He is young, handsome, smart, a Denver native, and an alum. Rodney Billups is starting his run as head coach with a hand full of aces – so he can push the boundaries.
When it comes to men’s basketball, what does the University of Denver have? A middling basketball program in a middling conference (Summit League) at an excellent university and very good facilities in an extraordinary city. Some contend that there is a low level of interest in college basketball in Denver while others argue that there is pent-up demand for a strong college basketball program. DU has no regular history of excellence in basketball. If you follow online student forums, DU is seen as an elite snobby university by many urban students and community members who see DU as aspiring to be ‘ivy league’, a rich kid school, and stocked by white suburban kids.
This is the institutional ‘image’ that Rodney Billups inherits.
Goal number one should be to loosen up DU’s stodgy public reputation (fair or not) and play on DU’s biggest strength – the city of Denver. This approach is in perfect alignment with Chancellor Chopp’s vision for DU to become a bigger player in the city and the Rocky Mountain region. Denver is one of the hottest urban areas in the country with nearly 19,000 people moving into Denver County this past year alone and over 100,000 people in total moving to Colorado over this past year. Denver was very smart in branding when they moved away from ‘DU’ logo to the Denver Arch. That decision inextricably links the University of Denver to its parental city in an unmistakable way.
DU does not need to fill up the Pepsi Center (cap:18,007) for basketball. DU does not have to fill up the Coors Event Center (Cap: 11,064) in Boulder. DU’s Magness Arena can absolutely rock with 4,000+ fans. Past “Pack the House” basketball events against larger programs such as the Pac 12 or key regional rivals have filled Magness (Cap:7,200) when properly promoted.
So what could Rodney Billups do, using some creativity and a few pages out of Jim Harbaugh’s playbook to build a fan base?
Social Media: Rodney Billups should use social media to highlight Denver. Use Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to show that Denver is a fun, vibrant, cool place to be. Go to rock concerts, meet with performers, go to Nuggets and Broncos games, attend MMA fights and wrestling matches, hang with politicians and celebrities – and document all of it in social media. Showcase the campus and local University Park businesses, too. Work behind the counter at a couple of local eateries. Have fun and show that Denver is the place to be. Make people want to follow you – where is Rodney today?
Play up the City of Denver and DU’s Colorado identity. It says ‘Denver’ on the front of all the jerseys – not the University of Denver. Get off campus and show what Denver has to offer.
Media: Did you see Rodney Billups introductory press conference? He is sincere, funny, smart and credible. The Denver market is saturated with sports talk radio, TV, and other media. We are always looking for content and stories. Rodney Billups is the perfect guy to represent DU. He can hammer home that DU is “Denver’s Team.” He should be the ticket sales front-man by encouraging trial and ticket sales with every interview. How about putting a money back guarantee on every ticket – anyone who does not enjoy Denver Basketball for any reason can get a full refund – no questions asked. He could challenge, in a positive way, everyone he talks to give it a try – what’s the risk? Lee Iacocca sold the Dodge K-Car – DU basketball is better than that!
Have a ‘Dream Team’ committee redesign team warm-ups & uniforms: How about Mayor Hancock, a couple of Nuggets, two current players, and a local basketball alum design new warm-ups and uniforms working with a uniform manufacturer. Create some excitement and launch the new uniforms the first day of official practice. Make it a social media event and a public media event when the new unis are introduced? Let’s be honest, the current duds aren’t impressive…at all.
Have the first day of official practice in the evening at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science: Get the team off campus – DU plays for Denver. DMNS has huge open space where portable goals could be set up indoors for the first practice. Bus DU students there. Invite the 40,000 local DU alumni and give them a three-fer – see the team, launch the new uniforms, and tour the Museum’s latest exhibits – use the local alumni chapter to promote the event. Give free warm-ups to all TV station reporters who make live reports from the event (and wear them during their remote). Sell tickets that cover the cost of the event. A cash bar, hors d’oeuvres – and by the way – game tickets are for sale on the spot, too.
Offer Meet the Coach sessions in the IMAX theater and a slide show presentation from the DU physics department on the “Physics of Basketball.” Have interactive attendee activities – free throws, vertical jump, and dribbling. I have attended a number of non-sports events at DMNS – and this is exactly what the venue offers.
Talk about fun & out of the box.
If that venue is not available, what about outdoors at Larimer square or if the weather is a concern, hold it outdoors under the covered Denver Performing Arts Complex with the DU band, cheerleaders, and the DU Grilling Society?
Recruiting: As things stand now, DU has one scholarship this year, one next year, and a treasure-trove of five scholarship openings for the 2017-2018 season. Having been a recruiter for CU, Billups likely already has a solid recruiting pipeline developed. However, the big payoff is in two years with the five picks. Identify key prospects now and create relationships and allegiances with recruits early. DU has lost recruits in the past when they have been recruited late or not engaged early enough to sell the DU story. With Rodney Billups, there is a great ‘up-tempo’ story to tell. And his recruiting prospects will follow his active social media accounts – I play for Denver!
Awareness: Be bold! Thirty thousand cars drive down Evans Avenue every day. Why not post an illuminated game day board on the East-West Evans pedestrian bridge for passing motorists? 218,000 cars drive along I-25 every day. What about posting game information on a nearby building rooftop or dorm so that nearly a quarter of a million motorists a day know it is Gameday at Magness? These signs could be used to promote other DU sports as well. DU has always been conservative and understated when it comes to these things – break the mold.
It’s time to extend our comfort zone outside the University, Evans Avenue, High Street, and Buchtel Blvd. square.
These are just a few ideas to get DU basketball on the map. What else can Coach Billups do to put DU basketball on the map?