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During the 2006-07 school year, Teanna Meinhold was a marketing intern for the athletic department at Eastern Washington University (EWU). Her internship as Athletic Liaison was simple: re-organize a group of basketball fans who called themselves 'Team Red' (in honor of EWU's school colors) into an athletic department-run spirit club.


The task was a perfect fit for Meinhold, who double majored in marketing and business management. Within a four-month span, she transformed Team Red into a university-brand force that was responsible for helping increase home game attendance and bridging stronger relationships between the university and local businesses.


by Danielle Catalano



SEEING RED
It all started in 2003. "At the time, 'Team Red' was just the nickname four underclassmen called themselves when they attended the men's basketball games," Meinhold says. "They cheered, they yelled, they screamed—they were very loud in the stands. They were pretty popular all over campus, and over time, students wanted to join the 'team'. Some kids made the 'team', but the guys were a little exclusive. It didn't stop their popularity, though."


In 2004, EWU men's basketball team won the Division I-AA Big Sky Championship and attendance was at an all-time high, says Meinhold. The following year, however, the team had a reversal of fortune, and attendance plummeted. Shortly after the 2006-07 school year began, a separate group of underclassmen concerned about the waning attendance asked Associate Athletic Director Mike Allen about creating a department-run spirit club. Allen loved the idea and talked to the original student-leaders of "Team Red" about using their idea as the basis for the new spirit club. The men agreed, and Meinhold was placed in charge of marketing the club to the EWU community.


TRANSFORMATION
Meinhold and the men comprised the club's board of directors and spent the first month drawing up a constitution, implementing open-membership and decision-making policies, as well devising a market plan.


Like many market plans, Team Red's included branding, game-day promotions, student activities, sponsorships, media communications, and community relations. Unlike most market plans, the club had an established target audience, understood its trends, and didn't have to worry about planning a budget, as the athletic department allocated its money. Even with these advantages, it took the board two months to work out the details of Team Red's market plan and another month to fully implement it.


Below are key items Meinhold included in the market plan, which guided the club to recruiting approximately 180 members by the end of the season.


Deadlines. The first items listed were dates from the women's and men's basketball schedule, marking the spirit club's first game-day promotions. "Having a deadline helped keep things focused and on track," says Meinhold. "We had to get things done by such-and-such a date, period."


Marketing Channels. Meinhold targeted five specific channels to spread news of Team Red's club status and to register new members within the student population. Each channel was a different medium, reducing the chances of overlooking a member of the targeted group. It did, however, require a lot of legwork. "The best way to describe this is that I was a walking public relations firm," Meinhold says.


Sponsorships. Meinhold solicited off-campus eateries for sponsorships, specific to game-time giveaways and/or promotions, merchandise items, or campus services. In most cases, a sponsor would have a halftime event named after the company for specific games. For example, one sponsor, The Pita Pit, sponsored the Halftime Pita Pit Shootout, in which three contestants shot a basketball from three marked areas on the court for a chance to win a $25 gift certificate. Team Red ended up with eight sponsors.


One sponsorship addressed a major university concern: drunk driving. "In no way did we advocate drinking or condone drunk driving," Meinhold explains. "Some people would have tailgating parties and drink before coming to the games. So we asked The Basement, a popular bar in the downtown area, if it would sponsor a shuttle service from downtown to the gym and back downtown. Any Eastern Washington student any age could ride the shuttle for free, and the shuttle would pick up students at the bar.


"We felt this was a good way to avoid drunk driving and make sure everyone arrived to and from the gym safely," continues Meinhold. "Also, it was good for commuters and others who lived off-campus because they didn't have to worry about driving or parking late at night."


In return, Team Red held two halftime promotions during the season called, "Free Tab-Free Throw," in which only Team Red members 21 years and older could enter a free-throwing contest. "This one was demanding, because everyone was checking the contestants IDs and making sure they were legit. We absolutely could not mess that one up."


Team Red Merchandise. The spirit club had five merchandise items, of which four were paid through sponsorships: "Reward Cards" (discount cards to area businesses), blow horns, bracelets, and sweatbands. The fifth, t-shirts, was supplemented by the athletic department. Meinhold was responsible for designing the t-shirt and ultimately creating the team's logo, which the university trademarked this year.


"We were fortunate to work with a graphic designer on campus," she says. "The design was actually pretty easy to come up with, but we had to work with Compliance, so we had to wait for that approval before starting on the t-shirts." The t-shirts proved a little controversial for Eastern Washington's resident community, and Meinhold ended up having to design a kid-friendly shirt.


"The t-shirts are bright red with the logo on the back and a saying, 'Eastern's Mile High Club', on the front," she says. "The saying was a play on words because we're the Eagles, and we knew it would get attention. The university saw it our way, but we didn't want to upset residents or others on campus who may have felt offended, so we created a t-shirt with our logo and the court's nickname, 'The Nest'. The community was okay with the new look, and only those t-shirts could be sold to adolescents and kids." The shirts were ready for sale by mid-December, with a pre-order of 500.


CALENDAR OF EVENTS
December 21, 2006, marked the official debut of Team Red, with the opening of its merchandise concession stand and selling t-shirts at $10 at the men's home basketball game. The club's first appearance at the women's basketball game was in January, following the school's winter break and a three-week period in which Team Red board members could gauge the effectiveness of their market plan and make appropriate adjustments.


By the end of January, the t-shirts, promotions, and Web site were "beyond successful," says Meinhold, prompting club members to schedule more fan nights, such as Red Outs. "We worked it out with one of the local restaurants that all Team Red members wearing their t-shirts on Red Out night received a free meal or drink. Everyone loved it. That first night it was just a wall of Team Red."


While the Eagles did not make it to the championship game last year, their record did improve, as did the basketball program's attendance number, says Meinhold, who graduated in May 2007. The market plan she devised more than a year ago is still in place, and the popularity of Team Red is growing.


"The athletic department now wants to create a Team Red Football Club," Meinhold says. "They're trying to see what promos work and don't work this year for the football fans, so they can have a club ready to go next season. They definitely have the people to make it happen."




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