PantherU

The worst loss wasn’t on the court…

…it was in the stands.

I could talk about Anthony Hill’s disappointing game even though he had 15 and 10 (should have had 30 and 18).  I could mention the complete lack of energy from the home team, no commitment to defense and no heart (at least none that I could see).  I could talk about how the Panthers were looking ahead to Ring Out Ahoya, the game where we finally saw a chance to come out victorious (what fan could think that now?).

But I’m not.  Because Tuesday night’s debacle at the Klotsche Center was far, far more than the game played on the court.

If you have any knowledge of the Milwaukee Panthers athletics program, even the most basic, you’ll know that the Athletic Department is in the beginning stages of trying to secure an on-campus game and practice facility for the men’s basketball program.  One that is up to not only D-I standards, but the level of program we want to be in the immediate and distant future, as this is at the very least a 50-year facility.

Because of this goal, the men’s basketball team set aside both exhibitions and one regular season game to be played at the Klotsche Center, the facility built in the 1970’s that was state-of-the-art for its time but had long since become obsolete for D-I standards.  The idea was to hold the exhibitions on campus because the KC’s capacity is well over our standard exhibition crowd.  They would use those games as a practice run for the real deal, November 23rd vs. Western Michigan.

While not a marquee opponent, the game against WMU was meant to flex the muscles of the students, a chance for them to show that they will show up for basketball games on campus.  Anyone who was at the game can attest that if there were 100 students, the majority of them were not standing and joining in with the student section.  The “Klotsche Krazies” were few in number.  So, on the goal to prove that the students would show up for games at an on-campus arena, that was an abject failure.

I know that a lot of fans want to kick in the heads of the marketing department, but the blame has to be shared between everyone.  None of us did enough to make this happen the way it should have.  And though it was only a small decision and one that took a small amount of time, the first portion of the blame goes to:

The Scheduler.  Who made the decision to host Retro Night two days before Thanksgiving?  This is the first and biggest mistake; playing a home game, when almost every freshman is on their way home for turkey and stuffing, is not a good call.  That class is always the most to attend, always the most excited to be there.  Not catering to them is a bad move.  I hear from fans that you can “only hold their hands for so long,” but that’s not how marketing works.  You get in their face as much as possible and you make sure if you’re planning something like a regular season home game at the Klotsche Center to drum up support for an on-campus arena, you do it when your main reason for doing it is most available.

We didn’t have to schedule this home game a day earlier, or earlier in the day.  This Retro Night could probably have been a huge success if they changed the game in question to the one three nights earlier, against Northern Iowa.  Not only do you have a weekend game on campus for the students (could have been afternoon or night), but you’re playing the program that, along with Gonzaga, is the poster child for moving basketball games back to campus in a new arena.  UNI’s success is derived from Ben Jacobson the most and a lot because of their state legislature’s move to require home-and-homes between all state D-I schools, but the McLeod Center has a huge, huge impact on that program.

Just by moving the day of the KC home game, you greatly improve the chances of it being a success.

– The Vouchers. I know why it was done.  The athletic department thought that such a game, where the stakes were so high and the on-campus home game so rare, was going to bring in more students than they could fit in the small facility.

Obviously, they thought wrong.  Not only was the demand for the game not high because, ahem, everyone was going home, but the idea of forcing kids that you NEED at the game to walk their asses over the Klotsche Center to pick up vouchers was a joke.  Vouchers for this game?  Tell a freshman they should go to the Western Michigan game, all they need to do is go get a voucher beforehand at the ticket office, any time it is open in the weeks leading up to the game.  Your answer from 90% of them is “Why?  Why can’t I just use my I.D. to get in?”  Well, not really.  Ninety percent are actually going to say “Wait, we get into games for free?!”  But that’s another argument for another time…later in this post.

If the vouchers were an absolute must, then the ticket office should have set up shop in the lobby of the dorms and the cafeteria of the union.  Can’t do it because you’re getting kicked out?  Well, we’ll get to that in a second as well.

But don’t insult the intelligence of students by giving them reminders to get up and go get their voucher.  What it came down to was a voucher for students to get a voucher to get into a basketball game that they didn’t know was important.  Which leads me to…

– Press releases. In case you aren’t a student, this is the e-mail that was sent out to every student on Monday, the day before the game:

Men’s Basketball Student Ticket Vouchers

Still Available for Game Against Marquette

Represent the Black and Gold!

