What did you expect at Fanfest?

By Steve DiMiceli

I've noticed a fairly negative response to the turnout for Fanfest. By my own estimate, I think about 300-400 people and about 25-30 members of the Crew made it out for the festivities. Personally, I enjoyed myself even if there wasn't much at the event to analyze. It was meant to be fun and it certainly was that for me. Most people around me seemed to enjoy themselves and so did the players. Of course, there is a certain segment of the fan base who think the low level attendance is unacceptable. I don't agree. I think this is about the best we can do at the moment .

Let's not beat around a harsh but be very real problem for Duquesne basketball. We're not very relevant within our market. We're not even very relevant on our own campus. In my opinion, we're 8th in the Pittsburgh sports pecking order at the moment which I think looks like this:

1. Steelers
2. Penguins
3. Pirates
4. Pitt Basketball
5. Pitt Football
6. Penn St Football
7. WVU Football
8. Duquesne Basketball

You might be able to make the argument that we're as high as 6th since our games are broadcast on FM and we have the coach's shows broadcast on ESPN 970. However, there is next to no dialogue about us in the sports talk media. Sure we get the occasional scathing column and plenty of angst when the athletic department dares to be more than mediocre, but outside of our most hardcore fanbase, no one knows or cares about the goings on at Duquesne beyond watershed events. And this group includes our own alums. I can't tell you how many times I see a 30 something Duquesne classmate of mine sporting Pitt gear at the City Game or telling me, "this is the one game a year I root against Pitt." I interpret that to mean "I could give a crap about Duquesne the rest of the year because I'm really a Pitt fan."

Even if it sucks, I don't blame our alums for being Pitt fans or the media ignoring us. We haven't done much to keep our graduates loyalty and  the media isn't going to make a lot of money pushing Duquesne stories. I know this first hand. There is only one way to fix our attention deficit, raise our profile, restore the programs place in the local sports scene and get fans excited again. Win. Money spent on advertising is a waste at this point. Money spent on promotional events is a waste. When the program begins to win meaningful games and the brand improves nationally, the athletic department needs to begin to take advantage of it with more back end promotions. However, they're useless now and I think our athletic department gets this. After all, they spent a ton or money when they believed Ron Everhart couldn't take the program any further rather than retaining him and spending a whole lot on advertising to try to convince the public he could.

I mean for the piece to be more a reality check than a condemnation of the program, but seriously what have we done in the last 6 years that is really going to catch anyone's attention? People ask "where were the students at fanfest?" The freshman during the run to the NIT championship have graduated. The current group of kids on campus has seen winning basketball and their share of March collapses. I can't imagine there is a lot of talk about this team around campus when a lot of hardcore fans of the past 30 years are having a difficult time getting the nerve up to get behind the program right now. At this moment, there are no recognizable players for the casual fan and a ton of uncertainty surrounding this program. Donald Draper would have a difficult time selling the program to alums let alone students.

There needs to be a serious culture change around the men's basketball program and it starts with winning. Winning earns the trust of the scorned alums following the Everhart firing and it helps to restore the faith of those too squeamish to deal with the possibility of regression under Jim Ferry. Playing in the NCAA tournament increases our brand recognition and will lead to increased applications. It's not just a pipe dream. This happens. It's why schools across the country are investing in athletics. When kids start applying to Duquesne because they learned about us through the basketball program, they will come to more games. If we start going to the NCAA tournament regularly and winning the occasional City Game, the casual Pittsburgh fan will begin paying attention and we'll start drawing some of our alums back from Pitt.

 At this point in our history, I think we should be grateful that 300-400 people and 25-30 students showed for a meaningless event on a Friday night. It took 30 years to destroy the culture around Duquesne basketball completely and it's going to take a lot more than 5 seasons hovering around .500 and 100 RPI to restore it. The culture was destroyed by losing and the only way to fix it is to win at much higher rate. We'll convince fans to come back in small waves rather than in one big tsunami. The foundation has been laid with the upgraded facilities completed, a reputation that has improved from terrible to mediocre and a new, better coach hired.  I don't think what happens at the AJ Palumbo Center in 2012-2013 will do much to improve the brand or fan interest, but what happens in recruiting and with player development can. The conditions are set for a culture shift, but if you're looking for instant gratification you might want to go to McDonald's rather than a Duquesne game. Now, its just a matter of being patient and supportive for those of us still around. We're going to have to wait for the ideal program and culture to return, because we're probably still another 5 years away from the atmosphere we're hoping for on an optimistic timeline. It's not going to come back any other way but through sustained  and meaningful success.