As the UMass Lowell River Hawks sports teams bring home big wins and awards for their achievements, another lesser-known team is working simultaneously behind the scenes . Now, that team, the athletics marketing department — which ensures the athletes have cheering fans at every game is the one getting the applause.
The first honor went to Director of Athletic Media Relations Chris O’Donnell, who was named the 2012 recipient of the Irving T. Marsh Award
for excellence in sports information by the Eastern College Athletic Conference-Sports Information Directors’ Association (ECAC-SIDA). O’Donnell has been with the University since 1999, during which time he has consistently placed UMass Lowell on the national stage, successfully pitching stories to The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, The New York Times and National Public Radio. He has also helped place six athletes and coaches in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd.”
The tributes continued at the 2012 National Association of Collegiate Marketing Administrators (NACMA) convention, where the River Hawks’ “Mission: All In”
campaign took the silver Best-of-Category award in Student Promotion and the River Hawk Bingo campaign on Facebook took bronze in Best Interactive/Social Media Program. Both campaigns increased attendance at games and interaction with fans through innovative marketing.
‘All In’ Support of Students
“Mission: All In” is a campaign designed to boost fan spirit. While Eric Allen, assistant athletic director for external affairs, and Scott Donnelly, external affairs coordinator, had the basic idea together, marketing student Rudy Baez brought the plan to life in the winter 2012 season. The campaign encouraged students to attend three hockey games and two women’s/men’s basketball events chosen by the staff.
Students earned points for checking in with Baez at the games, posting pictures of the action to the UMass Lowell River Hawks’ Facebook
pages and for other school spirit activities. The marketing team spread awareness through videos, posters and social media postings to build anticipation for the promotion. In the end, more than 256 students participated, the department’s social media accounts gained several hundred new followers and the games saw some of the highest student attendance numbers in recent history.
“The campaign was a success,” says Baez, who is already starting on the fall campaign by getting incoming students invested in the team through his work as an orientation leader. “We generated River Hawks school spirit and promoted athletics, especially hockey and basketball, across campus. That spirit is continuing to improve our student life around campus.”
River Hawks Spirit Equals School Pride
The increase in River Hawks spirit can be felt on campus with more students donning their UMass Lowell clothing to classes and around town, but it was at its height in the Tsongas Center during hockey games this season. By actively engaging students through the Residence Life, Student Affairs and Advancement offices, creating new themed nights and forging community partnerships, the department practically doubled the team’s regular season attendance since five years ago to 5,110 fans per game.
“We had more than 1,300 students attend the home opener for the Break the Record Rally,” says Allen of the annual tradition to one-up the previous year’s attendance. “Students bring energy to every event they attend, so when you can get 1,000-plus students, you are guaranteed a great environment.”
The department has also seen huge successes from their theme nights such as Star Wars Night, Pucks & Paws
(which attracted 52 dogs this year) and the wildly popular Stanley Cup night
, when 6,826 fans came to see the cup and watch the team win. It was the highest number of fans at a hockey game in the city’s history.
“We’ve tried to capture the minor-league-baseball mentality, which is obviously popular here in Lowell,” says Donnelly. “Part of that means staying fresh and creating an event beyond just a game and part of that means keeping an ear to the wire for news, events and pop culture that might be a great fit for a promotion. If you come to the Tsongas Center, you’ll see more than just a hockey game.”
The staff’s foremost goal is to foster pride and feelings of team ownership among fans. Donnelly says that this “camaraderie, excitement and spirit” have added to the student, alumni and fan experience, and Allen agrees.
“When the hockey team made the NCAA tournament, people were so proud to be fans of UMass Lowell and so proud to feel like they had a piece of ownership in the team,” Allen says. “When the field hockey team won the national championship, we had a party in the Tsongas Center. Hundreds of people showed up along with several political leaders because they were proud to be associated with the University. Athletics has the power to bring people together and everyone likes to be associated with a winner.”
More Coming This Fall
With this in mind, the marketing department is already at work promoting the fall season and getting their team -- including Sean Hladick, assistant media relations director, Jilly Martin, marketing assistant, and a crew to help at games – ready to support the River Hawks.
The next campaign will kick off on Sept. 4, when the Office of Student Activities and Athletics Department host River Hawks on the Roof on top of the East Campus garage. The event will feature giveaways, a barbecue and a procession to the evening’s volleyball game. Baez is already at work with the department to engage new students on their first weekend on campus.
“I’m really happy to see the new students come in and experience all these great things,” says Baez. “It’s only getting better and I'm excited to be part of this great movement of being ‘All In’ for UMass Lowell and everything it has to offer.”