SBJ/Sept. 20-26, 2010/Colleges

Road trip hits home with FSU advertisers, fans

Florida State vs OklahomaGetty Images
Florida State turned the trip to see the Seminoles play Oklahoma into well-received blog posts and videos on Seminoles.com.
Florida State’s newly named “Road Warriors” hit the highway in a Camping World RV the Thursday morning before the Seminoles’ Sept. 11 game at Oklahoma. Their road trip went better than the football team’s.

FSU lost the game 47-17, but the Road Warriors — a group of athletic administrators who drove 2,000 miles to Oklahoma and back — discovered a new way to reach out to fans, both in person and through providing unique content to the school’s athletic website, Seminoles.com.

Their trip was so successful that the Road Warriors will go on the road with the football team the rest of the season, and the concept could create a whole new way of marketing against the school’s away games.

Camping World supplied the RV for no charge, and two advertisers have expressed an interest in sponsoring tailgate events prior to road games. The tailgate and its sponsors could be incorporated into the coverage on Seminoles.com, providing them exposure on the Web as well as at the event.

“This is definitely a new way to connect with our supporters,” said Jerry Kutz, vice president of the Seminole Boosters and one of the seven people in the RV during the trip to Oklahoma.

Monetizing the Road Warriors, which started as a collaboration between FSU’s booster club and digital media group, is a little tricky. They can’t create sponsorship inventory on their own because ISP Sports owns the Seminoles’ marketing and media rights. FSU’s Web partner, CBSSports.com College Network, owns the ad inventory jointly with ISP on Seminoles.com.

But the potential for turning the Road Warriors into a multimedia platform seems promising.

Camping World of Tallahassee donated the use of the RV in exchange for booster club points. They’re now exploring ways to make the RV retailer the title sponsor of the event and an advertiser on the game’s radio broadcasts.

A Tallahassee restaurant, Piggy’s BBQ, is interested in catering the tailgate for the Road Warriors, and a home tailgate event could evolve as well. There’s also some thought about involving one of the heavy advertisers on the football game radio broadcasts, Coors Light, in a tailgate promotion for the road games, although beer sponsors are carefully monitored at college events.

Ryan Pensy, FSU’s director of digital media, said he wasn’t prepared for the reaction the seven members of the Road Warriors received as they hopped from Tallahassee to Birmingham to Memphis on the first day. The warriors included Pensy and two members of the digital media team, Kutz and his wife, a member of the marketing department, and a statistician for the radio broadcast.

All Pensy wanted was unique content for the website and a chance for the booster club to reach out to new and existing fans.

They posted 15 blog entries and six video packages on Seminoles.com, nine entries on FSU’s Facebook page, and 25 postings on Twitter, all of which chronicled the four-day trip. That doesn’t include all of the game coverage they filed after the loss.

The video featured shots from Samford University in Birmingham, where FSU coach Jimbo Fisher first coached as an assistant; Dreamland BBQ in Birmingham; Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in Memphis; and fan events in Oklahoma City prior to the game, including one at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill.

FSU supporters who were following the blog entries on the team’s site met them during their stops in Birmingham and Memphis.

The only hiccup was resolved just before the travelers departed for Oklahoma. Because the RV parking spots around the stadium were sold out, there wasn’t initially a place for the Road Warriors to dock their vehicle. It turned out that Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione wasn’t using his personal space, so the FSU RV docked there.

“We honestly went into this not knowing if anybody would care about this or not,” Pensy said. “It was amazing to run into so many people who had been following the trip.”

Kutz, the booster club vice president, is accustomed to asking alums for six- and seven-figure donations to pay for capital projects, but there’s a grassroots side that too often is ignored by major universities, he said. The Road Warriors provided him an avenue to engage supporters on the Web and in person, and it also marked the first time the digital media group and the booster club had found a way to work together.

“There’s a grassroots piece to this that makes every Seminole fan feel involved,” Kutz said. “We’ve got to interact with them, we’ve got to have a conversation with them. We used to do that at events and through direct mail, but now with social media, we can actually have an ongoing dialogue with a broad range of supporters. That’s what the Road Warriors allowed us to do. People followed our progress and felt like they were with us.”

In addition, Pensy’s team is now able to provide complete and in-depth game-day coverage on Seminoles.com, just as they do for home games. That was something he couldn’t do before because there wasn’t a travel budget.

“I’m trying to provide the best Florida State coverage on the Web and I’m competing against Rivals and Scout and the Tallahassee Democrat,” Pensy said. “The competition is the local media, and this affords us a way to get viewers away from them and over to us.”
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