I say this both as a dedicated fan of Syracuse Orange football and as someone that writes about the program more than all but a handful of people alive:
Right now, it’s hard to believe we’re in the middle of spring practice. Or pushing ticket sales to overcome a lack of hype following a pandemic and a 1-10 season. Or facing a potential make-or-break season for Dino Babers as he enters the sixth year of his tenure as head coach.
None of this is to point fingers, cost someone a job or place blame. More accurately, it’s to encourage Syracuse football to avoid the temptation to avoid the issues staring it in the face, and instead meet them head on. Make it hard to doubt the direction Babers has this program pointed in. And get fans excited to see what’s next as there IS a lot of talent on this roster, and plenty of potential to cash in on.
It’s not as if Syracuse has avoided doing anything, either. Babers has a weekly Zoom and we see some photos and video on social. But really, these are bare minimum boxes to check, and they just leave fans and media wanting more.
I mean right now, there isn’t even a hashtag to accompany shares on Twitter. We can and should do better.
More importantly, there’s still no spring media guide or depth chart to help fuel conversation around the program. Practices aren’t open in any way, save the choice images available on social media. We don’t even know if or when there will be a spring game. And if there is, it may only be open to a handful of fans — instead of utilizing the easy program marketing platforms that are the ACC Network and ACCNX. A month ago, the league announced nine spring games were set to be televised. Syracuse’s wasn’t one of them.
A couple years ago, we saw much more from Syracuse in the lead-up to what was supposed to be an impressive 2019 season. For Orange fans, “La Familia” was a cool series that showcased the faces and names that were out in front of the program. Given how limited those looks have been over the years, it was refreshing, cool and and incredibly useful from both a fan and media perspective. It was also a great piece of marketing that current recruiting targets are still talking about as a positive.
Given the apparent hot seat Babers is on, the restlessness of the fan base and the media certainly looking for more positive stories to tell about the Orange, why not lean into the various personalities within the program to help sell an outlook and a future?
This isn’t even necessarily an idealistic view of what a program and its strategy to put itself out there more “could be.” Clemson football is about as open as it gets, and that benefits them immensely. Same for Oregon and various others. Given COVID-induced budget issues and the losses collected by SU football on the field, I don’t blame them for scaling back. But... there are still some great stories around various aspects of this program.
In the past, we’ve talked about how to fix Syracuse football in the long-term. This is an extension of that tall task. And it may also be the most attainable right off the bat. So some steps we should be taking right now:
Utilize Dino Babers as often as possible
In the early years of his tenure at SU, Dino was everywhere, win or lose. And then, after the highs of 2018, we were on high alert to see if another program swooped in to hire him away. While the latter may not be the case anymore, the former still can be. Sure, maybe we don’t need to be sold “hope” anymore. But Babers himself is as compelling as any coach in college football. Seeing him front and center is valuable for the school, players and recruiting as well.
It only takes meeting Coach Babers once to get why he’s an excellent motivator and leader. You want to run through a wall for the guy, and that energy’s infectious. We saw as much following upsets over Virginia Tech, Clemson and Florida State. But he doesn’t need that sort of stage to inspire. It just helps. And it would help him and the program to lean into that.
Open things up
I’m not calling for completely open practices. I get that’s tough to manage, and it’s certainly not in Babers’s nature given the secrecy by which he’d prefer to operate. However, that secrecy hasn’t helped win a whole lot of games over the last two years, if we’re being honest. So why not allow a bit more access in and around the program so that there’s at least a greater feeling of connection between the fans and the program... and more for the media to discuss around the team as well?
Another way that could happen? Some limited assistant coach availability to media. It can be completely structured, if need be. But Babers’s staff is full of long-time assistants of his, hard-working coaches and frankly, many of the people that help SU football go. It would be great to truly meet some of them, so fans understand who they’re rooting for and why they’re the right coaches for the job of getting Syracuse back to consistent respectability.
Let’s meet some players
One of the more refreshing pieces of “La Familia” included the glimpses into the players on the team — their personalities, motivations, humor, interests, families. This background, even if brief on a player-to-player basis, is crucial to forging bonds between the fan base and the team, and the media can help tell that story in many ways.
No one wants to feel like they’re rooting for laundry. And players are unlikely to feel great about the fan base not knowing who they are, or at least feeling like they don’t care to know anything about them as people.
Breaking down some of these barriers can be yet another marketing opportunity for future recruits. But also just a good thing to do, shining a spotlight on the players that put so much effort into this team all year round.
Show fans (and future players) why they want to come to the new Dome
Admittedly, some of the air was let out of the Dome reopening when Syracuse football had no fans and men’s lacrosse has only been allowed to invite a handful of attendees this spring. But that shouldn’t take away from showcasing the sort of experience fans can expect when doors hopefully reopen at full capacity during football in the fall.
A televised spring game this year could’ve been part “game” and part tour of the facility’s various improvements. Long-time Dome staff could’ve talked about what has them most excited. Players could’ve led you around some of the most obvious changes to the gameday experience — all with the goal of selling tickets and selling future recruits on coming to SU.
Wins are obviously the best sales tools of all, and a lack of them lately creates an uphill climb. Yet, this program does have a dedicated fan base that’s been through plenty of downs over the last two decades. Show them what’s guaranteed to be better (the venue) and discuss how that active investment in the program helps make for something better and more stable long-term.
I’m not going to claim to have all of the answers here. But it’s hard to ignore the opportunities at hand right now. With things seeming less-than-ideal for Orange football, there’s an urge to avoid too much attention for fear of what happens if losses start piling up.
The bigger concern, though, should be how much easier it is to turn attention elsewhere if the losses start piling up and you didn’t endeavor to stay top-of-mind for fans to begin with.