Perception is Reality: Dissecting & Enhancing the Boston College Hoops Brand

Something that grinds my gears... The prevailing perception throughout the media (from ESPN/Talk Radio/The Globe to the blogosphere to Blauds) and college basketball fans (even some of our own) that:

  • Boston College Men's Basketball is an irrelevant program and perennial loser
  • The Boston College HC position is not an "attractive" job.

This perception, it's inherent ignorance, and the painfully annoying snark that accompany both, all ignore the rich and proud tradition of a program that has been lead by the likes of Bob Cousy, Tom Davis, Gary Williams, and Jim O'Brien. A program that's produced dozens of college stars (like Bagley, Curley, Bell, Smith, and Dudley, to name a few) and NBA players. People simultaneously understate the excellence of the Skinner era and act as if his sustained success were a minor miracle. It's a funny paradox: Al never gets his due (which is why I didn't list him with the aforementioned coaches), and at the same time people act as though his accomplishments can't be replicated. It's a similar story with our football program. BC's many critics have their cake, eat some of it, and then send the rest back to the chef, because SCREW THE CHEF.

This perception must change; if not for our collective sanity as active and passionate fans of BC, but because it can hinder our ability to attract top talent - coaches and players. It obscures the tremendous opportunity that exists for the coaches and student athletes who could take us to the next level - ACC Titles. Final Four. National Championship. A pipe dream? Maybe. Hardly impossible. As any marketing or sales executive will tell you, though: Perception is Reality.

The purpose of this post isn't to argue against this negative perception (we do that 24/7 on the boards, on social media, etc…and it doesn't change anything); I don't think there's anything WE can do about it. But I do think there's PLENTY BC (Brad Bates & Co.) can do…without building an entirely new arena, without printing money we-maybe-do-but-maybe-don't have to make Phil Jackson an offer he can't refuse. It comes down to brand management.

The knee-jerk cure all is to say: just win. Obviously winning…quality product... is the most important piece of brand perception. Maybe we just haven't won "big" enough…but despite the program's history we still get crapped on as though the Donahue era is the norm (or, worse: those who believe the Donahue era says more about BC than it does Donahue). So, yeah, Bates has to hire the right coach to turn things around on the court. But I think along with that, there are a number of tangible changes BC can make to everything that surrounds the team's play to make people see BC as "premium" and not "third-tier." Put these together with the right coach? Watch out.

Before I lay out some ideas for solutions, here's what, to me, are the reasons for the disparity between the perception of BC basketball (and perhaps BC athletics in general) and the reality of the program:

- Recent losing (which we've all addressed ad nauseum, and this post isn't directly tied to the coaching search/candidates) & facilities (I'll leave the capital campaign to 74)

- Aesthetics: BC's home game presentation (as we've also discussed frequently) leaves a lot to be desired, but so too do our logos and uniforms. All of these things - the empty seats, the lack of noise, the tacky Under Armour threads, etc. - are the primary ways most people (read: media, casual fans, opposing fans, etc.) interact with the BC brand. It's all they see. I'll attack all of these in a sec.

- Gene's Reign of Terror: He got us into the ACC (which had less to do with him and more to do with the school itself/our location), and he got Gameday to come twice….. THAT SAID, outside of the aesthetic elements mentioned above (which Gene heavily influenced, failed to improve, or controlled entirely), Gene DeFilippo was 10 years of terrible PR for Boston College: Ever notice that of all the Big East defections, we're the only school that gets KILLED for the "money grab," and lambasted for accepting the invitation? That we seem to have a considerable, or at least vocal, portion of OUR OWN FANS who think we should return? Of course you have. That's on Gene - for torching every bridge on our way out, for failing to manage the fallout, failing to rise above the fray in public sniping, and failing to control the message. He's also the blabbermouth who felt compelled to enter public pissing contests with UConn; he was the one to air ON RECORD the poorly kept secret of ESPN's influence. Instead of finding unique and innovative ways to change the game experience for football and basketball, he took to social media to publicly TROLL HIS OWN FAN BASE. This was the public face of Boston College athletics. I bet Dick Kelly cringed every time a microphone was within range of Gene. And I haven't even gotten into his firing / hiring decisions. You know where I'm going with this.

Honestly, it's no surprise that the general media and public does look at BC the way we do; the above is what they've seen, and they never experienced the school, and they can't appreciate our history outside of Flutie because BC doesn't do enough to promote it.

So, here are some ideas that, to me, can make a big difference:

Logo / Uniforms

Our current logo, quite simply, does not cut it. Not to beat a dead horse…but again, you can thank Gene:

If you don't believe that this can make a big difference, you're ignoring countless studies on the importance of appearance/attractiveness in relation to perception. Oregon football's turnaround isn't simply a matter of Phil Knight's money (T. Boone Pickens throws around similar $ at OKST) but it's how they've used those resources to create a unique, modern brand that feels more innovative and cutting edge than "trendy." It permeates everything they do - from uniforms to facilities.

Our current scheme is just a cheap attempt at a modern look (Italics!! Angry Bird!! Yeah!). Our uniforms follow suit. From our apparel to the court artwork and Conte signage, fonts, and even colours (can we settle on shades of maroon and gold, please?) vary. To borrow from 74 .. CLOWNSHOES.

I'm not advocating we go the way of Oregon. That's not BC. We need a STREAMLINED look and feel that expresses our program's deep history and unique tradition. One that exudes excellence and grace. I wouldn't even go with the pre-italics logo. To me, that font screams "Notre Dame"-derivative.

