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The New Era: A Plan to Revive the Wake Forest Basketball Student Section

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The Deacon students need a new identity. Let’s talk about how to find it.

Virginia v Wake Forest Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

There’s no mistaking that this has been an unbelievable couple of months for Wake Forest athletics from top to bottom. We’ve seen our football program return to the postseason for the first time since 2011, basketball team receive a bid to the Big Dance, soccer team reach the national title, and so much more. In the DEAC Score formula I created back in August to individually compare Wake Forest sports seasons, 2016-17 is already projected to be one of the best of the last 11 years (and that’s not even including the baseball team scoring runs like they’re going out of style).

But this article isn’t about a statistical look at what these programs have accomplished over the last few months, it is more focused on where one of them in particular is going. With Danny Manning’s squad seemingly at the turning point of a whole new era of success, it is time we start talking about advertising, marketing, and how Wake Forest Basketball can establish itself as a premier brand once again. Whether we want to admit it or not, it all starts with figuring out what to do with Tie Dye Nation.

Duke v Wake Forest Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Part 1: The Time Has Finally Come

As many of you already know, I am a relatively newly minted Wake Forest diehard supporter (Est. 2012). I had no connection to the university prior to being accepted into the school five years ago this August. I can only truly appreciate the madness that was 90’s/00’s Wake Forest Basketball by watching endless Youtube videos and talking to long-time fans who experienced it first hand.

Watching students in gold & black tie-dye jumping around like maniacs as a kid was one of the main reasons Wake Forest popped up on my radar when my college search began in the first place. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and feel the pride every one of those students felt when they showed up to their seats on gameday. Obviously, my experience as a Wake Forest student has been immeasurably different than someone who graduated just a decade ago, and so much has happened since 2010 that has changed the core culture of this fanbase.

Fortunately there we’re plenty of moments this past season that demonstrated Wake Forest students do in fact have a passion for this team (After all, winning changes everything, right?). The Duke and Louisville games particularly come to mind, with fully filled rows, loud chants, and extremely hoarse voices at the end of the 40 minutes each time. But despite having solid numbers in the seats, there still is one lurking problem that remains: The student section right now desperately lacks an identity.

After years of slowly eroding due to poor product on the floor, the presence of Tie Dye in the crowd is unfortunately gone. Its demise was the by-product of one of the most dramatic falls from grace in ACC basketball history that plagued our prestigious program nearly 7 years ago. A theme that once symbolized strength in numbers and passion soon became associated with isolation and embarrassment, as on-court and off court performance quickly plummeted to unforeseen depths.

As student attendance dropped, the “eye-popping” Tie Dye shirts were used more as a way to easily identify just how few people cared, rather than its true purpose of showing how much people cared. Seeing that devastating transformation take place season after season was the true, cold reminder that the damage done by Jeff Bzdelik’s arrival was irreversible.

I remember getting my first Tie Dye Nation tee as I arrived in 2013 and thinking to myself I probably should learn how to do laundry if I was going to wear the same shirt 15+ times a year. As I sat down at my first game counting the number of students sharing my attire on 2 hands, it became clear that my vision of what Tie Dye would mean to me would not be the same as it did to many of you. Three graduating classes (with mine set to be the 4th) have now come and gone without Tie Dye Nation being the all-encompassing soul of their Wake Forest Basketball fandom.

Bringing back the theme would have to be a construction project literally from the ground up, and even after hours of intense planning, promotions, and giveaways it still might not end up a success. A comment I heard yesterday about a discussion between the AD and Screamin’ Demons confirmed everything I expected; For now, the student body needs a brand new look, and that is perfectly okay.

It’s not necessarily the students’ fault. We don’t know the feeling those wild and spirited shirts gave to many of you while sitting in the same exact Joel Coliseum seats just moments ago. Transitioning to something new isn’t always easy, but sometimes it’s in everyone’s best interest to simply accept that a change is needed and a new time is upon us. I’m not here to implement the change, but rather start the discussion and get the creative ideas from all of you flowing. The best part about starting with a blank slate is the possibilities available are endless.

