Marek Warszawski

No matter how inspirational, new Bulldogs marketing video only rubs dirt on deeper issue

Fresno State Athletics’ marketing campaign: Pride of the Valley

Fresno State Athletics has released a marketing campaign video intended to highlight pride in the central San Joaquin Valley and motivate citizens to support Bulldogs athletics and become season ticket holders.
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Fresno State Athletics has released a marketing campaign video intended to highlight pride in the central San Joaquin Valley and motivate citizens to support Bulldogs athletics and become season ticket holders.

It’s a marketing tool designed to make Fresno State fans feel all warm and fuzzy. Leave them with a collective lump in their throats.

Sweeping music. Drone-captured images of ag fields and local landmarks. Clips of sweaty Bulldogs athletes interspersed with smiling fans and donors. All backed by a serious, authoritative voice-over uttering inspirational catchphrases.

“Throughout history, Valleys have served as a source of life, a source of purpose.”

“From the Valley comes resolve. From the Valley comes opportunity.”

“They want to divide us. Point to what makes us different. But the Valley unites us.”

The 2-minute 20-second video serves as the kickoff to Fresno State’s new “Pride of the Valley” athletics marketing campaign along with freeway billboards, campus banners and 2,000 lawn signs.

Since its release last week, the video received hundreds of thousands of views on social media and near-universal praise in the comments section. (In 2019, far from a sure thing.)

According to Frank Pucher, Fresno State’s senior associate athletics director for external relations, the level of engagement likely ranks second only to the Bulldogs’ overtime victory in the Mountain West championship game against longtime nemesis Boise State.

That’s the good news. Fresno State produced a high-quality marketing video – reminiscent of what the Fresno Foxes are doing, if you ask me – that fired up its fan base and garnered tons of praise.

Except the bigger picture is far from rosy. The athletic department just spent $50,000 (including tradeouts and partnerships) on a video that won’t result in a groundswell of new season-ticket packages for Bulldogs football. Or fill the lower bowl at Save Mart Center. Or address the growing disconnect between Fresno State sports and younger generations of fans.

Again, it’s a very good video. But the messaging feels targeted to reach the faithful and inspire the faithful, a group that seems to be getting smaller by the year judging by declining attendance at football and men’s basketball even though both have been successful.

What about the casual fan, those with only a passing interest in Bulldogs sports, or millennials who would rather follow games on their phones than buy a ticket? Not sure this video, or lawn signs, does much for them.

To his credit, Pucher acknowledges these limitations and pledges this is only the first step of a larger plan. Fair enough. However, I disagree with his assessment that the Bulldogs brand has become “somewhat diluted” and in need of a reset.

It’s understandable why Pucher, as well as Athletic Director Terry Tumey, might feel that way. Both are relatively new to town and eager to make their mark.

Fresno State fans, on the other hand, have decades-long memories. Their feelings toward Bulldogs sports are shaped over a lifetime of personal experiences, regardless of the latest marketing slogan.

As has been well documented, during the last 15 to 20 years Fresno State athletics has gone from an entity that generates the bulk of its revenues from ticket sales to one that relies heavily on university subsidies. Even then, revenues fall short of expenses.

Then there’s the difficulty of raising enough money to cover scholarships and cost-of-attendance stipends. If the Bulldog Foundation continues to dip into its endowment to cover annual overhead, before long there won’t be anything left in the piggy bank.

These are the icebergs the good ship SS Bulldog must avoid – or else face drastic cutbacks that President Joseph Castro doesn’t seem to have the stomach for. He does like to be well-liked.

The reason fewer fans are attending Bulldogs football games isn’t because they’re confused by the brand. It’s because the place is dilapidated and customer averse. Older fans can’t negotiate the stairways and steep ramps. Younger fans can’t post their selfies and Instagram stories because of inadequate Wi-Fi. And no one wants to venture into those nasty restrooms.

At Save Mart Center, the deal between the athletic department and the auxiliary corporation that runs the arena practically ensures the Bulldogs can’t make hay. Or at least not enough to justify a large reinvestment in the program. Which is why the nonconference schedule is filled with Tennessee-Martins and Prairie View A&Ms.

There are solutions to these problems; each costs money. But since Fresno State can’t afford the real fixes, they rub some dirt on it with a feel-good marketing campaign and video.

Which, by the way, was primarily shot and produced by the university’s brand management and marketing team. Why not the athletic department? Due to budget cuts, Bulldogs athletics doesn’t have its own staff videographer. Nor does it have a graphics designer. (Note: The original version of this column incorrectly said the video was shot by an athletic department intern.)

My purpose in pointing out these things isn’t to bag on Fresno State or the Pride of the Valley campaign. The video, as I wrote earlier, is well-produced and inspirational. Hundreds hit “like” and shared it on Facebook. Which is fantastic.

But the slide of Bulldogs athletics is less about branding and more about a lack of investment in facilities while the department lives beyond its means with 21 sports it can’t adequately support. No marketing blitz can change that.

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Marek Warszawski writes opinion columns on news, politics, sports and quality of life issues for The Fresno Bee, where he has worked since 1998. He is a Bay Area native, a UC Davis graduate and lifelong Sierra frolicker. He welcomes discourse with readers but does not suffer fools nor trolls.