Stuck in the middle of Ann Arbor and Detroit, Eastern Michigan University has struggled to become relevant in the sports market.
Winning is the best marketing tool a team can have, and EMU is dying for a new marketing plan. It has propped itself up on mediocrity for too long, and winning will be the only way for the Eagles to change the culture. The Eagles took a step in the right direction this season with their men’s and women’s basketball teams.
The men’s basketball team (17-15) competed for a Mid-American Conference West Division title in front of a hopeful crowd of 2,148. The Eagles lost 56-55 to Central Michigan on March 4. The attendance number doesn’t sound impressive until it’s put into context. The game occurred during the campus’ winter break. It should also be noted that beginning the season, the men played to crowds in the 400’s. You have to walk before you run.
Women’s basketball showed the largest turn around, a stunning 22-8 record and an invite to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament completes the record turnaround from last year’s dismal 8-21. Tavelyn James set a school record this season for most points in a game, becoming the seventh player (man or woman) in school history to reach 40 points in a game. Opening the season the women saw crowds in the 200’s. In their last scheduled home game at the Convocation Center, they played in front of a crowd of 758 fans.
The Eagles football team can best be described as a work in progress. Ron English drew 14,499 in his first game as coach in 2009 at Eastern Michigan, a 27-14 loss to Army on Sept 5. English’s debut proved something many have doubted: There is a place for Eagles’ sports in this market.
EMU geared its marketing department toward the end of the season, blasting the message of men’s and women’s basketball. The division title game generated a buzz that seemed to reach EMU’s students.
The day of the MAC quarterfinal against Akron, there was no official gathering to watch the Eagles. You could catch a bus down to Cleveland, where the tournament was being held, but unless you could skip all of your classes for the day it wasn’t very convenient.
“We should have opened up the auditorium and used the projector,” senior Patrick Holubik said, while a gathering of passers-by in the Student Center watched two overtimes and the Eagles’ 97-89 defeat.
The 2010-11 season should be another step in the right direction for the Eagles. The women’s basketball team will be returning all of its starters after its season ends in the WNIT. The men’s team will bring back Brandon Bowdry, an important cog, and football will bring in English’s second class of recruits.
So what does it take to get a student out to a game.
“All it takes is enough people wanting to go with me,” said Lindsay Boucher, a fourth-year elementary education major.
It’s too early to call it “Eagle Nation.” For now, Eagle village will do, but with the steps the Eagles have taken, and the higher expectations for next season, “Eagle Nation” could be just around the corner.