Vouchers good for Nov. 23 and Nov. 27 contests

Ticket vouchers for University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee students are still available for a pair of upcoming men’s basketball games.

UWM students are asked to stop by the Panther Ticket Office with their student ID to obtain a free ticket voucher for home games against Marquette and Western Michigan.

The Panther Ticket Office is located off the atrium of the Klotsche Center Pavilion and is open this week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday. Remaining vouchers for Saturday’s game against Marquette will be available at the U.S. Cellular Arena beginning at 6 p.m. on Saturday.

The home game against Marquette at the U.S. Cellular Arena will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27. Students will also need vouchers for the home game at the Klotsche Center at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 23, against Western Michigan.

So put yourselves in the shoes of John Q. Student.  The questions that I’m coming up with: “Why is the Western Michigan game important?” “Why do I need the vouchers?” “What’s different about these games than others?”

Basically, this was written to inform people who already want to go to the game.  There was NO excitement to drum up for this game, there was NO enthusiasm put into writing it, and there was NO justification for the vouchers.

If the athletic department’s job is to try and get Jimmy Lemke to go to a basketball game, this was a well-written press release.  But you KNOW I’m gonna be there – I breezed through a 2-hour exam in 15 minutes, studied double my usual amount just so I would miss the least amount of game time possible.  Your job isn’t to get me excited.  It’s to get the students excited to may like basketball, may like having fun, may like doing things with their friends, may like Bucky Badger but long for that athletics connection that they don’t get cause they’re here and not in Madison.

That e-mail to all students was exactly that: direct communication from the athletic department to every single student at the university.  The e-mail was a failure, because it was the one way we could reach out to everyone with the click of the pointer on “send.”

Besides rewriting the whole thing to be more exciting and enticing, there’s someone in that office that should have been all over this and wasn’t even brought in: Chris Lins.

For those of you who don’t know Chris, he’s the “New Media Assistant” for the Sports Information Department in athletics.  Chris’ job brings together a lot of things, but mainly he makes the highlight videos and does a good chunk of the computer work editing those.  Chris was a men’s soccer player for the program, so it’s good to see the athletic department giving him an opportunity to gain experience in a growing field.

What they didn’t give him was an opportunity to flex his muscles big time on this project.  You know what should have been embedded in that e-mail?  A video, direct from coach Rob Jeter, explaining why the Western Michigan and Marquette games are so important for the students to attend.  Why they’re so big, what the significance of (especially in the case of WMU) and what the students can do to help.  Basically, this is what I’m getting at:

Yeah, Bruce is a one-of-a-kind promoter, but you don’t think Chris Lins, Rob Jeter and 15 minutes of work couldn’t do that?  EVERY GAME?!  I’ll even offer my services, if Chris doesn’t have the time.  Just give me the camera and I’ll get it done.

This press release was a real opportunity to get some real marketing done, and it fell flat.  It could have been much more, but it wasn’t.  It was lazily drawn up and it’s real potential wasn’t realized by whoever crafted it.  But overall, the problem with Tuesday’s game?

– Marketing. I saved marketing for last because of multiple reasons: one, I felt like this was the biggest reason Retro Night failed, and it’s not all on personnel; two, I have the most to say about it; and three, I will venture away from just Tuesday’s game and focus on the immediate and foreseeable future.

This was, as has been, a failure.  I won’t pin the blame on Director of Marketing Levar Ridgeway’s shoulders because of two reasons: his department is strapped for resources, both financial and personnel-wise; and the red tape that stops Levar from doing the things he knows can work in getting our students to the games.

It is this second reason that I want to bring to the attention of our readers, and one that may be the most important.  To illustrate exactly what I mean, I will share with you a story that was shared with me on Tuesday night during the game.

Last weekend, the volleyball team hosted the Horizon League Tournament.  They continued an impressive streak of winning a regular season or conference tournament championship every year since 1997.  They lost in the semi-finals to Valparaiso, the same team that knocked us out in 2007 (I maintain this is Valpo’s biggest Horizon League success to date).  Before the tournament, members of the team walked around Sandburg Towers, handing out fliers to promote the tournament and their need for a big student crowd to support them.  That is, until they got booted out of the dorms by the residence hall security because they didn’t have clearance to do so.

