Creating Emotional Bonds Report

Report on School Spirit at DU

"Creating Emotional Bonds"

Ten recommendations for creating the optimum collegiate spectator experience for DU athletic events

June, 2004

by Tom Douglis '86 & Damien Goddard '88

"Its not exactly breaking news that college sports has several natural advantages over the pros, including pageantry and the infusion of spirit by students and alumni."
-Jon Saraceno, USA Today Columnist


Athletics as bonding opportunity

Make spectator experience collegiate

Leverage DU visual history

Benchmark fan experience vs. privates

Upgrade Denver pep band

Upgrade student section experience

Enhance fan communications

Establish preliminary funding

Consider implementation realities

Create leadership infrastructure


This report is designed to assist the University of Denver to improve student/alumni involvement at athletic events. The alumni authors of this report maintain that a sustained university-wide effort to upgrade school traditions, school spirit and the overall collegiate athletic spectator experience will be a vital link in the all-important effort to generate stronger emotional attachments and bonds within the University community. Ultimately, these bonds create the kind of involved, passionate and supportive students and alumni that the University will increasingly need in the future.

The case for creating more emotional bonds now is compelling. Even as DU continues to rise in academic quality and differentiates itself in the coming years to increasingly compete with more elite private colleges and universities, the overall college enrollment pool will begin to decline in 2008 due to demographic change, making competition for price-elastic students more intense than ever before. A more active and energized bonding experience will be a critical awareness and marketing tool for attracting, retaining and engaging more prospects, students, alumni and community members and imbuing them a higher sense of affiliation with our university.

The authors of the report are mid -1980s alumni of the University of Denver, whose deep passion for our school fostered our leadership approaches to generating school spirit in our undergraduate days (Damien as a student cheer section founder, and Tom as Clarion Sports Editor). We carry this same spirit into action in 2004: Damien once again led our NCAA hockey cheering section at the Frozen Four, and Tom is lead consultant in the University’s overall branding efforts. Both of us were in Boston to cheer on the Pioneers last April, we thought it best to commit our thoughts to paper while the sounds of victory were still fresh in our ears, in order to share it with a wider audience. This is a great moment for the University of Denver, and should serve as a launching pad for a more coordinated effort to bring this momentum home to Denver.

While our report centers on hockey, many suggestions could be applicable to other DU sports as well. By looking backwards, peering forward and striving for excellence with this effort, the University of Denver can reap seven primary benefits:

  • Create an awesome home field/court/ice advantage for its athletic teams, resulting in a greater sense of community support, school identity and greater performances

  • Increase the sense of tradition, continuity and affiliation with the university over time

  • The students who lead this endeavor will gain confidence, communication and organizational skills they will use in future business, social and charitable endeavors

  • The students who follow will become more emotionally invested in their university and its welfare, and will become more passionate and committed alumni

  • The University’s image and reputation will rise as it is seen as a special place worth cheering about

  • New prospective students will be favorably impressed

  • Existing alumni will feel passions rekindled and a greater sense of affiliation and obligation to continue (or start) supporting the school
View DU Athletics as a Primary Bonding Opportunity
Athletics are also perhaps the largest and most powerful tool the university has to fuel our “brand awareness” in regions where the University is less visible, to engage our alumni and friends around the country and to bring our “campus renaissance” to new places.
When the University of Denver made the decision to upgrade its athletic programs to full NCAA Division I status in the late 1990s, it made a substantial investment in facilities,infrastructure, coaches and support personnel. And the results have been dramatic and salutary, with the athletic performance and academic/character success leading to a Sears Cup ranking in the top third of Division I institutions. In short, DU is doing all the right things on the field/ice/court, as well as in the classroom – the two most important areas of any athletic program. This report is written to help the third dimension – what happens in the seats!
The authors are fully aware that University of Denver athletic events face stiff attendance competition from a multitude of diversions in a growing and increasingly cosmopolitan metropolitan area – seven professional sports teams and four other (larger) Division I schools within a 90 minute drive from campus come instantly to mind, as well as the plethora of ski areas and other recreational and cultural opportunities offered in the state.
The positioning and marketing of Denver sports should remain the responsibility of those marketing professionals already in place. But we also contend that with a spirit upgrade, the athletic experience will be far richer and more rewarding for all.
One of the greatest generators of emotional attachment between student and university is the athletic spectator experience. It is one of the few areas where a student can invest and share his/her direct emotional capital with the university over a sustained period, spanning the years between prospect, student and alumnus. While the academic emotional bond often recedes when a student graduates or leaves, the athletic spectator bond is communal, visible and sustainable over time.

