Some time over the last 11 months, somebody in the athletic department got slapped with good sense. Or, maybe slapped with good numbers. Or, maybe slapped with a sense of customer relations.
Somebody needed to be slapped with something. But you learn from your mistakes and it seems FIU did.
I just spoke with Michael Shorter, head of the Broward chapter of the Bethune-Cookman Alumni Association. Shorter's happy. Not Pharrell bouncing happy -- that might come Saturday if Bethune wins -- but happy with his interaction this year with FIU.
Shorter said someone from the ticket office reached out to Bethune-Cookman's alumni groups in Broward and Dade. The chapters went in together and bought a bloc of tickets and will be seated between the 30 and the 40-yard line. Shorter's bought some other tickets himself. You can be sure other BCU alums did the same. With BCU expecting another good team, Shorter expects the Wildcats to bring an even larger crowd than they did last year. That game led FIU home games in visiting team single game tickets sold (844) and overall single game sales (2,634).
(Technically, the East Carolina game's 3,103 were the most sold for a single game. Don't eat the manufactured, processed government cheese. The single game ticket sales listed under Internal was 2,392. For the Marshall game, the other game FIU was desperate for ticket sales to keep the NCAA bouncers fining them a cover charge or tossing them, Internal was listed as 1,094. For the first four home games? 551, 534, 698 and 244. Seemed a lot of sudden support from a different FIU pocket. I sent an e-mail to the highest reaches of Athletics asking what sales would be classified as Internal. The e-mail must have been lost...)
FIU got a great night last year from the Bethune-Cookman game despite itself. Hosting Bethune brings in the school's legendary band and a (perceived) beatable opponent from a school with an unusually loyal alumni base. They're bonded not just by the shared college experience, but to the school and each other by the shared Black Folks In America experience.
This game screamed for FIU to do two things: aggressively market the game, especially in South Florida's black communities, to high school and junior high bands of any ethnicity; and keep Bethune's fans happy. Treat them as Kerim Bey would.
The marketing department was in transition at the time. A unit's at its weakest when in transition, especially when transitioning from "one grad assistant" to "fully staffed."
Despite Bethune's win, FIU left a bad taste in the mouth of some Bethune-Cookman fans, particularly the alumni. Shorter talked to me the night before the game. He'd told me when the association saw their tickets would put them around the 10-yard line, they asked for something better. Let the young people sit there. The alums, grown folks who Shorter said are more serious about watching the game, like to be closer to the 50.
Can't do it, he said FIU told him. Those seats aren't available. He e-mailed me the night of the game, saltier and hotter than my fried rice. He saw the sections he requested they be allowed to buy sitting empty all night.
Someone in the school, involved in fund-raising, said exactly what I said last year about the little things at games. These people aren't at FIU every day. Their first hand experience with FIU, perhaps their first strong impression, comes largely from sporting events despite such events' tangential relationship to the overall university.
Anyway, see you folks Saturday, one way or the other.