Seriously, what’s the deal?  This is a matter that can be cleared up in an interdepartmental memo. Our new interim chancellor, Dr. Mike Lovell, is a real nice guy who is committed to athletics; in fact, Tuesday’s game was the first time I haven’t seen him at a sporting event since he took the post.  Our athletic director’s office reports to the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, which also has a new appointment: Michael Laliberte, who comes from Boise State University.  I believe that’s a mid-major who knows how to market their marquee sport.

Lovell and Laliberte have oversight to athletics, the Union, University and Neighborhood Housing, Norris Health Center, the UWM Bookstore and other departments, the latter being the direct boss of all these entities.

As of right now, the athletic department is only allowed to mail the students in the dorms once every 3-4 weeks; this is our first problem.  If the students can only be contacted through mail once a month, how can we directly get in their faces?

Were I the director of marketing, the first thing at the beginning of each semester would be a simple piece of paper with a schedule of games for the month and a tear-off token.  That token has a mailbox number and six different checkboxes: S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL.  On the sheet, it tells students to check their size and deposit the token in a lockbox at the entrance to each dormitory.  One to two weeks after the mailing, every student who dropped in a token gets a Milwaukee Panthers t-shirt in their size, along with a schedule of that month’s games, an invite to follow the Panthers on Facebook and Twitter, the new Text Pounce feature, and a sheet of paper explaining the Panther Pack rewards program and any special events happening that month.  These care packages are an invite to the students to wear their Panther Pride on their bodies.  Nike learned long ago that the best marketing is splashing that swoosh all over their merchandise; that way, when someone wears the swoosh, everyone sees it.  The same goes with the Panthers – saturate the campus with students wearing Black and Gold, and people keep remembering where they’re at.

But as of right now, Levar can’t put that into action because he’s only allowed one mailing per month.  Our new VC Laliberte, or even IC Lovell, can put a stop to that immediately by sending a memo to Scott Peak, the head of student housing, allowing athletics to send a mailing, say, every week.  Too much?  Once every two weeks.  It doesn’t matter, just more than they currently are allowed.

That also means allowing more promotion in the dorms on gameday and the day before.  While Rob Jeter may be too busy to be there in person every time we need him, just refer to that video and see that we can push that on the university’s TV channel, which can be seen in the cafeteria, the Gasthaus, the lobby of the dorms and in every common room.  Think that this is inequitable and we need to promote Sandy Botham’s women’s basketball team just as much?  Just take a stroll over to the Dayton Flyers athletics website and tell me if their men’s basketball games are marketed more thoroughly and frequently.  Coach Jeter should be in a short, 30-seconds to one minute video promoting the next game, and that should be shown in as many places on campus as possible.  Require the Gasthaus to have one big screen on the campus channel at all times, same with the Rec Center’s small TV’s and those that are in the library.  Since the videos will be shown in places that sometimes won’t have sound to go with it, they need to be visual as well (as you can see in the fan highlights in the UT video), with info on the next game.

It isn’t just the mailboxes that need to be opened up.  The All-Students e-mail list, long guarded by the powers-that-be, is a gateway to the inbox of every student.  I already explained how the new media assistant can be used in this instance, but it would be far more powerful if athletics were allowed a weekly e-mail to promote the games of the week (and if there are no home games, the ways students can view them).

A large part of Levar’s problem is that since he was promoted to replace Jason Clark, he was given the task of boosting student attendance but also given the immense weights of having many of the best marketing opportunities unavailable to him because of red tape.

The fact of the matter is whether you think the marketing department of Milwaukee has failed, Levar Ridgeway’s full potential can never be realized until he is given all the opportunities that his counterparts at other universities enjoy.  This includes taking money out of the university’s overall marketing (Awesome. Affordable? Really?  Bioplastics?  Need I say more?) and putting it into athletics marketing.

I could go into it more, but I wanted to give a brief argument on the games themselves, to make students want to come back once they’ve been there.

– The games aren’t a destination.  Whether you like it or not, many of the students are going to the games because it’s something to do.  If you make it fun, they’ll enjoy themselves more.  If they enjoy themselves more, they’ll be far more likely to bring their friends and participate in the student section’s chants.