Make the Sports Spectator Experience More “Collegiate”
But hosting large crowds is only part of the challenge. We must engage these crowds in ways that reflect our unique character as a premier private university, not just a local entertainment provider. To excite hockey crowds, the University must approach each game night as a chance to reinforce a University of Denver overall brand experience from a multi-sensory standpoint.
The current (2003-2004) hockey game night experience, in our view, reflects a desire to stage a “mini-Avalanche” experience, which also closely replicates minor league hockey game nights all over North America. Magness Arena “feels” like a mini-version of the Pepsi Center. This kind of professional sports approach is not unusual in college hockey, but to better stand out in the Denver sports marketplace, DU should do all it can to make our game environment feel more collegiate.
In a collegiate-based game night experience, as you would find at Cornell, Minnesota or Michigan, for example, an enthused student section and active pep band drive the game night experience with coordinated cheering and spirit. The events become a driving, central force to unify each university’s unique image, rather than simply a minor league hockey image such as that currently projected at DU. By cheering DU cheers and playing University of Denver-related music, a unique reinforcement of Denver’s identity and allegiance would shape the crowd and better bond the fans to the school. School colors should be encouraged in all fans. Every new student should be given a Denver scarf, pennant, hat or hockey jersey as a welcome gift, and incentives should be created for imaginative fan sartorial displays.
Ultimately, we’d like to generate an experience that makes people feel a part of the DU experience, rather than simply as attendees at a Denver-area sporting event. As the University’s flagship sport, our ice hockey program is once again at the pinnacle of the sport after 35 years of trying to regain its rightful place among the NCAA’s elite hockey programs. And, combining the 2004 national championship aura with the likely coming labor stoppage in NHL hockey, the DU program stands to sell-out most of its home schedule and become the dominant hockey product in the Denver market.
Visually Leverage DU’s Rich 135-Year Athletic History
DU has been playing intercollegiate sports since 1867, and we should be more visual with our athletic history beyond just the current glass-case displays at Magness Arena. We should create a uniquely Denver visual experiences through larger banners and large photo murals (as shown below at Minnesota’s Mariucci Arena) and by using our Jumbotron video scoreboard to bring Denver history to life for all fans, with replays of famous Pioneer sports moments.
Benchmark Fan Experience vs. Top Privates (e.g. Cornell)
While we’d all love to see Big 10 (Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, etc.) levels of fan support at Denver, we realize that such an atmosphere is unlikely to be cultivated at a small private university like ours, due to the size of the school and the available resources. We do, however, believe that there are attainable models of private school fan support.
Cornell University enjoys the most fervent and consistent hockey game night support of any private university in the United States. James Lynah Rink is Standing Room Only for every game, with the most active and involved student support anywhere. (Note that our own Athletic Director at Denver, Dr. Dianne Murphy, came from the Cornell Athletic Department where she was Associate Athletic Director.) Since Cornell is an aspirational peer institution for the University of Denver, we thought it would be useful to include some thoughts from their fan base as inspiration for our own. Via the Internet, the authors asked some fervent Cornell fans (“The Lynah Faithful” as they are known, after the name of the arena) to tell us “how they get the arena cheering in a coordinated fashion”
Upgrade the Denver Pep Band
Denver needs to take a much more active role with regard to funding, developing and showcasing its pep band at hockey events. While Denver’s band is small and sincere, it is largely passive, appears only rarely at hockey games and has a limited repertoire. In addition, Denver’s fight song, written in the 1920s, should be played more often (at least after every goal) and with much more volume and activity. The words should be taught to all undergraduates continually through orientation, and to the rest of the community via the scoreboards, with contests and prizes awarded for those groups who excel. In fact, there are many unique and proprietary University of Denver songs dating from the time before radio and television that could be re-integrated into university life. Tom has a DU songbook dating from 1917 with over 30 such songs that he would be pleased to share with the leadership of the pep band program.
We also recommend that every effort be made to fund band travel to key away hockey games, especially Colorado College and any NCAA regional or national competition. Even when such travel is not possible, every effort should be made to obtain a quality substitute band from a nearby college or university, and supply them with Denver shirts and music to our fight song.
Denver’s Lamont School of Music could be an even greater resource to help develop this important aspect of our game experience, fostering a greater relationship between the arts and sports as key community touch-points. DU should consider small credit hour discounts for Lamont and other non-music students who play in the band and who attend games regularly. This is a “soft dollar” incentive that could provide immediate benefits, in particular, creating more band members. Larger numbers would enable the band to split commitments so that they can play regularly at both basketball and hockey games.

