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Promotions score big in the FCS

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Maybe you saw or displayed one of the 2,000 lawn signs in and around Fargo, N.D., last year, which promoted the North Dakota State Bison football program.

Or perhaps you were in Portland, Ore., and saw one of the 40 billboards that advertised Portland State athletics and took a photo in front of one to post to a contest on the Big Sky school's fan page.

Considering the NFL could use some damage-control police during its lockout, it might want to consider hiring some of the marketing personnel at Football Championship Subdivision programs across the country.

As their programs toil outside the spotlight of major college football, many FCS schools have developed effective ways to promote and brand themselves, and draw fan interest.

Some schools aren't even waiting until September to run out their unique promotions. For instance, Chattanooga is running a Father's Day promotion which offers discounted tickets.

Old Dominion players participate in
the Monarch March before a game.
Even better was the Mocs' April Fools' Day joke in which it sent out a release stating the athletic colors were changing from navy blue and old gold to green and gold, under the university's green initiative. Fans went to the athletic website and found a story about it. When they clicked on a link for more information, they were taken to a page that let them know they had been had. The reward for the 31 people who purchased season tickets that day was a free season meal voucher with each ticket.

Chattanooga's best day ever for season ticket sales occurred last Aug. 18 when it staged a "30 Minutes or Less" promotion. Fans on campus or in the downtown Chattanooga area who ordered season tickets got them delivered in 30 minutes or less, or they were free. Head coach Russ Huesman even delivered some tickets.

In a down economy, the marketing of teams and games promotions are especially important. While almost all ideas are viewed as positive, the most creative ones draw the most buzz among fans.

At Stony Brook last season, fans who could throw a football into a Mercedes from 20 yards away could win the car. At nearby Wagner, a similar halftime contest is being worked on for this season in which one fan will have a chance to kick a football into the back of a truck. If the ball sticks, the fan will win the truck.

Georgia State has been in contact with the "Guinness Book of World Records" to try to organize such halftime or postgame events as the "World's Largest Dodgeball Game" or "World's Largest Flip-Flop Race."

Northern Arizona literally charges into its season with the Running of the Freshmen. At the first home game Sept. 10, all freshmen on campus get to run onto the field before the game with Lumberjacks players and coaches.

Of course, interactive promotions are widely popular. Perhaps you'll go to a Lafayette home game for the chili cook-off, but become involved in the crowd cameo, which allows fans to submit game-day photos from their phones for posting on the stadium videoboard, or the scavenger hunt, a contest utilizing social media mobile apps and the stadium videoboard.

And then there are the staples that remain popular from year to year.

There are always handouts for fans entering the stadium, like South Alabama's white rally towels or red shakers.

There's military appreciation day - like one at Montana State - or tie-ins to the 10th anniversary of 9/11. There's the always popular youth sports team day. Harvard's youth days could be the best because there is no limit to the number of kids accompanying the coach. One ticket could yield 20, 30, 40 fans.

Appalachian State's commitment to youth football and cheerleading programs extends beyond game days. Among the 700 third- to sixth-graders in last year's program, the players received black and gold reversible jerseys and the cheerleaders received uniforms, and they all got backpacks and assorted items. But the members of the Mighty Mountaineers Youth Football program also were given the opportunity to play one game on the turf at Kidd Brewer Stadium.

There's also the pregame festivals that tie into tailgating and family- oriented activities.

Illinois State's CommUniversity Day, set for Sept. 24, is a joint venture between the university and the Bloomington-Normal Area Chamber of Commerce. There are awards for the companies with the best tents, and in the past over 60 businesses have drawn over 3,000 people through the Tent Zone.

At Old Dominion, the pregame festival lasts 2 1/2 hours long and wraps up with the Monarch March, which allows golf carts of fans to follow the team on a walk through campus.

Indeed, the promotions are seemingly endless on the FCS level.

Commissioner Goodell, sign up some of these folks.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.