Last fall, if you were to walk into the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym and look around, you wouldn’t have seen much. The usual purple covered the walls, “Emerson College” written on the ends of the hardwood floor, and the signature “e” logo banner hanging high next to a scoreboard.
If you walked to the center of the court, there was nothing to be found. It wasn’t until early 2015 that the gym had any artwork in its center—now there’s a roaring yellow lion coming out of the words “Emerson Lions.” This physical change also represents a cultural change the college has begun to institute.
The athletic department recently launched initiatives to establish an identity for sports at the college, and to give its athletes something to be proud of on the court, on the field, and around campus.
Matt Ulrich, the department’s director of media relations, said he was curious about how Emerson alumni perceived sports at the college, so he reached out to them on Facebook about the topic. Ulrich said he found that most people identified themselves as “Emersonians,” rather than Lions. He also said a lot of former students said they weren’t aware that the college had sports at all. For that reason, Ulrich began putting older game broadcasts on televisions in the Piano Row lobby, the dining hall, and the Emerson College Fitness Center.
Patricia Nicol, second-year athletic director, said that showing the games on screens around campus is an easy way to market the Lions to students.
“I think that anytime you can put Emerson athletics in front of someone, it’s there, and it’s at the forefront of their conscience,” Nicol said.
The department has also started streaming games live from the Rotch Playground and Field, providing Lions fans the opportunity to watch even when they’re unable to physically attend.
These technological improvements are just a part of a new visibility movement. The department has also begun holding giveaways of Emerson Lions memorabilia at home games, including apparel, water bottles, headphones, and more. Nicol also said 500 shirts featuring the new lion logo and slogan, “The Pride of Emerson College,” will be distributed throughout campus to spread spirit for the college’s athletes.
“Part of this swag, as we call it, is to reach out to the campus community and to not only get our brand out there, but to provide incentive to attend our contests and support our athletes,” Nicol said.
Ulrich said that since the start of the school year, he has seen attendance at games go up at least 50 percent, over 100 new followers on Twitter, and 30 people at a time watching live streams of games.
The movement to get more fans to games isn’t just a responsibility for Nicol and Ulrich, but also for coaches and players. Mike Corcoran, senior and captain of the men’s basketball team, said his team is creating a media guide as a fundraising effort to fund their gear that will also help to spread the word about the upcoming season.
“People don’t always think of Emerson as a sports school,” Corcoran, a marketing communication major, said. “We just need to create more awareness across the whole entire campus because sports isn’t on everyone’s minds here.”
Corcoran said that having a logo to wear on team uniforms and T-shirts while on campus has begun the process of getting students back into the school’s sports.
“It reenergized people,” Corcoran said of the logo. “It looks nice, and it’s on all of the gear. Now we’ll start to get nice things that as athletes we can wear and represent our teams, and people will be able to see that.”
Some student athletes, however, felt that it wasn’t the campus not wanting to support their activities, but rather that students were too busy to make it out to games.
Senior men’s soccer player Austin Alphonse, a graphic design major at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and athlete for the Lions through an NCAA-approved consortium between the two schools and the Berklee College of Music, said that Emerson students are known for being dedicated to their craft, and that this forms a division between the athletes and other students.
“I think people are very passionate about what they’re doing and don’t have a lot of time to devote to other things,” Alphonse said.
Tina Safford, a sophomore political communication major, said she has never been to a game, and said that she never knew when games were, listing the college’s lack of marketing as the reason. Safford also said that students’ workload mixed with their perception of athletics turns them off from attending games.
“I feel like everyone thinks Emerson sports aren’t that great,” Safford said. “So people don’t really want to spend their time that they could be using for other things by going to sports games.”
Safford said she hopes that with this new initiative in place, students will go out and show support to their fellow classmates.
“We all go to film festivals, but we don’t go see our friends play sports,” Safford said.
Head softball coach Phil McElroy said players are encouraged to be more involved in other events at Emerson, not just athletics.
“I think sometimes the athletes tend to separate themselves from everybody else,” McElroy said. “They don’t do it on purpose, they just gravitate towards the kids they have things in common with. Hopefully, they get out there a little bit more.”
Alphonse said that he hopes to see the divide between students disappear with this new marketing strategy for athletics.
“It’d be nice to see the athletic program going out to support the arts program more and going out to different shows, and vice versa,” Alphonse said.
Lions on and off the court
One of the things the department said it wants to create with this new movement is the feeling that everyone at Emerson is included when it comes to the school’s sports, according to Nicol.
“We’re really trying to reach out and embrace the campus and to weave the department into the fabric of the college,” Nicol said.
Ulrich said that athletics has reached out to multiple departments about adding everyone to the equation for all of the festivities, including having performing arts students perform at halftime during games.
“Whether you’re musical theater major, journalism major, or a filmmaker, we’re all Emerson Lions,” Ulrich said. “We’re all here to work on our craft and to support one another in our endeavors.”