At Cornell, Wisconsin, Michigan or Yale, the pep band is a huge part of the game night experience. Active, loud and full of spirit, these bands (and many others like them at other schools) fill arenas with the sound of college. At these schools, fans know the words and actually sing fight songs, and they have a real meaning in connecting the generations of fans with a common bond across the decades through auditory triggers.

Upgrade the DU Student Section Experience
The first question is what organizational form should the Student & Alumni cheering sections take? There may still be some remaining brand equity and recognition in the Bleacher Creature name and organization, but of course, there are no bleachers in the Magness. Perhaps it is possible to remove a few rows of seats and replace them with bleachers? The original seats could be placed in storage and reattached at a future date. Marketing the “bleacher seats” to your most rabid fans would symbolize the importance of fan participation. There would be “status” attached to the seats and the alums (at least from the ‘80s) would snap them up. The fans in the bleacher seats would lead the cheers and it would be a great reminder of the old DU Arena. It is not inconceivable that the bleacher seats could become popular and that more could be added in the future.
We should work to get T-Shirts donated to the student section from one (or more) of our corporate sponsors. Prize giveaways would primarily go to those students who wear the shirts, school colors or spirited costumes to the games. Bright colored shirts are better for television recognition (Michigan Basketball student wear yellow). As a point of reference, Budweiser donated the shirts to the Bleacher Creatures in 1986.
We should consider always holding a major pep rally before the Homecoming game. This could include a “meet the team” element, prize giveaways (game-worn jerseys, etc.), teaching cheers and instructing students on desired fan attire. Additionally, Damien would enjoy the opportunity to share his cheer section skills by helping to “train” interested potential student cheer section leaders for that game and for the season as a whole.
We can look back on own experiences in shaping the DU student cheering in the 1980s, when Damien’s “Bleacher Creatures” initiative made Denver’s old arena balcony one of the top student sections in the WCHA. Restoring that kind of organization today must be student-driven to be effective, but with some guidance and effort, it can be helped along by DU alumni and the administration.
Theme nights are a great way to build unity and excitement. Toga nights, 70’s nights, Halloween, or movie theme nights (music from the theme or movie clips are played during timeouts -- Austin Powers, Old School, Caddyshack, etc.) are fun for the students and fans and, interspersed with old DU sports moments could be effective in generating a more animated student section.

Building Local Alumni support

We think it would be a good idea to sell authentic DU hockey jerseys via special order with the year of graduation and “Alumnus” as the name on the back. (e.g.‘88 or ‘72). This might be difficult, but making an effort to seat the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s alumni in block sections would build camaraderie and probably would be helpful in generating school spirit.
Road Trips

DU fans had a great time in Boston in 2004. This NCAA experience suggests that the University should consider sponsoring annual trips to other games, such as bus trips to Colorado College games. Such trips may lose money if every seat isn’t sold, but the longterm benefits of implementing these road trips should outweigh the small costs. In addition, Boston area alums should be encouraged to organize and rally for 2004 games at Boston College and Northeastern, Chicago/Milwaukee area alumni should rally in Madison, Wis., and Minnesota-based alumni should do the same in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
What else can be done to make the games more fun for the students?

  • General admission student seating ensures the most avid fans get the best seats
  • Let the students vote for some of the music during timeouts (online, in cafeterias, before the games?)
  • Feature the students on the Jumbotron during timeouts
  • Encourage them to come up with other creative gimmicks and ideas. In other words, give the students a stake in the team and the activities.
Enhance Fan Communications
Email, Blogs, Websites, E-vites, Message Boards & Electronic Newsletters. Nothing is more effective and inexpensive than starting an email newsletter to get your message and excitement out to fans. This newsletter could be handled by DU alumni volunteers, at no cost to the university, and could be coordinated with a new DU hockey fan web site, where information, cheers, and giveaways could be coordinated. These newsletters do not have to be directly affiliated with the university and usually are more effective if they promote free speech and progressive ideas. Collecting emails addresses of students can be done in front of the classroom buildings, at the season ticket campout, cafeterias & residence halls and can be tied into promotional giveaways. Fan & alumni emails can be collected before the games perhaps between periods.
Establish Preliminary Funding Avenues

