The Brand: What Are We Doing Here? A Student's Perspective.
Driving home from work on Thursday night, I had the State game on the radio. For those of you who are amazed that I am talking about something other than baseball for once, I am in fact referring to the Wolfpack Men's Basketball team's 65-61 loss to Colorado State in the Second Round of the NIT.
I for one have tried to wash as much of this game as I can out of my memory, but there was one particular occurrence that I couldn't get out of my head.
I got back on campus and parked at halftime, proceeding to head into Talley to grab a bite to eat before making my way back to my dorm for the second half.
For those of you who don't know, Talley is the student center at State, situated directly next to Reynolds Coliseum in the heart of campus. It's a massive building with different places for students to study, hang out with friends, plus grab and eat some food.
Once I finally got to Talley, I looked up and noticed that on the setup of TV screens angled towards the largest eating area in the building, State's Basketball game wasn't on it. In fact, nothing remotely related to NC State was on it.
On a night where the NC State Men's Basketball team was playing a postseason basketball game, the student union on campus was showing Young Sheldon, a sitcom on CBS that acts as a prequel to the network's former hit show, The Big Bang Theory.
I am a nineteen-year-old freshman at State. I, for one, do not know anybody my age (or in general) who actually watches Young Sheldon. I also understand that I love NC State University and NC State Athletics more than 99.9% of State students, so I was likely more frustrated about this than most would be.
As a result, I want to echo some of Evan's pieces on branding and marketing, and talk about how the university and athletic department can begin marketing itself better, particularly towards the student body.
This Isn't Unusual
Let me begin by saying that this is not the first time something similar to this has happened since I've been at State. On February 24th, a couple friends from my hometown came up to Raleigh and we had dinner together (shoutout to Nash County). That same night, the Wolfpack were playing at #15 Virginia in Men's Basketball, a game State would go on to win 68-61. Once we got back from dinner, my friends and I watched the game in my dorm room. At halftime, they wanted to grab some Howling Cow ice cream, so we headed to the Talley Market.
That same night, an evening where State beat a longtime conference-rival and top-fifteen team on the road, the game wasn't on in Talley.
A couple months back, my dorm was hosting a building-wide event on Saturday, November 14th at 7:00 PM. On the same night, just thirty minutes later and a half-mile away, State was set to kickoff against Florida State in Football, a game that acted as Homecoming despite attendance regulations and a limit on campus activities due to the coronavirus.
It's unreasonable to expect that there will never be overlap with big-time athletic events and other on-campus activities, but stuff like this is laughable.
After posting about this during the game Thursday on Twitter, I learned I wasn't the only one who had a similar experience in Talley.
I mean, how does this keep happening, and how do people not see an issue with it?
This Year is Weird, I Know
I am obviously a huge sports fan and grew up a huge State fan. It isn't hard for me to get excited about State Athletics, regardless of the sport, whether or not I'm going to be in attendance or watching on television. However, not all fans or students feel the same way.
Sure, I have friends who are students that watch every Football and Men's Basketball game even when they can't go and watch in-person, and as a result they're usually the ones which I talk State sports with.
But the majority of my friends find it hard to get excited about State Athletics watching from their couch.
Take my roommate, for example. He's not a sports fan, at all. But he enjoys attending events in-person. The two of us went to high school together, and neither one of us hardly ever missed a Northern Nash Football or Basketball game, home or away. Despite that, he doesn't really watch sports on TV, it's just not an interest of his, which is perfectly fine!
But, if State wants to win over students and grow the fan base, this can't become a trend. The university and athletic department has got to garner the interest of students and get them excited about athletics, even if they aren't particularly sports fans. Who's to say that when Carter-Finley Stadium and PNC Arena do open back up at full capacity, these students have already made up their minds that NC State Athletics isn't something that is important to them. The inability to attend games in-person has certainly added a level of apathy amongst students, as similar to the game against Colorado State, I walked to Talley to grab food during halftime of State's 89-68 ACC Tournament loss to Syracuse.
All across the courtyard on the backside of Talley, students were out and about playing spikeball (a popular game amongst us youngsters for those who don't know. It's really cool, look it up), eating with friends, and doing quite literally everything except for caring about NC State Men's Basketball. Keep in mind that this was during the ACC Tournament, the biggest week in sports in the entire state of North Carolina. That CAN'T happen. It's one thing if students are in class or studying, but the university has to convince students that in their free time, NC State Athletics are fun, exciting, and a big deal.
How Can We Fix This?