The revival of one of the most raucous and passionate student sections in all of college basketball should start right now.

Part 2: Color the Crowd

Over the past few years in college and professional sports you’ve seen a massive shift to teams uniting its fanbase around a single color. The Miami Heat and their “White Out” look during their 2006 run to the NBA Title was the start of a postseason marketing revolution in the sport. During a total rebrand in 2011 the Baltimore Orioles decided to promote the color “orange” as if it was just as important, if not more so, as their new logo itself. The result? A much more united looking environment can now be seen 81 times a year at the beautiful Camden Yards.

(These pictures below were taken on Opening Day at Camden Yards 10 years apart)

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
Oakland Athletics v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Doug Pensinger /Getty Images

There’s a reason why more and more teams are going “All-In” on certain colors. It looks great and once you reach a certain level of participation it becomes exponentially easier to get that next 1, 5, 10% to comply. So if we’re straying away from a two-color Tie Dye mix, it’s time to think about singular options that would be unique, scalable, and Wake Forest relevant.

The three options are evidently this: 1) Unite around white, 1) Unite around gold, or 3) Unite around black. After you break it down, the answer becomes slightly clearer.

For Option 1, the problems uniting around white appear early and often. First and foremost, there is nothing inherently “Wake Forest” about the color white. It’s not even one of the school’s main colors, and it also isn’t particularly unique from the rest of the college basketball landscape. “White-outs” happen all the time throughout the season in the sport and it would be somewhat weird for Wake to simply declare “Every game is a white-out from here on out.” Did I mention it isn’t even one of Wake’s main colors? This isn’t going to fly.

Option 2 has some potential, but it would be far more difficult to pull off on a game-to-game basis. There’s the problem that not everyone owns something gold in their wardrobe, which usually means you aren’t going to have a high participation rate without massive spending on promotions. Unless everyone agrees to always wear the same exact shirt (which is highly unlikely given where the program is right now) you are still going to have a number of people in seats not in the color you want.

Problem 2 arises when you realize there are a ton of different shades of gold, and “Dress in gold” could be interpreted in a number of ways. Is it college gold? Old gold? The gold from the tie dye shirts? Do people even like to wear gold out that often? In theory it seems nice, but the logistics would be tougher than the final alternative. For a moment, think about your closet and what percentage of your Wake Forest apparel is actually gold. That % is where the difficulty lies.

Which leaves us with Option 3: Create an entire marketing campaign around the color black and let the fans do the rest. Just look at some of the main benefits of this option:

1. Even if you have 30% of the student section that doesn’t want to wear the main shirt, many can still be “in theme” simply by dressing in black apparel. After all, it’s a lot easier to convince someone to wear black if the shirt doesn’t interest them, than to wear a specific color of gold that they might not even own.

2. All black is unique to the ACC and college basketball in general. By my count, only one other High Major program uses black as the main color of its student section on a consistent basis (Purdue). No other ACC teams use black as their main color. However, fellow ACC program Pittsburgh and its “Oakland Zoo” has used Old Gold for its student section’s shirts since 2001.

3. Finally, it’s what the students are calling for. I conducted two polls this week: One on Twitter and one separately for current Wake Forest students. The demographics of the polls are very different from each other as you would expect. Here are the results:

General Twitter Poll:

Current Student Poll:

It’s fascinating to see the mirror image of the responses between current students and the general Wake fan population in terms of preference. Over 23 of students would prefer a switch to black or gold, and despite 44% of Twitter users requesting a return to Tie Dye, the majority still are looking for a shift of some kind (Gold, Black, or White). I personally think black offers the perfect combination of being unique, easy to coordinate, and appropriate for the school. There are pros and cons to each option, but at the end of the day if the students are the ones that are going to be wearing the shirts, it is they who should get to select the distinct look that represents them.

Louisville v Wake Forest Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Part 3: I’m a member of the _________?

If we’re going to take this rebrand even one step further, let’s talk about what the new, revamped section could be called to fully get people on board. The following is a list of names I’ve seen, heard, or developed in the last couple of days that I thought would be interesting to present to the community. More suggestions in the comment section are overwhelmingly encouraged.