I suggest we go way, way back to the interlocking BC. It's elegant, powerful and classy.

Our secondary logo (or even logo 1A) can be the traditional soaring eagle featured here (along with what should be our primary font). That's an Under Armour T-Shirt. It's modern and classic and cool, all at the same time.

There's no reason UA can't take that logo and that eagle and that font, and combine them in a modern uniform design. We're their client, and we need to get them working for us. And we need to get our shades of maroon and gold straight.

"Ever to Excel" should be present on our threads in highly visible ways (that should go without saying), as well.

The SuperFan shirt: Something small that I'd argue contributes - at least in part - to a lack of student enthusiasm for football…the SuperFan shirt is not cool any more. Personally, I think it's because it's been diluted in large part because slogans are CHEESY. I'd rather throw a North Face over, probably, 75% of the slogans that have been created. You can't wear them with a straight face. Every SuperFan shirt should have ONE slogan: my vote is "Ever to Excel" as a way to connect our students with our student-athletes, but "Always Believe in BC" works damn well, too.

Game Presentation

Bates has already expressed that his team is continuing to work on changes to Conte's seating arrangements and ways to pack the seats. Getting the students closer to the action, making them more visible, etc. Awesome. Obviously a consistently packed Conte with loud students would do wonders for perception. Minor brand tweaks throughout the arena would help enhance the experience as well, such as:

Aligning the court artwork with the logo/color/font treatments outlined above. What if, in addition to the interlocking BC, the circle at center court, or maybe the baselines, featured some kind of bandana pattern as a tribute to Welles Crowther?

Have we named the court? Would that be a fitting way to honor, say, Dick Kelly? Tributes and nods to people and things that are uniquely BC’s should permeate Conte and complement the physical changes Bates has in the works in order to add an aura to the way the arena feels in person and looks on TV.

Networks like ESPN are always looking for on-location filler - those quick clips and live shots coming in and out of commercial breaks, especially - we should give them as much material as possible.


As much as we make fun of the Syracuse "New York's College Team" campaign…they're on to something. I've scoffed at it before at bars in NYC…and how have non-BC / non-Cuse friends and others I've mentioned it to respond? "Well, it's not necessarily WRONG… I can't think of who else would be NY's college team." Nobody's reaction is "COME ON. Notre Dame carries that market more than CUSE!" … Again, perception is reality.

As with our uniforms vs. Oregon… I'm not saying we start a mirror campaign claiming to be "Boston's College Team." But there's so much more we can do to draw casual fan interest in Boston. And it's much easier for anyone in the Boston area to check out a game at Conte on a week night than it is for someone in Manhattan to drive 6 hours to the Carrier Dome. The reality is we are the ONLY school in Boston playing big-time ball (sorry, Harvard, but Sully from Southie is never going to Cambridge to watch you play Columbia…not that you'd want him to). We need to execute the right advertising strategy. I'm not sure what the campaign slogan should be, but I do know that if we match the right message with the right distribution, we'll make big headway.

We need to surround Boston sports fans in ways that are native to their "fan" experience. Billboards along the pike near Fenway… in-stadium/TV-visible signage (Cuse buys ad space at MSG and Yankee Stadium) at Fenway, the Garden, and Gillette…These things are not as expensive as you might think (I work in advertising).

Even cheaper / more efficient: digital advertising. While we've made great strides in the way BC operates its own twitter account, Facebook page, etc…there's so much we can do in terms of direct advertising that, to my knowledge, BC is not doing. We can buy incredibly cheap newsfeed ads on Facebook targeted to, say, Men age 12-44 in the greater Boston area…on a "Cost-per-acquisiton" basis - basically, we can blast our ticket promotions and only give Facebook a cut for conversions. There's still a value to those impressions where users don't convert to buy a ticket…we're being SEEN. We're driving AWARENESS. So many businesses - from JetBlue to local florists - do this. There's no reason we can't buy ad space on official sites for the Pats / Celtics, or prominent Boston blogs (like SB Nation's Pats Pulpit). Sports apps - ESPN, theScore, TeamStream - offer deep personalization features and targeting capabilities…no reason we can't buy targeted impressions against Celtics fans on these platforms. I work for one of those aforementioned apps (and used to work in ad sales here at SB Nation) … I know not only that this is possible, but that it's effective, and that it's EFFICIENT.

Lastly, the creative for this campaign must be unified with the message that we would be sending through our re-branded logo, facilities, etc.: it should scream history, tradition, excellence, and excitement.

Public Relations

In a sense, this goes hand-in-hand with marketing. My mantra here: look at what Gene did, and do the opposite. Brad Bates seems to get that, is very polished, and a great face/speaker for the school and program. I hope he continues to make strides embracing the community and fan base. Obviously, however, we all were alarmed by his seeming inability to control the message re: Donahue. No matter where "Thamel's" sources came from, if the decision had not been made, Bates should have issued an IMMEDIATE statement refuting the report - he should not have waited as long as he did for Vega to call him, and get that quote published. With the modern ability to disseminate information in real time, there's no excuse for the way BC and Bates let Donahue's status linger.

To conclude, I realize that none of the above matter if we don't also win basketball games, but I think it's foolish to think that our image isn't affected by how BC / BC Hoops portrays itself beyond the W-L record. Would love to hear what you all think.

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