For starters, the athletic department has got to market Football, Men's Basketball, and Women's Basketball as must-see games. One might raise their eyebrow at the inclusion of Women's Basketball on the list, but here's the deal. Wes Moore has built (and is still building) and outstanding program that is fun to watch, and is sitting on back-to-back ACC Championships. The Women's and Men's Basketball teams typically don't play on the same nights, so there's no reason that State can't give similar exposure to each program, particularly to students. Plus, the women's team playing noticeably closer to most students than the men's team does since they're on-campus helps in terms of marketing as well. Finally, with Louisville, North Carolina, Florida State, and South Carolina all on the home schedule for the 2021-2022 season, State has an opportunity to grow their Women's Basketball fanbase as the program itself grows exponentially.
The school certainly has a hand tied behind their back with COVID-19 protocols around campus, but there are ways to be socially-distant while also promoting State Athletics.
For starters, every single Football, Men's Basketball, and Women's Basketball Game should be on in Talley. It's the largest on-campus gathering place for students, and is a great place to watch games with friends. This also does a good job of generating promotion amongst foot traffic that just happens to be passing by, something State is unable to do in Football and Men's Basketball since they both play off-campus, and especially right now with such tight restrictions on athletic-event attendance.
As for more unconditional ways to get students excited about athletics, why not host watch parties on days with nice weather on one of the school's two large courtyards? Stafford Commons outside Talley is a wide-open area, and a giant TV screen is built into the side of the building. This would be a great place to watch an away football game in the fall, or perhaps a basketball game on an afternoon where the winter weather isn't too harsh. Pictured below are some snapshots from Stafford Commons where something like this would be possible.
If not Stafford, then why not the Court of North Carolina? A screen would have to be brought in, but it's by far the prettiest part of campus, and would be a gorgeous setting for something like this.
The Hurricanes have done events similar to this during their recent playoff runs, and have had a ton of success! There's no reason that State couldn't do something similar, catered to students, specifically for away games.
In my opinion, these are awesome ideas for Football and Men's Basketball games, and possibly even bigger games for the Women's Basketball team. This would be a great way to engage with students and get them excited about Wolfpack Athletics.
It's also a missed opportunity for home games this year... but I'll let it slide.
Aside from on-campus watch parties, State should also promote off-campus eateries and restaurants where students could get together and watch games such as Sammy's, Mitch's Tavern, Players' Retreat, and coming in the fall, Sup Dogs! Mitch's and PR are Hillsborough Street staples, and Sup Dogs is going to be a fantastic addition to the school's main drag. Sammy's is located in Mission Valley, still walking distance from campus, and is a great spot to watch games. The university should promote these places, as they're vital to college-campus atmospheres and are fun places to watch games and get people excited.
As for smaller sports, these games have to be marketed as events. Evan did a piece on how State should make their annual Spring Football Game one of Raleigh's premier events, and State has to use similar tactics in order to market smaller sports to students.
Men's and Women's Soccer have done a phenomenal job with this, as the Red Terrors are one of the fastest-growing organizations on campus. For those who don't know, the Red Terrors are a support group based on State's Soccer teams, and they have created insane atmospheres for home games at the Dail Soccer Field. The group aims to create a "Ninety-Minute Party" at games, and adds a lot to a sport that is otherwise usually quiet and slow-paced.
An organization similar to this would be awesome for baseball, creating something similar to that of what ECU has with "The Jungle", and many SEC schools who dominate the nation's college baseball landscape.
But who knows, something like that may already be in the works, ;).
Editor's Note: Chance absolutely nails this. I just wanted to underscore that a group like the Red Terrors adding that kind of atmosphere to soccer games is what helps elevate programs and helps them attract better talent. Recruits notice these things. How many other collegiate soccer programs have a rowdy fanbase at game? Can't be many.
Alumni and donors are very important. There's no doubt about that. But with what was already a Men's Basketball season filled with apathy, boredom, and disappointment, NC State is letting their student body, which by the way, are the future alumni and donors, get away from them. This can't happen, and State has got to figure out how to appeal to this target market.
If NC State doesn't care about NC State, why should we expect anyone else to care? Why should we expect prospective students, or even prospective student-athletes to? It's vital that State grasp a firm hold on their student body and ensures that they maintain excitement and optimism about the major sports teams on campus, and even the smaller teams. This is absolutely possible, but needs to come into fruition. Here's to hoping there's more of this in the future than there was in the past.
As always, thanks for reading, and Go Pack!
Editor's Note: Additionally, creating that excitement with the students crucial for creating an atmosphere that lets sports thrive but it's also crucial for creating loyalty. Loyalty then turns into Wolfpack Club members which turn into future donors and future representatives for the university.
We understand that there are finite resources for these marketing departments but if you want your programs to be elite, these are the types of details that can't be overlooked.