When Chicagoans think Northwestern athletics, what slogan comes to mind?
Thanks to Northwestern’s Senior Associate Athletic Director Mike Polisky, many Chicagoans think “Chicago’s Big Ten Team.”
What’s Polisky’s secret to making the slogan stick? He just tells it like it is.
“We just wanted to talk about who we are, who Northwestern is,” Polisky said. “And who we are is simply Chicago’s Big Ten team.”
A 63 percent increase in football ticket sales indicates that the message has been heard, and not just by students.
“Regardless of whether you went to Northwestern or not, this is your home team, Chicago’s Big Ten team,” Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said.
Targeting all of Chicagoland means tough competition from professional athletics, like the Cubs and Bulls, and other forms of entertainment including live theater, restaurants, and ballets.
“You have to fight for your dinner,” Polisky said.
Polisky is accustomed to that fight having worked with other Chicago teams including the White Sox. But getting used to it doesn’t make it any easier.
“There were several people that didn’t spend much time at home for a period of time,” he said of the initial planning phases.
Polisky joined the athletic staff in June, and rolled out the new campaign on billboards and in traditional media by the end of the summer – just in time to bring new fans to the first home game.
“You see people saying it pretty naturally these days,” Polisky said. “You see the media mentioning it.”
Department officials said they couldn’t pinpoint the exact amount spent on marketing this year, but said it was a significant increase from previous years. The extra spending has proven effective, but of course it’s not just the marketing which fills the stands.
“For the last several years, we’ve really had a great product on the field, a winning team,” Phillips said.
The Cat’s winning record and consecutive bowl game appearances are what make the campaign credible.
“Success begets more success,” Polisky said.
It’s true for both the marketing perspective, and recruiting.
“They want to go to an institution where there is a lot of fan support and school spirit,” Phillips said.
He said that school spirit comes primarily from the students.
“That’s what makes college athletics and college sports the very best around,” he said. “It’s because of the student involvement and the student spirit and the school spirit. Though we may have a smaller student population than our big ten peers, their influence and their involvement is really making the difference.”
And that’s how students get to be a part of Chicago’s Big Ten team.
Football isn't the only sport benefiting from the new campaign. Attendance at a recent volleyball game was nearly 2,000 people – larger than any game in Northwestern volleyball's history.
The department is now in the process of rolling out a campaign for winter sports featuring the basketball teams.