After arriving from the University of Maryland in August 2013, Katie Thompson has brought her ambition to tackle TU’s unique challenges. In her role as TU’s Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing, Thompson hopes to dramatically improve the atmosphere, attendance and traditions of TU sports.
Last summer, TU transitioned from C-USA to the more prestigious AAC. After nearly a year in its new home, Tulsa’s marketing resources are dwarfed by those of the rest of the conference. As Assistant Athletic Director Marketing, Thompson is the only full-time employee in TU Athletics’ marketing department. According to Thompson, the next smallest staff in the AAC is Temple’s, with three full-time marketing employees. Unsurprisingly, the department has a relatively small budget.
The Tulsa Golden Hurricane suffers from an unestablished brand identity. Fans, Tulsans, sportscasters and even students mistakenly pluralize Hurricane.
“SA made t-shirts that said ‘Lady Canes’,” said Thompson in reference to SA-made t-shirts handed out at a women’s basketball game.
After years of different coaches utilizing different logos, TU has uniformly adopted the Tulsa script and flag logo as its primary. A supposedly new logo, leaked during last summer, does not appear to be in TU’s future.
“It’s safe to assume that the Tulsa script and flag will be front-and-center for years to come,” said Thompson.
Despite past pushes to encourage fans to wear blue to sporting events, Thompson saw room for improvement.
“It was amazing to me how many people did not know to wear blue to the games,” quipped Thompson.
For her first full year on the job, Thompson commissioned well-received athletics posters which read, “Be here. Wear blue.” According to Thompson, the posters, along with other marketing initiatives, have dramatically increased the number of fans wearing blue.
In comparison to Maryland, TU Athletics’ marketing department carries a “much much smaller budget,” according to Thompson.
Understandably, the small, private school brings in much less revenue than Maryland’s flagship institution. Nonetheless, Thompson doesn’t view the tight budget as an excuse. Instead, she has utilized TU’s limited funds to try to attract as many fans as possible.
As a prestigious, private institution, the University of Tulsa has an air of exclusivity that doesn’t plague the inclusive nature of schools like the University of Oklahoma. As noted by Thompson, this exclusivity can be attractive, while it may alienate other fans.
“Tulsa has been trying to find a happy middle of the Ivy League of the Midwest and then inclusive to the surrounding areas, to the people who haven’t gone here,” explained Thompson.
White billboards, mimicking the design of this year’s posters, have been plastered around town. Wendy’s tray liners advertise the school. Doorhangers don Tulsa’s apartments. And mail is sent to new Tulsa transplants, encouraging them to make TU their hometown team. Strategic ticket plans offer tickets to games during OU’s off weeks.
Notably, Thompson doesn’t focus solely on Tulsans but also on TU students. She often employs the help of student-athletes to hand out pizzas at Greek houses. Near the time of the Chinese New Year, marketing handed out t-shirts celebrating the holiday, in an effort to attract more Chinese students to the basketball games. Primarily, Thompson has ensured that all students know about a game.
“[Students] may not come, but I’m going to make sure that nobody has a reason to say that they didn’t know there was a game,” said Thompson.
Emails have been upgraded both in quality, from html text to colorful graphics, and in quantity. Countless signs and posters around campus announce each major sporting event.
During the last regular season game for men’s basketball, Thompson enlisted fourteen football players for a halftime dance, introducing what she hopes to be an annual tradition. Having previously instituted the “Wave the Flag” tradition, Thompson hopes to next revitalize the fight song.
Undoubtedly, student and crowd involvement in the fight song is weak. Few students know the tune, let alone the lyrics. To combat this, Thompson aims to integrate arm motions or other activities into the song.
With experience as Maryland’s director of marketing, Thompson has begun to address TU’s unique problems, offering creative solutions. As TU athletics upgraded from C-USA to the AAC, so has the program upgraded with its marketing director.
“I wanted a challenge. I wanted something that would be different than what I was used to,” said Thompson.
So far, despite even higher expectations at TU than at Maryland, Thompson has begun to reinvigorate TU Athletics. With dynamic new ideas and creative solutions, TU fans and students should look forward to the manifestation of Thompson’s visions.