When you’re a non-major college team playing at the second highest level of college football in the country, any sort of positive national attention is a good thing. The decision to install the nation’s first red turf field at Eastern Washington University has given the FCS-level team more mileage than anyone probably could’ve imagined.
It began with a $500,000 donation from alumnus Michael Roos is now plays in the National Football League with the Tennessee Titans. His donation was followed by a $50,000 donation from ESPN broadcaster Colin Cowherd. All of a sudden, the $1 million dollar fundraising campaign to make the field a reality was in full swing.
Not to mention a ton of feedback — much of it negative — about the possibilities of a red field. People love tradition and nothing says tradition like a green field. Boise State University’s football team is the only major college team with a field that’s not green — it’s blue — and their recent ascent to the upper echelons of the sport have made that novelty more prominent.
EWU athletic director said that “the uniqueness of the red field was able to generate an amazing amount of publicity.” He’s not kidding. When you’re a small program raising six figures doesn’t happen every day. There are programs at the FBS level that would be happy to raise half a million dollars in less than a year, so for a program at the FCS level to manage to do it is a mini-coup within itself.
It’s astounding that in 2010, people are asking questions about whether a different colored field might somehow affect the way people play the game. You can look no further than a sport like tennis, where the playing surfaces are still different, yet the ball, equipment and players are all the same. At least in tennis, the questions are well-founded. The ball plays differently on grass and clay than it does on a hard court or carpet.
Even a national championship would have a hard time generating the sort of publicity the red field has for EWU, so they’re smart to capitalize on their fifteen minutes of prominence why they can. Since they plan to install the field in time for the fall of 2010, it’ll just give them an opportunity to show the field off to a nation that will be at least captivated with a passing interest.
Maybe there will be a Facebook contest to name the new field? (My vote: The Red Sea) Perhaps an opportunity for a cross-marketing opportunity or a way to offer up naming rights to make the field pay for itself?
For recruits trying to decide between EWU and another school, this kind of publicity could tip the scales in their favor and I’m not just talking about potential football players or even student-athletes.
In a world where everyone is doing many of the same things; creating new traditions within the confines of your values is a great way to cultivate a brand that alums worldwide can be proud of. People might have no idea where EWU or Cheney, Washington are, but they now have a reason to look it up.
That’s what I call a big win.