In 1986 most of the Bleacher Creature money came from corporate sources and local businesses:• 250 shirts were donated by Budweiser• Advertising was sold on the cards placed on the bleacher seats• Advertising was sold in the DU Hockey News• Students kicked in some money• The Student Senate sponsored the bus trip to CC.• At the 1986 Final Four, DU gave Damien a budget ($500) to create fanexcitement. In 1987, the money came from the Student Senate (student activity fee)• Utilized DU purchase orders to order novelties via mail order

Potential Funding Sources for 2004-2008• Corporate sponsors• Local businesses• Student Senate• Trustee approved funds• Alumni donations• Seat license fees• Fundraisers• Special DU budgets• Hockey seat surcharges
Consider Implementation Realities

1. Willpower - Does the University of Denver want to proceed with this project?

• Administration Yes / No
• Athletic Department Yes / No
• Faculty Yes / No
• Trustees Yes / No
• Hockey Team/Coaches Yes / No
• Students Yes / No
• Alumni Yes / No

2. Capital

Start-up capital needed for 2004-2005 hockey season: $5,000-$10,000 Preliminary purchase intentions:• Balloons• Pioneer power packs• Candy for kids (builds family/fun -- perhaps handed out by Ruckus)• Banners• Face paint• Novelty items• Printing• Website• Drums• Other giveaway items• Fund pep rallies• Subsidize student and/or pep band bus charter to CC games• “Thunder sticks” and other noisemakers

Create Leadership Infrastructure

Encouraging DU fans to cheer at the games is the easy part. The greater challenge is setting up an infrastructure to allow the excitement to build into something great for the university.
A number of DU entities could be involved in the creation of this program, for example:• Athletics/Sports Marketing• Hockey Coaches/Staff• Friends of Pioneer Athletics• Administration• Alumni and Parent Relations• Office of Communication and Marketing• Admissions/Enrollment Management• Lamont School of Music/Pep Band• Cheerleaders/Mascot• Office of Student Life• Student Senate• DU Programs Board• Student Media• Corporate sponsors/local businesses• Interested individuals• Student leaders

We hope this report is some assistance to the University in its quest to improve student/alumni involvement at athletic events. We believe an upgrade in school spirit, a return to school traditions and an improved collegiate athletic spectator experience will be invaluable in forming stronger emotional bonds between students, alumni and the University.
This report is, of course, intended as a preliminary guide only, and we understand that the suggestions herein will be modified, enhanced or deleted depending on the wishes of the administration. At the same time, we hope this report has communicated at least a fraction of ou own passion for enhancing the DU spectator experience for the benefit of everyone connected with our community. We look forward to your support!


Feel Free to add comments , ideas and suggestions below.


Anonymous said...

DG, What was the DU response to your suggestions? I'm an Alumni (1986), and have been a season ticket holder for 20 years. I too am frustrated with the mini-pepsi center atmosphere. Just wondering what their response was.

dggoddard said...


Thanks for responding, its great to get your feedback. It has been a slow process getting these ideas in front of the right people. I think many agree that the thoughts listed herein would be great for the school, but who is going to be in charge of implementing it; The Athletic Department? The Students? The Trustees? Administrators? The Alumni Office? The Faculty? I'm beginning to think that it can only be implemented by a Vice-Chancellor or above who "gets it" and decides to run with it.

Last year I showed the paper to the Max Goldberg (AUSA President) and the DU Student Senate & they thought it was great. The Senate organized a Pep Rally before the Wisconsin Series, a CC Road trip last season & mentioned it in their Minutes. I think the students like the concept and there is potential dealing with the Student Senate in the future.

I published about 10 copies of the first draft and showed it to several people in the Athletic Department. This was before the new athletic director, so I'll take another run at it in a few weeks.

We emailed it to the previous Chancellor after the concept was put to him by a third party. We never really got a response. However a new Chancellor is in place so we are back to square one there.

Anonymous said...

Dear god, not thunderstix.

Start with t-shirts or something.

Yager said...

Great read. So did they ever take any of these ideas and consistently implement them?

dggoddard said...

Five years later, I would say about 80% of the plan was implemented. Early on we had a series of meetings, which helped open dialog.

Full credit goes to the Athletic Department, which has really been receptive to new ideas and listening to the students on this project.

This was an alumni driven project and it didn't take off until we made contact with the students. Facebook proved to be an amazingly effective tool.

One of the surprise early successes was dusting off the school fight song which had not been heard at DU for over 20 years.

This Blog, the Boone mascot, increased school spirit, getting the Pep Band back at hockey games, The "D-Rah" Fight Song, the CC White-Out are just a few legacies of this report.