Deja Vu All Over Again. The 2 Worst Marketing Campaigns in NCAA History

It’s a case study for how NOT to do things.

For the second time in two years we’re a bowl-bound team without a coach. It must have some significance in the record books – somewhere.

Just yesterday, Gus Malzahn followed in his predecessor, Hugh Freeze‘s footsteps, and headed for the winning, but not-so-friendly-confines of the Southeast Conference leaving Arkansas State University behind in the wake of toxic Gus Bus fumes.

Replacing Malzahn may not be our most formidable challenge.

Gus Malzahn with fans after Saturday night's championship.

Gus Malzahn with fans after Saturday night’s championship.

No, ASU System President Dr. Chuck Welch and newly appointed Athletic Director Terry Mohajir are most capable of seizing the Red Wolves‘ momentum and recruiting a quality coach. We’re now an attractive place to coach a football team. With an almost flawless year of first-class hires, in and out of athletics, Welch has too much at stake not to pull another rabbit out of his hat. And he will.

Hiring a good coach isn’t the challenge that troubles me most.

It’s Welch’s and Mohajir’s noteworthy task to use the opportunity to bring some fresh faces with new ideas to the ASU athletic marketing department. The best thing Welch and Mohajir could do is place the entire ASU athletic marketing staff on the Gus Bus headed south, and drop them off somewhere in north Mississippi.

There’s just no polite way to say this. They are good people, I’m sure, but marketing rookies all the same.

It took the ASU marketing staff about two seconds last year to capitalize on Freeze’s name, much in the same way a junior high newspaper staff might.

Simply stated, our genius marketing plan was to brand ourselves with a coach’s name and “freeze out” everything. We froze out opponents. Froze ticket sales. It was a cool change for ASU athletics. The most obvious, easiest and most ridiculous marketing effort perhaps in all of college football.

One local magazine went so far as to feature Freeze on its pre-season cover pictured, where else, but in the deep freeze of a local ice company. The ultimate journalistic cliche’.

And there was the inevitable brisk awakening when Freeze took a cool deal with the University of Mississippi so quickly that his bowl-bound team was left behind.

Lesson learned? Nope.

Enter – deja vu all over again.

Along comes a guy named Gus.

We can only imagine the ASU marketing team’s first strategy session…

“What rhymes with Gus?” they must have said. “Bus! Hey! There’s that song about the Gus Bus!” And our new marketing strategy was born.

And so we put everybody on the Gus Bus, and once again, inevitably gave them a free ticket to LetDown’sville.

Over two years ASU invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a marketing plan grounded in these men’s names. The investment went South, literally, both times.

We experimented, and still flirt with the whole HOWL concept from time to time, but this is what I’ll never forget.

Early on in the adoption of the new Red Wolf mascot, within two weeks, in fact, I saw prominent billboards – one said Howl Yes! – the other, Howlelujah!

I didn’t know if we were Saints or Sinners.

Let’s hire some marketing pros who understand the value of long-term branding.

For related stories on Arkansas State’s Sun  Belt Conference Championship, see this post and this post.


Arkansas State’s Conference Championship: The Biggest Plays Came After the Game

(For coverage of last night’s championship game with some fairly decent photos, check out last night’s post just after the game.)


Sun belt champions

It was a great night at Liberty Bank Stadium, and for the record, I love the movement to call it The Vault.

Offense and defense showed up putting together a classic championship victory – a 45-0 statement likely earning them a ticket to the Liberty Bowl.

Too bad the game’s post-championship ceremonies couldn’t have been more about the team. For the play-makers at the microphone it was much more about future moments than present ones.

And necessarily so.


First, there’s this. ASU System President Chuck Welch is a highly effective advocate for his school. His earliest months are producing tangible, visible, measurable results. Welch has drawn the plays, called the plays and executed the plays. His most recent executive hires over the last three months assemble a multi-talented team both in and out of football. He’s delivered.

Welch will pay a price for his success. He’s now required to get even better.


It all played out on a make-shift stage at the 50-yard line last night as the microphone went from one “player” to the next.

You could almost see ASU-Jonesboro Chancellor Tim Hudson cringe at Welch’s out-of-the-gate calculated, but necessary statement.

DSC_0112Here’s what they all said (accompanied by a translation of what they were all really saying.)


WELCH: (I’m paraphrasing this quote but it’s pretty close.) “I want everyone here right now to show Coach Gus Malzahn (and his team) just how much we appreciate what they’ve done.”

Translation: Malzahn’s hot, if not the hottest property in college football right now. We’re all going to have to pull together and do our part to keep him here, and it may take a lot more money … or money may not even matter.


HUDSON: “How about the students at ASU? I want to hear it for the students!”

Translation: Everybody just heard Welch single out the coach. It’s not right, but he had to do it. My job here is political correctness and keeping everyone (impossibly) happy.


MALZAHN: (In response to  reporter’s question about his desire to take ASU’s program to the “next” level.) “Look at this,” he said, scanning the crowd. “This is the next level.”

Translation: Okay, Auburn, Tennessee and anyone else (especially in the SEC) who wants to continue calling or call anew, look at the scoreboard. We just made a statement, and I’ve backed up everything I promised here. What say each of you now?


Political X’s and O’s at their finest.

Will Welch be good enough to keep Malzhan at ASU? And if not, what rabbit will he next pull out of the hat?

Good news is, we’ve never really had to worry about this stuff before. Bad news is, we’re worrying about a lot of stuff, and it’s all new to us, so we don’t quite know how to react or what to do.

Now, we wait.

Waiting may be all we can do.



Arkansas State University: Sun Belt Conference Champions

Big media day.

Big media day.

Touchdown. Ball and arm are in.
Touchdown. Ball and arm are in.

Sun Belt  Championship

Next Four Photos in Sequence

#1 Watching it in.

#1 Watching it in.

#2 Bring it down.

#2 Bring it down.

#3 Praise it Up. Thank You Jesus for SIX!

#3 Praise it Up. Thank You Jesus for SIX!

#4 Party Down

#4 Party Down

Sun Belt ChampionshipSun Belt Championship

Post game, headed for the locker room, Coach Gus Malzahn stops for a photo with fans. We sure hope he stays.

Post game, headed for the locker room, Coach Gus Malzahn stops for a photo with fans. We sure hope he stays.

A championship STATEment. 45-0

A championship STATEment. 45-0