Marketing campaign aims to make SMU Dallas’ team
Published: Sunday, December 2, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 18:12
Rowdy fans packed the stands inside Moody Coliseum at the SMU men’s basketball game against the University of Utah last Wednesday night. Students and community members excited to see another win, chanted “S-M-U” and applauded an outstanding team performance all night long.
Before the game even started, fans making their way to their seats were able to pick up two basketball keepsakes from tables in the main concourse: a game day program card and red “SMU is College Basketball” poster.
“I hung my poster on my wall so that when I wake up, I can see what I represent each and every day,” SMU guard Jalen Jones said. “I take pride in representing my school, my city and don't want to let down the loyal fans we have here at SMU.”
SMU’s Second Century Campaign goes beyond typical fundraising and residential improvements to prioritize improvements to SMU Athletics. The campaign hopes to build a community among students, faculty and North Texas residents.
To get more loyal fans in the Dallas community, the athletic department hired The Marketing Arm, named the 2012 Chief Marketer/Promo Agency of the Year, to help brand SMU beyond the Hilltop.
With three bowl-wins, a new big-name basketball coach and the conference move to the Big East on the horizon, Marketing Arm founder and CEO Ray Clark said the next three years are critical to SMU becoming Dallas’ team. While marketing can help, Clark said the team’s performance will take university athletics to the next level.
“If any other school called us to do a campaign, we probably wouldn’t work on it,” Clark said. “If TCU calls us, I can guarantee you we’re not going to work on it.”
An SMU alumnus himself, Clark passionately worked with additional staff members to develop an effective athletic campaign — “SMU is.”
The open-ended campaign slogan that included outdoor advertising on Reunion Ball, the Omni hotel and yard signs began in August 2012.
“I think that it’s a great [campaign],” SMU center Cannen Cunningham, a Dallas native, said. “We’ve drawn new fans around the metroplex and appeal to a more urban crowd not just Highland Park people.”
Headed north down North Central Expressway, the big, bold red of multiple “SMU is Dallas’ Team” billboards are hard to miss.
Joined by a small Peruna and a 214–SMU-GAME number for tickets, the billboard message is mostly about football.
“Our season ticket sales for football were up almost 50 percent this season,” Associate Athletic Director Brad Sutton said.
But unlike the 2008 “June Cometh” advertisements, the new athletic slogan goes beyond football to include the city SMU calls home.
“It's great that SMU is finally starting to do some marketing, which had previously been nonexistent. Getting the word out about SMU all over Dallas can only help athletics,” SMU junior EJ Holland, a sports web producer at The Dallas Morning News, said.
While the idea of community inclusion seems achievable, getting North Texas residents to embrace SMU athletics is an on-going challenge.
“Right now, SMU is a poor representation of the entire city, no matter how much people within the university refute that,” Holland said. “Until SMU starts beating teams like Texas A&M and Baylor, the city won't care.”
The Marketing Arm has helped AT&T, HP and Frito Lay use athletic events, like NBA All-Star Weekend and the Super Bowl, to forward corporate messages to consumers.
With every campaign the agency has a goal to not just reach more consumers, but also make people care about the brand.
“SMU has a perception problem,” Clark said. “One of the [problems] was that football was not a great experience there, that the product wasn’t that good, the team wasn’t big-time — but [that’s] completely untrue.”
The Marketing Arm found that 1.7 million college football fans live in Dallas and 67 percent of Dallasites have enormous pride in the city. The convergence of the two facts presented an opportunity to tell the story of SMU as Dallas’ team.
“SMU is Dallas’ team the same way that Northwestern may be Chicago’s team and Vanderbilt is Nashville’s team and Miami is Miami’s team,” Clark said. “People in Dallas, from Carrollton to DeSoto, have to think that SMU is Dallas’ Team.”
With three bowl-wins, a new big-game basketball coach and the conference move to the Big East on the horizon, Clark said the next three years are critical to SMU becoming Dallas’ team. While marketing can help, Clark said the team’s performance will take university athletics to the next level.
“I don’t think [the saying] is true yet, but I would love to see that come to be in the near future,” Cunningham said. “I think the basketball team in particular is heading down that path. “
“Having Larry [Brown] helps too,” he added.
The upcoming football post-season and basketball regular season could determine SMU’s place as Dallas’ team for the future. With marketing and rebranding, recapturing the 1980s glory days of SMU athletics could be possible.
“SMU has not been a powerhouse for years, but manages to still always make progress to rebuild the programs to become one again,” Jones said. “We really could become Dallas’ Team.”