State of the brand: Michigan Wolverines

August, 14, 2012
8/14/12
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Editor's note: RecruitingNation is taking a look at the state of each team's brand.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- There was little doubt that after a three-year stint under Rich Rodriguez that the Michigan football brand was struggling. Games were harder to sell out, the program wasn’t appealing to top recruits and the overall glow was fading.

So when athletics director Dave Brandon arrived in Ann Arbor in January 2010, he knew a few things needed to change.

“We have such international reach,” Brandon said of Michigan’s brand. “Our alums are scattered all over the world and they care a lot about what we do here as a university and certainly, what we do as an athletic department so we try very, very hard to build that brand on the fact that it’s global and it’s a big brand and it’s one that’s highly recognized and highly respected.”

In December 2010, Hunter Lochmann was hired as the university’s first-ever chief marketing officer. Between Lochmann’s sports experience (more than a decade in NBA marketing) and Brandon’s business experience, the two looked to grow the Michigan sports brand.

“Having been here 16 years and seeing what we’ve evolved into in the last few, you look at the way we market now and the way we marketed in the past and it’s night and day,” associate athletics director Dave Ablauf said. “They’re a dynamic duo.”

Lochmann integrated new ticket packages for fans, evolved the digital side of marketing and upped the ante for social media to the point that nearly every sport at Michigan now has its own Facebook page and Twitter handle.

Exposure was increased, but driving the force of football (which drives the force of Michigan athletics) was the new face of the program, head coach Brady Hoke.

From the moment he stepped in the door, he brought with him a confidence reminiscent of the storied Bo Schembechler years at Michigan, which fans loved.

Hoke’s “For god’s sake, this is Michigan,” seemed to hit home with Michigan fans as a battle cry for the resurgence of a struggling team. Team 132, as he called his squad, backed that up on the field and with the school’s first BCS Bowl win in more than a decade.

And, as Lochmann would say, “Winning cures everything.”

Which is partly true. There’s no doubt the winning has helped. Ticket applications were at an all-time high leading into the 2012 season, and the buzz around the program seems to have grown louder and louder every day as the season opener against Alabama nears.

The Wolverines’ fan day on Sunday hosted more than 10,000 Michigan fans that just wanted to meet the players.

But Hoke has had his part in the flavor of the brand. In his second year, there has seemed to be an even greater homage paid to the history of the storied program. Legacy patches have been installed on the program’s retired jerseys, which will now be brought back into circulation. And echoes of Schembechler’s teachings resound louder than ever.

“The culture that Brady has created is clearly one about embracing the past and respecting the legacies of the players that were here long before the players that are here today,” Brandon said. “He has done that from the day he arrived.”

Tempering that old-school trend is still a desire from Brandon, Lochmann and Hoke to innovate. The 2011 matchup against Notre Dame, which was the school’s first night game, was a raging success, both financially and emotionally, for the players and fans.

And with a neutral-site night game against the reigning national champions, Michigan will continue to innovate, bringing its brand wherever it can while still keeping in mind the program’s tradition.

And if there’s one thing to be sure of, it’s that Hoke has made it a mission to bring this program and brand back to the forefront of everyone’s minds.

“I don't know why anybody wouldn't respect whenever anybody says, ‘This is Michigan,’ ” Hoke said. “It's Michigan football. It's 11 national championships, 42 Big Ten championships.”

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