Molly Myers does not complain about her job as Director of Marketing for Ball State athletics but compared to other schools in the Mid-American Conference she is fighting an uphill battle. The marketing budget for Ball State Athletics does not stack up with fellow MAC peers.
“I believe it’s near the bottom,” Myers said. “Since I’ve been here my focus has been trying to be positive and focus on what you have to work with and not worry about what others have.”
With the limited budget Myers has to make tough decisions as to what sports are marketed and which games for the ones that are supported.
Even revenue producing sports such as football and men’s and women’s basketball are not immune to having certain games receive little to no dollars spent on marketing. In those cases Myers relies on free marketing such as Facebook events, Twitter, and campus e-mails to get the word out for upcoming home games.
“I can’t even market every single home game,” Myers said. “I have to be selective throughout the season of ‘these are the games that we should really try on focusing to get people to come to.’ There are some games that go by other than doing mentions through the free media that are not getting mentioned. I’m not doing a radio spot for it, I’m not doing TV for it.”
More money was spent marketing Ball State’s football game against Indiana in Lucas Oil Stadium than the other five home games in Scheumann Stadium combined. Even with a big turnout for the Indiana game Ball State finished 10th out of 13 teams in the MAC in average attendance. Basement dwelling Akron (1-11), Central Michigan (3-9), Buffalo (3-9) and Miami (4-8) fared better than Ball State (6-6).
For Myers, the biggest factor in attracting fans is out of her control.
Instead Myers can only improve the fan experience featuring the band, cheerleaders, Code Red dance team, and Charlie Cardinal.
“Those are the things we have control over,” Myers said. “Because if [fans] are coming and are like ‘that was really fun I had a great time, yeah it stinks they lost but lets go back again.’ Those are the pieces that I try to focus on.”
Even though he graduated from Ball State almost two years ago, Zach Brubaker still attends every Ball State home football and men’s basketball game sitting in student section titled “The Nest.” Describing Brubaker as a casual Cardinal fan would be like describing “Star Wars” as a casual film.
“We have 20,000 students that go to school here and only 400 came to the game,” Brubaker said after attending a men’s basketball home game against Miami University on Feb. 4. “Getting students here is more of a matter about getting students excited about sports which they are not. I’ve been to football games where students leave at halftime whether we are winning or losing.”
Brubaker has gone as far as creating facebook events for home sporting events. As a staff member for CRU (Campus Crusade for Christ) he is able to get a strong following to those games.
“We don’t have a storied history like bigger schools in Indiana like IU, and Purdue,” Brubaker said. “They can have losing seasons and still have pack houses.”
Seeing students wear gear of other universities upsets Brubaker as he sees it as a lack of pride. An example is Indiana basketball beating No. 1 Kentucky the same day Ball State defeated Butler for the first time in eight years on Dec. 10.
The Butler win had 8,421 fans on hand but attendance plummeted as Ball State went on a nine-game losing streak in MAC play. Attendance hovered around 3,000 fans for three of the final four home games with the exception being Senior night. Radio host Morry Mannies was honored at halftime of that game for his 56-year career. With tickets going for as a little as 50 cents only 3,935 fans showed up.
“It’s pretty pathetic that when IU beats Kentucky you see more IU shirts than Ball State shirts the next day,” Brubaker said. “There’s just not a lot of school pride and that’s been a problem since I was a student.”
Dave Heinkel, a Cardinal Varsity Club member, has tried to promote Ball State athletics but knows that most of the CVC’s efforts have been in vain. He admits there is a gap between Ball State and the Muncie Community.
“In my opinion there is some animosity toward Ball State and why I don’t know,” Heinkel said. “I think it would help if a lot of the people in Muncie would realize that a lot of the sports are free. What a better way to come out and bring your kids to an athletic event.”
Heinkel is not a fan of the Muncie Star Press and their coverage of Ball State Athletics as he gets his news from other sources.
“We’ve dropped the paper here because of the coverage in sports has been very negative,” Heinkel said. “They seem to get better coverage up in Fort Wayne than we get here.”
Heinkel has had conversations with several men’s basketball players and developed a relationship with guard Tyrae Robinson.
“You root for them when you know them personally,” Heinkel said.
The personal aspect can be seen with the men’s volleyball team. Student attendance is higher for the team as Myers views them as the best self-promoters for their ability to mingle with the rest of the student body.
“Seeing teams get involved in self-promoting, I think that’s where I’ve seen the biggest return on getting the students to come,” Myers said. “[Men’s volleyball] are probably the best self-promoters out of any of the teams that we have.”
Manufacturing a Rivalry
With no other MAC team in Indiana, Ball State does not have a natural rival the way Indiana is to Purdue.
“Our big rival at one time was Miami,” Heinkel said. “Now that we’ve gone to divisions we don’t play Miami much.”
The MAC went to divisions in 1997 with Ball State and Miami on opposite sides of the East and West split.
Ball State has tried to manufacture a rivalry with Northern Illinois as both are the only MAC schools in their states. Problem is the schools are far apart as Dekalb, Illinois is roughly 290 miles away, a five-hour drive.
In comparison, Miami in Oxford, Ohio is only 70 miles away as a 90-minute drive. Bowling Green is second closest (three hours) but both schools play in the East division leaving Ball State without a close MAC West opponent.
With no natural rivalry fans do not have that one “must see” game of the season, hindering average attendance.
One of the steps made towards building the rivalry with Northern is the Bronze Stalk Trophy given to the winner of the annual football game. The trophy was introduced in 2008 to make the game more meaningful for fans similar to the Old Oaken Bucket between Purdue and IU. The Huskies hold a 3-1 edge in the trophy series.
“I think there has been a little bit trying to manufacture from our end and from their end too with the Northern Illinois piece,” Myers said.
Ball State still has a rivalry with Miami for basketball but only play once a year. The two schools have not met in football since 2008.