The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
By Bethany Bradsher
hype, good or bad, can go a long way
All rights reserved.
It’s a quote often
attributed to circus promoter Phineas Barnum, and some East Carolina
athletic officials have put it to the test in recent weeks.
no such thing as bad publicity.”
Jeff Lebo’s basketball team still playing NAIA opponents and the
football season over and done, there would normally have been no reason
for the nation to be talking about ECU this December. Until the Pirate
Club announced its “Virtual
of a push to raise the remaining funds for the planned basketball
practice facility, the Pirate Club issued a challenge to its members in
mid-December, asking them to use money they would normally spend on a
bowl trip to buy $50 tickets to the “Virtual Bowl.”
actually wasn’t a new idea in the halls of the Pirate athletic
department. ECU raised nearly $20,000 for athletic scholarships with a
similar promotion in 2004. But
this time around, the sports world has taken notice in a big way.
Illustrated named the Virtual Bowl as “Sign of The Apocalypse” in the
Dec. 26 issue. Jim Rome ranted about it on his show. Just about every
major sports website — as well as message boards for fans from every
conference in the country — weighed in on the idea of selling fake
tickets to a fake game.
Some of the comments were negative, like the contributor on
www.lostletterman.com who wrote, “It would be more dignified for
someone in the department to stand in downtown Greenville with a
beggar’s cup.” But for every puzzled poster online, there was someone
else who called the idea an innovative fundraising strategy.
www.bleacherreport.com item went
a step further, saying, “Props to ECU for thinking outside the box in
its fundraising efforts and for poking fun at the watered-down nature of
the bowl season in general.”
even Chris Johnson’s rapid ascent as an NFL rookie brought ECU this much
press. And even if the Virtual Bowl is an odd way to garner national
recognition, ECU Assistant AD for Major Gifts Mark Wharton has this
answer for the detractors: Nearly $15,000 from 146 donors. It might not
have come close to the stated goal of outselling the actual bowl tickets
at rival C-USA schools, but the drive brought in needed money for the
basketball facility with no overhead.
the negative articles said we were desperate and we didn’t have any
other way to raise money,” Wharton said. “But we’ve already raised
most of it.”
“Step Up to the Highest Level” campaign has already raised $12.8 million
for the basketball gym, which is being designed to alleviate the
crowding caused by both basketball teams and the volleyball team sharing
Minges Coliseum for practice and games. Ground is scheduled to be broken
on the building in March, and Wharton feels confident that the full $15
million will be collected by this spring.
the prominent recent treatment in Sports Illustrated, ECU sports
information director Tom McClellan had only one beef — the writer
referred to ECU as “Eastern Carolina.” McClellan fired off an e-mail to
the magazine taking issue with the misprint, and he received a heartfelt
apology from an SI staffer who said he considered the gaffe as bad as
misspelling the name of Notre Dame.
officials and fans can take the criticism in stride, whether they bought
Virtual Bowl tickets or not. Because if all publicity is good publicity,
things go south for a team when no one is talking at all. As Irish
writer and poet Oscar Wilde once opined, “The only thing worse than
being talked about is not being talked about.”
jury has been out on the effectiveness of the Virtual Bowl, no debate at
all has been sparked by the other major ECU marketing strategy over
Christmas break — $5 tickets for Pirate holiday basketball games. All of
part of my family went to every one of those $5 games, and the crowds of
families were impressive even against obscure opponents
Wetherbee, ECU’s director of marketing, said that he and his staff
realized they needed to think creatively when they saw four games on the
schedule during the period when students and the Pirates band would be
off campus on break. The results, Wetherbee said, have been good for
ticket sales and, since the Pirates won every game, even better for
momentum leading into the Conference USA slate.
goal was to have as many people get hooked as possible, and hopefully
they had a good enough time that they realized it was worth it to charge
full price when the conference schedule gets here,” Wetherbee said. “The
Thursday night game (against
N.C. Central) was one of the largest walk-ups
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01/04/12 03:37 AM.