By Scott Robertson
Kick-off is less than a year away for ETSU football, a program rebooting after an 11-year hiatus. The Buccaneers are schedule to play Kennesaw State Sept. 3, 2015 on Steve Spurrier Field at Kermit Tipton Stadium on the campus of Science Hill High School. Tipton Stadium will serve as the temporary home of the Bucs until a new on-campus stadium can be built. Current plans call for the Bucs to open the 2017 season in that as-yet unstarted facility.
University officials say fund-raising is picking up steam, and the athletic department is working hard to draw attention, and dollars, to the program. The program held its first scrimmage in over a decade Sept. 27 and in so doing, showed it has gained a significantly greater level of understanding of marketing since the last football program was disbanded.
For instance, under the old regime, the University of Tennessee football program was grumbled about with jealousy, and generally ignored in public discourse.
This year, the ETSU athletic department actually changed the schedule for its “ETSU 101” event, a tailgate celebration scheduled before the scrimmage, to accommodate fans’ desire to see both the Vols’ game and the Bucs’ scrimmage. The old program would have done that as well, but this year, the Bucs’ athletic administration rented a giant video screen on which the fans could watch the UT game as they tailgated at ETSU. Instead of hiding from UT, the ETSU department used the UT broadcast as a drawing card to market its own event.
Scott Carter, assistant athletic director and COO of the athletic department, says the University is doing everything it can to give the program the best chance to succeed.
The old analogy of doing business like a duck in the water – cool and comfortable on the surface but paddling like crazy beneath – fits Carter and the athletic department’s new approach to fund-raising. “I’m out just about every day in some capacity, at least every other day in some capacity,” Carter says, “not just raising money for a football stadium, but selling tickets for basketball, raising money for basketball and other sports. The fundraising efforts with where they are right now are of paramount importance.”
With that effort, of course, comes public curiosity. Virtually everyone he meets wants to know where the new stadium will be built, how far along the university is in meeting its fund-raising goals, and other details of the program, Carter says. But the athletic department is very strategic in its approach to building the program, and that includes the release of information. That’s why, he says, there have been no preliminary numbers released on the fund-raising campaign for the program.
“We have the donors that can be the leadership base who can get us to the position of strength where we know that the vision that we had and what we want to have will become a reality,” Carter says. “I always use the United Way with the thermometers in those campaigns, as an example. I saw one when I was out of town the other day that was exactly the opposite of the way I think it should be. You’re not supposed to show that thermometer until it’s close to the top. If you’re trying to raise $100,000 then you don’t show it publicly until you’re at about 70 or 80. Then people will say, ‘If I can give $500 then I can put a dent in the last $40,000.’ If you throw a $1,000 at a $15 million goal people don’t think it’s that much. A lot of it is about perception as well and packaging the message and that’s what we’ve really been trying to do. I think less is more.
“When you stand on that podium on that big day, you may not have the answers to every question, but you want to have as many answers as you possibly can have and there are a lot of questions,” Carter says. “Taking your time and getting it right is tremendously important. This is a hundred year effort. It’s an effort that’s going to be here for a long, long, long time. It’s going to mean so much to so many people. We’ve got one chance to do it right and we’re not going to rush and cut corners to do things.”