This man wants YOU... to wear gold

Scan the stands at a home game at Vanderbilt Stadium, and you'll see an odd patchwork of black, white and grey, with a smattering of gold. Couple that with the fact that Commodore fans seldom fill their own stadium (and are sometimes outnumbered by fans of the visiting team), and it almost seems to negate any home-field advantage Vandy might have had. Eric Nichols is trying to change that.

Step inside any SEC football stadium (besides Vanderbilt) on the day of a big game, and almost immediately, without fail, you'll be overwhelmed by a single, dominant color worn by the partisan home fans.

It's because at Georgia home games, for example, everyone wears red. No one ever questions it. It's part of the Bulldog culture... if you're a Georgia fan, you wear red! At UK games, it's blue; at Alabama, it's Crimson.

In Knoxville, as we well know, the fans all wear a bilious hue of orange.

Scoff if you will, but there can be little doubt the color schemes have their desired effect. It creates an intimidating presence for visiting teams and their fans, and presents a unified front that gives the home team a perceived psychological edge.

Then there's Vanderbilt. Scan the stands at a home game at Vanderbilt Stadium, and you'll see an odd patchwork of black, white and grey, with a smattering of gold. Couple that with the fact that Commodore fans seldom fill their own stadium (and are sometimes outnumbered by fans of the visiting team), and it almost seems to negate any home-field advantage Vandy might have had.

But Eric Nichols is trying to change that.

Vanderbilt's new Director of Marketing (Nichols replaced Owen Shull a few months ago) has come up with a series of promotions designed to bathe Vanderbilt Stadium in gold for home games this fall.

For instance, at Saturday's opener vs. South Carolina (kickoff 11:30 a.m.) fans will be given a scratch card that could be good for a valuable 1974 replica Vanderbilt football jersey. The catch? Only those fans wearing gold will be eligible to win.

Nichols hopes the promotions will cause fans to don the gaudy color of gold for home games. Nothing, he theorizes, quite makes an "I support the Commodores" statement like a fan dressed in garish gold from head to toe.

"Sometimes marketing ideas are like spaghetti-- you throw it against the wall and see if it sticks," Nichols said. "We've got four colors out there-- white, black, gold and grey, that people wear.

"We figured we'd settle on gold. It's the one that's the most comfortable for a Sept. 4 11:30 game, and not to mention one of our primary colors.

"With our giveaways, we hope we'll be giving people incentives to wear gold. The only way you'll be able to get in on any of our giveaways will be to wear predominantly gold gear."

It's a great idea, I said, but how will you get the message out?

"Every time we see somebody like you at a game, we'll tell you to wear gold. At the gates, we'll tell you to wear gold... well, OK, we'll ask you to wear gold.

"We're just trying to get it out there. Like you, I think everyone is looking for a single direction, and hopefully this will help provide that direction. And that direction is gold."

It's a strategy that worked recently at Auburn. The fan base there was almost evenly divided between orange and blue, until coach Tommy Tuberville grabbed the Tiger by the tail and began encouraging Auburn fans to wear the gaudier orange. Today, Tiger fans present a striking, unified orange front, as fans at the last few Vanderbilt-Auburn games can attest.

The best place for finding gold-colored Vanderbilt apparel? The VU bookstore still has the best selection, but local outlets like You Greek, Me Greek and Sports Seasons have upgraded their inventories lately. Gold shirts and caps should be available at vendor tables outside the stadium on game days.

Nichols was appointed to the Director of Marketing job last spring after spending several years as the "webdude" for the www.vucommodores.com website. For sure, Vanderbilt football isn't the easiest thing in the world to sell to the public-- the team hasn't had a winning season in 22 years-- but Nichols approaches his job with candid, youthful enthusiasm.

"There's been a little bit of a learning curve, but I've been here six years, and I know the market," he says. "Really, you don't have to know a lot about the market. You just ask 'em. And that's what we've done. We've asked everyone, what do we need to do to be successful?"

With Nichols spearheading the promotions, season ticket sales have already surpassed last year's totals and are inching ever closer to the magic 10,000 mark, a number the ticket office hopes to reach by game time on Saturday.

"We started asking, what will it take to get people to buy tickets?" Nichols said. "We did extensive surveys. People said, drop your ticket prices, so we did." (Season tickets are now available for as little as $99.)

"They also said, 'Get the coaches out in the community,' which we did a lot of this summer."

But of course, Nichols and everyone else at Vanderbilt realize that nothing draws fans like a winning football team. Should Bobby Johnson's Commodores upset the Gamecocks on Saturday, it would (at least temporarily) put Vanderbilt atop the SEC East standings, and thrust the Dores into position for their first winning season since 1982.

Can you imagine it? Talk about striking gold.

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Contact Brent at brent(at)VandyMania.com

For season tickets or tickets to Vanderbilt's Sept. 4 opener vs. South Carolina, call the athletic ticket office at 322-GOLD, or log on to vucommodores.com .


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