Hoops Program Looks To Reach Out To Fans

A few years back there was a perception that Duke Basketball was unaccessible to all but a select few. Over the last few years, however, there has been a comprehensive effort to change that view from within. TDD spoke with David Bradley, the program's recruiting coordinator and editor of Duke Blue Planet to learn more.

TDD: What was the catalyst for the program working to become more accessible to the fan base and national audience at large?

David Bradley: With so many other people out there telling our story both positively and negatively in a number of different forums, it makes sense for us to have a direct voice as well and look to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to how we communicate and connect with fans. Obviously, in the past five years, technology has evolved and there are a number of ways to help us do this that weren't out there in the past. In general, Duke Basketball has always looked to set the standard, and in this example we are working hard to do that by using the latest technology, making our team more accessible, and humanizing and promoting our players in unique ways.

Did the negative perception of Duke in the media help spur this effort forward?

Duke Basketball has been a program America loves to hate since the early 90s and as long as we are winning and representing Duke at the highest level, the critics will continue. 2009 is different from 1992 or 1999 though with the proliferation of online communication providing so many forums for the critics to communicate. We can use the same channels -- Website, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook -- to get our message out, share our story and communicate with fans.

In addition to being the team America loves to hate we are also America's most popular team according to two different national surveys. With Duke University's international development this decade and Coach K's role with USA Basketball, Duke Basketball has global influence and we realize we can go online to reach this massive sphere. The Duke Family worldwide has so much strength, talent and passion, and it is an huge honor knowing that Duke Basketball can play a role in uniting and energizing that incredible group.

But was there one particular incident or experience where the program's brass decided 'we need to make this effort and make it fast?'?

The 2007 season brought out the worst animosity and it was really noticeable on the road and on the web. After that season ended, our coaches were primarily concerned for our players and their experience at Duke. Coach K suggested we explore all kinds of new options, including a website. I remember a specific staff meeting where we talked about our reception at the NCAA Tournament and just in general as the season wound down. From that point forward, I think everyone in the program has been on a mission to tell our story, connect with fans and identify ways to show what Duke is really all about. It is has been an on-going process where you learn, adjust and make progress -- It's not something you figure out overnight. We have built up so much equity in the mission since that meeting in 2007 and I think you are really starting to see a tangible impact whether that is online, on campus, in Cameron, in recruiting, etc.

To date what are some specific mile markers that have been met on this project?

The first step was taking Blue Planet online. Blue Planet started as a magazine with a limited reach but so many good stories being told. We brought that to life on the web in a number of different ways, and you can now find our Duke Basketball content not only on DukeBluePlanet.com but also on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, iTunes and our photo site. We were the first college basketball program to do that and we now have real estate online where fans of all ages spend their time. These outlets have facilitated productive and meaningful two-way communication with fans all over the world. A cool recent development was Coach K starting a video blog. The player video blogs have been popular and in general we have tried to provide fans with a more intimate, behind-the-scenes look into the program through videos, pictures and stories.

Another big development was this year's Countdown to Craziness and Open House the next day. The feedback from those events has been phenomenal and our players really enjoyed last weekend. Our ticket office took CTC and the first two exhibition games off the season-ticket package so for the first time in a long time, there are thousands of seats available to a Duke game in Cameron. There are a number of other great community events and programs we've always done that we continue to do like Read With the Blue Devils, open practices, camps and clinics, events at the Emily K Center, School Days at Duke, pep talks on campus with our coaches, autographing, and visits to the Children's Hospital. And there are an incredible number of ways Coach K touches fans and supporters all over the world that people never see where he makes a phone call, writes a letter, speaks to a group, goes out and meets somebody, etc.

I would encourage every Duke fan to stop by the Emily K Center some time. They are making a gigantic difference in Durham and I can't imagine a community center having more of an impact in this country. The staff over there is incredible and the facility is impressive.

What are some of the next steps you guys hope to take in the future?

We have some great plans in the works to continue to build on the momentum, including but not limited to:

  • Building an email list to send emails to fans from coaches and staff
  • New home page for DukeBluePlanet.com
  • Hopefully the finest roster in the history of online player rosters
  • Virtual Cameron with clickable elements on DukeBluePlanet.com
  • Weekly Twitter contest
  • New blog network with a variety of bloggers from within our program headlined by Coach K and also including Coach Wojo and Coach Collins, Kyle and Casey, Nolan, one of our managers, our trainers Nick and Jose, the Blue Devil, the Crazies and a few others)
  • A new Twitter channel that includes all our Twitter "insiders"
  • Retro Duke video player that features a number of our great plays, shots and moments from the past
  • Blue Planet grassroots events... When I was a student, my best two off-court Duke Basketball memories were getting a ball signed by Coach K and talking with him for a minute as a freshmen, and then playing NBA Live with Chris Duhon in his dorm. We want to replicate these types of situations where you involve smaller numbers and more intimate connections that you are likely to remember. For example, we may set up a hoop one day out on the BC Walkway or a quad and not publicize it much outside of Twitter. People walking by can take a few shots to win a prize with help from a player or two.
  • Our promotions staff and the line monitors are working extremely hard to create the best possible atmosphere before games for the Crazies. Instead of waiting in line huddled on the cold sidewalk, you may have the option to grill and hang out (while still being considered in line). They are working on adjusting some of the K-Ville rules overall so the pre-game experience is less of a survival test and more of a fun social experience.
  • Short weekly Internet show hosted by our players called Duke Hoop beginning in January