How do you do that?  Treat them like the poor: feed them, clothe them, and give them shelter.  At the Klotsche Center, there’s a big area behind the student section that can be used for a huge pizza party before the game.  Say at 5 pm for a 7 pm tip, the students can get in early and find food for themselves, as well as the Pick and Roll Press (I know, I know, I need help) and some chant notes.  You get music going on, maybe dim the lights in that area for an hour or so, and all of a sudden you’ve got a PIZZA DANCE PARTY.  I’VE NEVER HEARD OF ANYTHING SO FUN IN MY LIFE.  Every time they come, they’ve got Papa John’s pizza at the games, whether it’s at the KC or at the Cell.  In fact, the students at Saturday’s game against Marquette should find pizza waiting for them at the student entrance so they’ve got something to munch on while they wait for the doors to open (hint hint).

Clothing them, we’ve gone over.  Have athletics personnel watching over the area spot people without Panther gear and give them some.  If they’ve got a Badger shirt or other school on, offer a trade for TWO shirts; take away Bucky’s stupid presence on campus and at games and replace him with the much better Pounce.

Maybe put some games up, like a free-throw shooting game or something to keep them occupied.  Put up real prizes like team-signed basketballs and game-worn jerseys.  These are things that cost the university nothing but the personnel that already would be working and the giveaways that cost very little for the benefit of a student fan you’re converting into a lifer.

As for the shelter?  Get that stupid Panther Pack sign away from the front of our section.  The Panther Pack is a rewards program, not the student section.  If you don’t know why we’re called the Klotsche Krazies, then you better read about it in my “Traditions” section of the website.  Replace it with something better; the students who enter the section should find even more giveaways there: pom poms, leis, signs, sunglasses (for when you play Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night” which should be every game).  Bring it all together and you’ve got an experience that even people who aren’t basketball fans will want to repeat every game.

For the students who are really psyched about the game itself, have a player come over for a breakdown minutes before the game.  What would it hurt to have Kyle Kelm come to the student section and fire up his fellow freshmen?

I think I’ve laid out enough for today.  While it isn’t anywhere near all the ideas I’ve got (about 5%, actually), it’s somewhere to start the discussion for real.

And for god sakes, can we get the pep band to play something other than the fight song and the Hey song every timeout?!

6 Comments

  1. nohops

    November 25, 2010 at 4:28 am

    You can aim your ire at the Cheerleading “Coach” for the Pep Band having to play the fight song and Hey Song (Rock and Roll Part 2 by Gary Glitter) as that has been a decade long battle with the cheerleaders commandeering timeouts and song selections.

    • MWU

      November 26, 2010 at 4:22 pm

      Very true nohops. Here is a typical timeframe of when the band plays “Fight for UWM”

      -30min. prior to tip- team comes out for warmups
      -6min. prior – team comes out
      -0min. after team introductions
      ~16min. 1st half – 1st media timeout
      – end of 1st half
      – 4-6 prior to 2nd half – team comes out
      ~16min. 2nd half – 1st media timeout
      -end of game win or lose

      That’s a scheduled 8 playings of “Fight for UWM” +/- an additional 1-2 playings after big moments in the game depending. it really doesn’t take up that much of the playlist and realistically how times per game do you hear the MU/UW bands play their respective fight songs? answer all the time. it’s supposed to be the song EVERYONE knows. if you really want to hear almost 0 diversity in a set list go to a UW game i can tell you the 6-8 songs they will play the entire game.

  2. Greg B

    November 25, 2010 at 4:49 am

    The truth could not be told in such volume anymore than what you just wrote…

  3. Dan Zielinski

    November 25, 2010 at 10:19 am

    Thanks for the info Jimmy. As a long time season ticket holder and booster, I appreciate your insight and the information. The program needs a pitchman with “Pearl like” enthusiasm to get the word out. Vouchers should only be needed for a game against Marquette or UW….make it easy for the students to attend the games. And I agree with your points about making the game a place to be for students. I look forward to more of your articles and opinions in the future regarding UWM athletics.

  4. PantherJack

    November 25, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Lovell was at the game. But he didn’t get there until it was already over. He was probably busy on campus doing good work. You are right though.

    Lovell is committed to Athletics. We need him to make our AD a lot strong. I think he would be more than willing to help. Someone from the AD needs to reach out and make it happen.

  5. lucy

    November 25, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    well hopefully they will just hired Jimmy that would get it all together. I agree with you but if you dont have a top notch winning team no one cares. Mabey if we beat Marquette it will give us an edge I believe we need that, I did like the panther gear sold at retro night bring it to the cell and a bigger table lots of folks cant go to the school to purchase now that was a GOOD IDEA

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