thought. And how about the
masochisticloyal Hoop Dawg fans who love this team, no matter how bad, and come out to every game? There's one guy I see in the stands at every Georgia home game - he sits near court side and gets up and does jumping jacks every time Georgia does something good? We need to reward loyalty - and look at the most successful corporations out there, the football booster program, etc. - they'll all agree with that.
- Buses: Campus transit and Athens city buses shuttle people back and forth all day long throughout the week. We need to advertise in the buses more -- on the buses, you have a captive audience of bored students and various resident Athenians. And if for no other reason, hell, they did bus poster advertising for the pep rally, why not for regular season games?
I offer the above as possible stepping stones to start fixing the basketball culture in Athens. We’ve had some great storylines come out of it in the past, and who knows? Maybe we’ll get a surprise or two this season. But a good basketball culture would help us encourage success – recruiting as a notable example. It might take a while, but I know with some effort from the AD, it can easily happen. Let’s stop cheering for Duke and start cheering for the men in the Red and Black!
Now, if you have some ideas of your own, I know myself and Chuckdawg would love to hear them and open a discussion on this.
With all that being said, GO DAWGS! BEAT LSU!