Gophers officials hope 'Be There' campaign brings in fans

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 24, 2012 - 11:40 PM
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Dan Domagala considers himself a mature, grown-up, 42-year-old man, so maybe he surprised himself by making "turf snow angels" at the 50-yard line after the Gophers' upset victory over Iowa to close the 2010 season.

Or maybe he was just brainstorming some new ideas for the football team's ad campaign.

Domagala, director of marketing for the Minneapolis agency DKY, is one of the creators of Minnesota's "Be There" campaign, a series of print, radio and TV ads that have begun appearing in the Twin Cities this month. The images are intended to sell packages of single-game tickets by emphasizing "the fun and excitement and intensity of college football," Domagala said, "of getting off the couch and going to the stadium so you don't miss anything."

That's a big challenge for Minnesota, given two consecutive 3-9 seasons and a home schedule that doesn't include any of the Gophers' biggest regional rivals. The effect is already being felt in the box office, where only 90 percent of season ticket holders renewed for 2012 -- the lowest rate in the three seasons since the team moved to TCF Bank Stadium -- and student ticket sales are sluggish.

The school hired a ticket-marketing agency, Aspire Sports Marketing, to help sell season tickets, an arrangement that has resulted in at least 500 new sales worth more than $200,000, according to Jason LaFrenz, the university's assistant athletics director for marketing and ticket sales. It's not clear whether Aspire, which has a three-year contract with the university, will reach its goal of adding more than $1.5 million in ticket revenue this year in all Gophers sports. But with the first home game only two weeks away, the school is ready to push single-game tickets to reduce its inventory.

To address that, "Be There" ads have begun running on five electronic billboards along Twin Cities interstates; on both of the area's all-sports radio stations; on Fox Sports North programming, and on Comcast cable systems, inserted primarily into ESPN and live sports programming.

"We're starting to see some single-game sales, and without a Wisconsin or a Nebraska or Iowa coming to town this year, we're pushing the experience of coming to the stadium a little bit more," LaFrenz said. "It's college football. We think it's pretty special. So "Be There" is a reflection of, win or lose, it's a great experience."

Coach Jerry Kill was largely the inspiration for the campaign, said Domagala, a lifelong Gophers fan who attended games at old Memorial Stadium. In a meeting with the ad executives, "he said he wanted Saturday to be the biggest day on campus," Domagala said. "The passion and enthusiasm with which he shared that message was contagious," and resulted in last year's "Saturday's coming" advertisements.

This year, the message was tweaked in order to attract more casual fans, to reach more of the 220,000 Minnesota alumni who live in the Twin Cities metro area. The campaign includes several taglines to the "Be There" theme, including "when practice pays off," and "when school spirit moves you."

Oh, and one more: Accompanying a picture of the Gophers hoisting Floyd of Rosedale, the statue of a pig that goes to the winner of the annual Iowa-Minnesota game, is the slogan, "Be there when pigs fly."

Kicking: all in the head

The difference in being a good kicker and a great one, Jordan Wettstein says, doesn't have much to do with your leg. It's all in your head.

So that's what he's been working on in fall camp.

"You try to perfect your technique, but really, the mindset is more important. Being able to stay focused, and be truly ready when you're called upon, that's the hard part," said the senior from De Pere, Wis.

The kicking part has been going well, he said, and Kill sounded pleased with both Wettstein and junior Chris Hawthorne. In fact, Kill said he hasn't yet made a decision about who will kick against UNLV next week, and both kickers will travel.

"We put them in two pressure situations the other day, and they both succeeded, which is a good problem," Kill said. "They both have good strengths."

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