We have received emails from fans all over the world over the past few years in response to Blue Planet and other events we have done. The random email is really the best compliment where someone actually took the time to write four or five paragraphs out of the blue. Just during this past weekend, we got over 100 emails in addition to great in-person feedback at CTC and the Open House. I just read one in my in-box from a fan who drove 700 miles from New York to attend. And one of the great highlights of the weekend for me was meeting a fan who came in all the way from Las Vegas for CTC and touring her around because she had won a DBP Twitter contest. In general, meeting and hearing from fans who are as passionate about Duke Basketball as we are is the best part of the job. The program is a family and fans like these are a part of it. I feel like all the negativity and resentment towards our program and the reactions we get on the road actually makes our family stronger and die-hard Duke fans have a stronger instant bond.

One thing that has been noticeable is the way the players are embracing this. A lot of their personalities appear to be coming out with the increased visibility.

With so many games on ESPN, there is a perception that Duke Basketball is this intense machine. When the ball is in play, our coaches and players have always brought a great focus. People rarely got to see the other side we are fortunate to see every day here at the office. Our guys have fun, they have great personalities, and they enjoy Duke. One of the first things we did to humanize our players and show the off-court side were the video blogs on DBP where we turned over the camera to them.

The recent Duke Improv (DUI) videos are another example where the finished product showed a great sense of humor and our players enjoyed the process. You should have seen Kyle at the Duke Lemur Center. The animals were jumping inches away from his head while he was feeding them, and then he had to stage a lemur chase. He had never been over to the lemur center before and I had never been inside the cages. We both were smiling the whole time and having a great time with the Duke Improv members.

Another example was when we filmed our hype video. It was a perfect night and our guys were loving playing outside. Half the team stayed after to get more shots up. In general, the guys are a lot different when they aren't in "interview mode" and I think people are seeing more and more that they are fun college kids in addition to talented basketball players who take pride in the name on the front of the jersey.

Which players seem to be taking the lead on this kind of thing?

Nolan is a delight for me because he provides instant entertainment and is always willing to help. As he says, "Nolan loves the camera and the camera loves Nolan." Lance is also really comfortable on both sides of the camera, and the three freshmen are showing some great early signs. Whenever we do Blue Planet "media" with the players, we want it be different and more fun than the standard post-game interviews and press conferences. When the players are having fun, fans will have fun right with them.

Speaking of Nolan. The Titanic scene…really?

The scene showed great confidence by Nolan and he is probably the only guy who could pull that off - and obviously he was wearing shorts.

On a broader level though, we aren't in the business of making decisions based on the expected reaction of opposing fan bases. Duke Improv included it in the script, and we trust them to create both hilarious and appropriate situations. From there, Nolan was willing to do it, and it was part of an event where we were trying to be fun, entertaining and at times outrageous. Whatever comes of that sign on the road will be a lot more tame than many of the other stunts we have seen.

On the flip side of this effort, is there every a worry that too much information will get out?

There are concerns because information can be posted in an instant and spread like wildfire. At the same time, you don't want to stifle guys from doing things they enjoy and that fans also may appreciate. In general, it is an on-going process identifying the latest communication tools and evaluating how we use them as a program and how our players use them.

You mentioned Duke Blue Planet a while back. What exactly is DBP?

Blue Planet is basically our program's online platform to communicate our story and interact with fans. It started out as a magazine and now includes a website, Facebook page, Twitter account, iTunes podcast, and photo site. We have a variety of behind-the-scenes videos and photos, a blog, all kinds of information on our program, and we still produce eight issues per year of the magazine. We are the only athletics program in the country with our own in-house publication and one of only a few programs with our own website (we were the first in college basketball).

Fans can subscribe to the magazine for the cost we pay to print and ship it, and everything else is free with no ads. Blue Planet is purely a destination for all Duke fans to share in the passion, excitement and pride that comes with representing this program and this university. We hope fans come to identify Duke Basketball through Blue Planet as fun, intimate, current, unique, and tradition-rich.

For those readers and fans who aren't familiar with the various media outlets the program offers, where could they go?

What They're Saying:
"We continue to evolve as a program in a constantly changing environment. One of the biggest changes that we have to attempt the find the right balance on is how to deal with "the game around the game" - the 24 hour news cycle, the availability of information/misinformation via the internet, the demands place on our players, how to maintain and improve traditions so they fit "today's" world etc... - while serving our players, Duke Athletics, and Duke University in the best possible manner. We have added a number of new things in recent years including Duke Blue Planet, our in house website, which has been a huge success. This season, we have added a opening season event and an open house that has gotten our season off to a great start. We will continue to try to find ways to connect with our fans, locally and globally." - Duke Associate Head Coach Steve Wojciechowski

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