Support and Sales Show Division-I Athletics Important to Tulane

October 11, 2003

Lauren DeFrank, <i>Hullabaloo</i> news co-editor

After almost losing Division I-A status this past summer, the Tulane athletics department has witnessed an increase in support and ticket sales thus far for the 2003-2004 athletic season. Football season ticket sales have almost tripled for this year and fan support is higher than ever.

"We've just seen an outpouring of support that we hadn't seen here at Tulane for the athletics department in quite a long time. I think we reintroduced a lot of people to what Tulane athletics is all about," Steve Walsh, director of marketing for the athletics department, said.

The rise was first noticed with the launching of the "Think Green" campaign, intended to gain support for the athletics department.

"We tried to put together a proactive plan to really reach out to the community and educate on what we do as an athletics department," Walsh said. A major focus of the campaign is the academics of student athletes. "We think Tulane athletics provide a real positive image of the University. We're very proud of the student athletes we have out on the field that they are excelling not only on the field but in the classroom," Walsh said.

The athletics department attempted to make games more of an event instead of just a football game. Live music and other activities are among the efforts to create an environment that appeals to families and students.

"We have been really trying to create an atmosphere where the students feel comfortable being out there," Walsh said. "They're not just coming out for the game, they're coming out for the tailgating party beforehand and then the game is an exciting event. I think it's becoming more of a social event to come to, which is great and we think they are having a good time," he said.

Players have noticed the increase in fan support this year as well. "I have noticed a significant increase in the student involvement at athletic events in general, but also in the attendance of our games. This year when we played LSU we had over 1,100 fans at the game. The energy from the crowd gave us an extra boost and fueled us to beat the Tigers for the first time since 2000," senior volleyball team member Karlyn Daly said. "The athletics department has worked very hard marketing and increasing interest in our games and the results have been impressive."

An increase in fans at the first football game this year against TCU also surprised players. "They came out of that game saying 'wow,' that was an atmosphere at the Superdome we hadn't seen in the time we have been there," Walsh said, which promoted a positive response from players.

Over 3,000 students attended the TCU game, more than there have been at any game in recent history. Usually four sections are reserved for students, but this year the increase in student fans has prompted other sections to be opened up.

"Anybody who goes into the game and looks at the student section says 'wow where were they the last 10 years?' and that's how it's been this year," Tim Zenner, director of ticket operations for the athletics department, said. In May, the ticket office began to see an increase in sales of season tickets for the football season, accredited to the danger of losing Division I-A athletics.

"The increase [in ticket sales] started when that threat became real or perceived as real," Zenner said. Last year, 5,277 football season tickets were sold. So far for the 2003 season, 14,232 season tickets have been purchased by Tulane fans.

Alumni support has been crucial to the Think Green campaign. "They stepped up not only monetary through purchasing tickets but just through their vocal support," Walsh said. "We started getting calls from Massachusetts and Utah and Oregon and all these places where we've got alumni that are paying attention and they can't make the games but [they said] 'hey Tulane needs us right now.' We started to generate some sales through those," Zenner said.

A program was also set up allowing people from out of town interested in supporting athletics to purchase tickets and donate them to various causes like youth groups, underprivileged children and church organizations. Over 1,000 season tickets, including one donation of 100 family packs, a purchase of 400 season tickets total, have resulted from the generosity of Tulane fans. Tulane also has six alumni in the NFL who donated $5,000 each to establish "The Player's Zone."

For every game, tickets for this zone are donated to a city-charitable organization, allowing underprivileged members of the New Orleans community to enjoy a Tulane football game. Shaun King, Patrick Ramsey, JuJuan Dawson, Dennis O'Sullivan, Jerald Sowell and Bernard Robertson contributed to the effort. The scare the athletics department faced at the end of the 2002-2003 academic year spurred the rise in ticket sales and attendance.

At this time, the Tulane Board of Administrators investigated the benefits and drawbacks of having a Division I-A athletics program at the University. The Board presented its unanimous decision to keep Division I-A athletics June 10. The increase of support for Tulane athletics is encouraging to those who are involved and believe this strengthens the Board's decision.

"I definitely think the future is bright for the Tulane athletics department. We realize we still have work to do, but I think we have really made a tremendous step in the right direction and we're going to keep pushing after more student involvement, more alumni involvement, more community business involvement," Walsh said.

"We're still in that same 'Think Green' mindset where we are really trying to push and make sure that people who weren't aware of Tulane athletics are now being educated on it and realizing that we have something really special here," Walsh said.

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