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MUNCIE – The Ball State football team impressed a lot of people a year ago when it came off of a total of six wins over two seasons combined to win that many in coach Pete Lembo’s first season with the program.
Today those same players and coaches are going to try and make an impression off of the field, which Lembo believes is just as important as scoring touchdowns and making tackles.
For the second consecutive year, those involved with the Cardinal program will take to the streets and businesses of Muncie as part of the “Paint the Town Red” program. The first session will be in downtown Muncie at noon, with a second session (dubbed “Paint the South Side Red”) at 6 p.m. on the south side of the city.
“Our guys will get into their jerseys and take posters, schedule cards, like they are running for (political) office,” Lembo explained. “They are going to go into places and introduce themselves, shake hands and let people know that we want to see them in the stands.”
Therein lays the problem for the Cardinals.
Following a tremendous two-loss season of 2008, the Cardinals rebounded with just two wins in 2009 and the interest in the program plummeted into a public relations nightmare.
Lembo, who earned a degree in marketing from one of the elite academic institutions of this country (Georgetown), has worked tirelessly to reverse that trend, which saw the program rank dead last in attendance at the FBS level in 2010 with less than 9,000 fans attending each home game.
Through the efforts of the Cardinal coaches, players and athletic department, the attendance at Schuemann Stadium last fall improved to over 10,000 fans per game, but still lags behind much of the Mid-American Conference programs. However, in Ball State’s defense, the MAC perennially is the worst conference at the FBS level in attendance, so it isn’t like the Cardinals are dragging down the league to a large extent.
How serious is Lembo about marketing the football program? He and his staff recently got up early and went to a McDonald’s in Muncie and served customers to get the word out about his team.
“I really don’t think of it as marketing,” Lembo said. “I just think of it as the right way to do things.”
The Ball State players and coaches won’t stop after today either. On Tuesday, they will bus over to Anderson to the Indianapolis Colts training camp and not only watch the team practice, but mingle among the fans in attendance to let them know that watching football isn’t limited to just Sundays.
A celebration for fans will be held on Saturday at Schuemann Stadium at 5 p.m., where fans can walk onto the field with the players and get autographs, while next Wednesday, the players will help the incoming freshmen at Ball State move into their dorm rooms.
“We want to be a very, very visible part of this university,” Lembo said. “And we want to reach out and touch as many people as we can and make them feel like they are a part of what is going on. If we do that, the residual effect that you’ll see is more fans in the stands on Saturdays.”