Talk to any Portland State coach and they’ll tell you it’s all about the product. They’ll say how it’s important to market the product, to sell the product, to create the best product. But the products in question aren’t cookies for a bake sale, they’re teams and it is imperative that Portland State gets more of its students and community members to buy them up.
When asked about selling the product – about selling his programs – PSU Athletic Director Tom Burman becomes evangelical.
“It may sound silly,” Burman said. “But students get in for free. It’s available, we want you there. We need you there.”
Burman is convinced that Portland State is selling a good product, calling PSU athletics “extremely high quality.” Yet just how good the product is can be determined by a single, simple factor. Men’s basketball sold out the Stott Center last year on its way to a regular season championship. Butts in seats. High quality.
Need more examples? The Viking football program goes 7-4, reversing its fortune after a 4-7 year. They beat rival Montana. Life is good, but only about 5000 fans are coming per game when in its heyday the program was selling out the old Civic Stadium. Not so good. Apparently Portland isn’t really that football starved. No butts in seats. Average quality. Women’s basketball goes 3-23 in 2004. Fans countable on two hands.
Success only leads to the need for more success. Failure only breeds apathy, at least on this campus. Right now Portland State needs to be more successful, more consistent on a much broader scale to survive. Burman feels the pressure.
“We need to set in stone that PSU is competitive,” he said. “We need to emphasize that we are a player in the BSC.”
Perhaps Burman has just pointed out a major hurtle that PSU athletics face in marketing the Vikings: what in the heck is the BSC? That would be the Big Sky Conference, though most of those new to PSU, or admittedly most of those who’ve been here for years, aren’t aware that Portland State is a member of the Big Sky.
The Big Sky is an extremely hard sell. While Burman insists that the level of play is only fractions lower than a true Division 1 school, evidence such as the Vikings 41-14 loss to OSU seem to say otherwise. Burman wants to be a player in the BSC, but he’s got to remember that not a lot of people know what the BSC is. Still, the AD makes no excuses.
“We’ve just got to find a way to illicit more ticket buyers,” he said. “We have to win.”
Winning is the timeless cure-all. No one cared that PSU was playing lower division football when they were dominant in the 1980s. The old Civic Stadium was packed. Portland State definitely wasn’t playing D 1 ball when Freeman Williams was tearing up the hard court in the 1970s. Students packed the Stott Center every Saturday. Now the renamed PGE Park barely gets a third full and the athletic office works without a single secretary, funneling all extra money into scholarships.
Amid a massive grassroots campaign to attract fans, Burman offers perhaps the most compelling argument, a reason above all others to brave a crisp, autumn evening to attend a football game or see a hoops contest this winter. “It’s your school,” Burman said, slightly exasperated.
It’s your school. And the product’s been made just for you.