Marist Marketing and The Lack of a ‘Big-Time-Game’

The era of print news and AM/FM radio is fading away while online publications, social networking and podcasting represent the new wave of media. It’s crucial that programs like Marist Athletics keep up with these changing times. Marist College Athletic Director Tim Murray said Marist has, “really become the model for the other schools in the MAAC and a lot of mid-majors on the use of video with our athletic website, our social media and the way in which we push out our social media.”

Murray, along with Assistant Athletic Director Andy Alongi, made the decision to focus on digital marketing around ten years ago when they noticed the local print media waning in interest. “We saw that for our community members, our one connection with them was the Poughkeepsie Journal and the Middletown Record, and we were losing that because they were going in a different direction,” Murray said. “Their demographic supposedly is high school and not college.”

Marist Athletics took matters into its own hands by establishing a two-pronged approach to reach the students on campus as well as alumni and other supporters off-campus. First, the program felt it was important to maintain a level of physical advertisement on campus, so they began creating the pamphlets, stickers, and signs for students to see on campus. This included placing larger signs on campus pin boards as well as finding other creative campus locations to advertise, such as the napkin holders in the dining halls.

Though the school still prints and distributes these ads, the digital push has been the main point of emphasis in recent years. “I think that the electronic stuff is far more measurable,” Alongi said. “You can see if you’re spending money, you can see physically how many people are clicking on it, and what’s your return on that.” The physical ads are much more of a wild card. “Basically, you’re throwing printing costs into a well and you’re like, we’re printing it, we’re putting it up, we’re doing all these things, but are you getting what you want out of it? I can’t really answer that question.” Digital marketing offers far more concrete answers.

“People get their information in different ways, so we try to address as many as we possibly can, but we definitely have a focus on electronic,” Murray said. Not only has it been more wide-reaching and responsive than physical advertisements, but the cost of creation and distribution has also been significantly lower.

Due to this, Marist supporters may recognize some regular promotions by Marist Athletics through their social media accounts and website. One example is the weekly “Meet the Foxes” segment: a short rapid-fire video questionnaire that highlights some of an athlete’s interests off the playing field and offers up some anecdotes about that athlete’s teammates.

Segments like these add color to a wide variety of athletes and teams around campus, and they also supplant the game recap articles and videos that are already published on their website. But Marist Athletics can only do so much, so teams are left to take control of their own social media accounts. “Some teams are really good at monitoring and posting on their pages,” Murray said. “Other teams, not so much.”

Both basketball and soccer teams, as well as the swimming and diving team, have active Twitter pages that have provided timely updates about recent games and events. On the other hand, the tennis team’s joint account has tweeted a total of five times since September 20.

Though social media activity varies from team to team, there has been one marketing tool throughout history remains better than any other: success. “Good marketing should be effective, even for a losing team, but I got to be honest with you, if you have a successful team, it is a little easier to get attention,” Murray said. It’s a lot easier to publicize a better product.

Throughout the sports world, public relations professionals do everything in their power to promote teams, but ultimately end up handcuffed by the team’s performance. In 2000, Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Santana Moss famously stated, “Big time players make big time plays in big time games.” The trouble at Marist hasn’t been making big time plays or recruiting big time players, it’s that there have not been any big time games on campus.

Over the past four years, both the baseball and softball teams made deep postseason pushes that ended in nationally televised games. The issues were that both games happened hundreds of miles off campus, and took place well after the conclusion of the spring semester and start of the summer.

The only other program to win a MAAC Championship in the past four years has been the women’s swimming and diving team, who has quietly dominated the rest of the conference. The team has won almost every MAAC Championship from 2004-2017 with the only exception being in 2009. This dynastic performance is largely unknown amongst the students on campus, which is commonly the plight of small-market teams — no matter how successful they are, swim meets will not generate huge crowds. General sports fans tend to choose more spectator-friendly sports like basketball or football, but that should not take away from the unbelievable run that the women’s swimming and diving team is still on.

Believe it or not, Marist has actually hosted a few major match-ups in its history. Back in February of 2007, students camped out in the McCann parking lot over night despite frigid temperatures to ensure they would have seats for the final regular-season men’s basketball match-up against Siena. The game was to decide who would win the MAAC. McCann Arena filled to the brim with crazed Marist fans who created a sea of white with matching T-shirts. “We were doing white-outs before they were cool,” recalled Murray.

Marist legend Jared Jordan used a late game surge to lead the Red Foxes into overtime. Then, those working to broadcast the game nationally on ESPN2 had to make a unique decision. The action was captured by camera in the corner of the arena because the traditional mid-court cameras were blocked by the 6,700 people in McCann who refused to sit down for the entirety of overtime. Marist edged out Siena by a score of 84-75 and claimed the school’s first ever outright MAAC title.

More recently, in 2015, Marist supporters made NCAA history when the team took on Bryant University in the first round of the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament at Tenney Stadium. “It was our first time hosting an NCAA tournament game,” said Alongi. “So we made a hard grassroots push to go along with our social push.”

In the days leading up to the game, lacrosse players handed out pamphlets and spread the word of the upcoming game to fellow students. This face-to-face effort paid off when 1,873 people made the game the highest attended preliminary round game in NCAA history.

The 19th ranked Red Foxes made quick work of Bryant University, and students made sure to celebrate accordingly. When the final horn sounded, a sea of well-hydrated students, who had been tailgating for hours before, converged on the southern goal in jubilation. They jumped around with the team in celebration of the Marist’s first ever NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Tournament victory; the party ensued well into the night.

Only students currently in their fifth year at Marist or those pursuing graduate studies were around to participate in those festivities back in 2015. The current senior class was preparing to collect their high school diplomas and trying to connect with their college roommates over Facebook Messenger. It’s a class that has not been around for any games like those, but the school year isn’t over.

The men’s basketball team is currently ranked eighth in the MAAC, with a conference of record of 2-4. A bracket championship win at the Belfast Classic under the leadership of new head coach, John Dunne, was a major step in the right direction though.

As far as the women’s basketball team, they started off with a program record five straight wins to start the season and have continued to keep their foot on the gas pedal. Rebekah Hand and Alana Gilmer both have multiple MAAC Player of the Week honors so far this season. Going forward, Head Coach Brian Giorgis will hope to capture the magic of 2007, where the team took down fourth-ranked Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Santana Moss would be a little disappointed in the past few years at Marist. There have not been enough big time games, leaving the big time players without the stage they need to make the big time plays. If these games are going to happen, the teams are on the hook. It’s up to them to create the opportunity. They can give the senior class what they’ve been missing.

Murray and Alongi sit at the edge of their seats eagerly awaiting a chance to promote one of these big time games. They’re dying capture one of these magical moments like in 2007 or 2015, and they’re ready right now. “We’ll get it back,” Murray said confidently. “We’ll get it back soon.”

Edited by Meaghan Roche & Lily Caffrey-Levine

Header photo courtesy of New York Times March 2007 – Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

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