HATTIESBURG – The University of Southern Mississippi loves to label its football seasons with marketing slogans. You might remember “Sell Out ‘95” or perhaps
“9-9-99” and my personal favorite “Rock Solid.”
The slogans help sell the season, creating excitement and raising the expectations of a successful season.
Then came the “Gold Rush.” “Gold Rush?” “Prospecting for gold?” What was this all about? The Liberty Bell isn’t gold, neither is the Mobile Bowl. This isn’t the
Olympics. No one receives a medal following a victory on the gridiron.
“Gold Rush” would have been great if it referred to the running combo of Derrick Nix and Dawayne Woods. It would have been decent if it referenced the imposing
defense an opposing quarterback has to face down after down.
But let’s admit it, “Gold Rush” was a misnomer until the Alabama victory. Now, the university is rolling in gold. The Eagle’s victory over the Crimson Tide was money,
plain and simple.
Make no mistake, USM’s traditional trip to Alabama has always been about money. The university pockets a tidy sum for each trip to Tuscaloosa, more than they’d
make for a game in Hattiesburg. Sure, the university also receives some healthy exposure and the usual moral victory, but exposure and warm fuzzies don’t help make
This time was different.
A typical Southern fan’s reaction to the first weeks of the Golden Eagle’s football schedule is as tepid as a crisp fall day. They wait out the first couple away games,
waiting for an indication of how the team will do for the season.
Historically, the Eagles return to Hattiesburg with a pair of losses to ranked, but not superior, opponents. Fans, disappointed that the Eagles couldn’t get over the
hump, decide to stay home on Saturdays, content to watch Mississippi’s other teams on TV.
Meanwhile, Southern wins again, and again, and again, and again, and again and again and again and suddenly they’re ranked higher than the northern Mississippi
Unfortunately, you wouldn’t know this success by looking at the stands. Try to get a ticket when Ole Miss or State is 5-1 or 6-2 and you’ll realize it’s almost
impossible. At Southern, you can have tickets on the 40-yard line.
Southern fans, except the diehards who purchase their season tickets in April, can’t commit. Just look at the fraction of season tickets USM sells compared to its
This season will be different.
There’s an excitement in Hattiesburg. It’s the kind of excitement that usually inhabits places like Gainesville and Tallahassee, Oxford and Starkville. It’s the kind of
excitement that fills stadiums and purchases merchandise. It’s the kind of excitement that loosens pocketbooks.
People like to associate with success, or, at least, the perception of success. At the Ferlise Center, ticketsellers are seeing something they haven’t seen in years –
lines. Since the Monday following the Birmingham Blowout, people have been stacked in lines sometimes 10 deep and it’s only getting busier as Memphis approaches.
At Disc Jockey, located just outside Dillard`s in the Turtle Creek Mall, fans are utilizing the Ticketmaster outlet at a fairly steady pace to purchase their seats. One
first-timer expressed outrage that she couldn’t get field level seats on the 50-yard line. Diehards, it looks as if you’re finally going to have some company for a few
Saturdays this year.
It’s not just tickets that are selling. The University Bookstore on campus ordered 250 Victory over Bama shirts featuring a baby crying. Sold. Another 250. Sold.
Another 250. Come and get them.
More advertisers, particularly regional outlets, are seeking to advertise at and during USM games. Clients who previously had turned down USM and their marketing
partner ISP Sports, which ironically is also Alabama’s sports marketing partner, are now calling, seeking advertising space.
The victory over Alabama was the validation of USM’s program to people outside of Hattiesburg. They realize the importance of the win and are being turned onto
the university’s success as a whole and are investing in it.
Now if the fans do the same, filling the stadium in a blinding sea of gold apparel game after game, then “Gold Rush” will be more than a slogan that underlines the
financial prospect of sport, but instead demonstrates that USM’s fans are as good as gold, supporting their team no matter who the opponent.
Let the “Gold Rush” begin.
Matt Martin is advertising director for Cellular One in Hattiesburg and is a regular contributor to the Mississippi Business Journal.
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