“The Forest Fanatics”- It references passion, Wake, and obviously is fairly easy to remember. This could also be rearranged into something like “The Fanatic Forest” if people would prefer. I also saw a recommendation for just “The Forest” on Monday night. Of course, an ESPN announcer saying “And there’s The Forest supporting Wake Forest” doesn’t roll off the tongue too well, but the name is definitely a great place to start from.

Credit for “The Forest”: Declan Bean, Class of 2017

“The Deac Freaks”- A rhyming student section name at Wake Forest? Stop me if you’ve seen this before. In fact, this was actually the original name of the Screamin’ Demons around 20 years ago. The vibe is almost identical to the one we have now, it just is using the “Deacon” aspect more than the “Demon,” which most fans do anyway. We say “Go Deacs” and not “Go Demons” for a reason after all.

Credit: Noel Shepherd (Twitter: @NazTDeac)

“The Demons’ Den”- This is where the idea goes a little outside of the box. If we’re going for a slightly more menacing look, while still keeping the Demon in the name, this is the way to go. The “Den” is a fairly popular Supporters Section name for soccer clubs around the world (Brisbane Roar, FC Cincinnati, etc), but could also be applied here. It makes the section sound intimidating and borderline crazy. Isn’t that what a supporters group is supposed to sound like?

“The Sanctuary”- Going along with the church themed idea, this one is definitely one of the more unique options that was proposed to me this week. I couldn’t find a single supporters section in any sport that went by this name after about 25 minutes of research. Differentiation is usually good for a brand.

Credit: Eddie Dalrymple, Class of 2018

“Choir From Hell”- I received this submission from a Wake Forest sophomore and received a ton of positive feedback on it. It’s deacon themed, it’s demon themed, and it has the potential to be a whole lot of fun. It’s the type of name that would definitely spread fast on campus and if it gains steam could really become one of the more iconic student sections in the country. I can also see this being an “unofficial” student section name, while another one on this list is the main one.

Credit: Jack Trepp, Class of 2019

“The 34’s”- Going off the year of the original founding of Wake Forest, this would be a way to pay homage to the history of the school itself. You could also potentially have a select group of 34 students that have their own variation of the t-shirts (maybe a patch or emblem on the side) based on consistent support of all Demon Deacon athletics. For example, the 34 students that log the most minutes at sporting events from 2016-17 would get the t-shirt with a special emblem on the side. This could be used as an incentive strategy to reward those that support all Wake Forest sports, not just the most popular ones.

“Screamin’ Demons”- If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Rather than a complete overhaul of the supporters group, simply allowing the Screamin’ Demons to evolve but remain as the face of the fanbase is an incredibly enticing choice as well. Obviously this option requires the least amount of promotional work and is fairly safe given everybody already knows what it is. I’ve never once heard someone say “That’s a bad nickname for a student section.” At the same time, the novelty affect of a brand new name might be just what this program needs to get people to rejoin the organization.

There is still a lot of research left to be done regarding this decision, and I would love to contribute in any way possible in the future if the Athletic Department allows me.

For years our worries weren’t about t-shirt coordination or supporters groups, it was simply trying to get people in the seats by tip-off. Attendance at Wake Forest is certainly a complicated issue that is far from resolved, but the program did reach its best capacity numbers since 2010 this season thanks to improved success on the court. If there was ever a time to go “All-In” on a marketing campaign and get people to fully embrace this age of Demon Deacon basketball, it’s now.

If Wake wants people to take The Joel seriously again, it needs a student fanbase that is more than just 500 randomly assorted students watching the games with their friends. We need to be a united front, and that message has to come from the Athletic Department directly. Give us a vision and a feeling that we can finally be a part of something bigger than ourselves. If we have that, and the Deacs keep trending in the right direction, the rest will soon take care of itself.

This is a great place for you to contribute as a fan as well. There is not doubt that the AD is looking for as much information and market research as possible, and that includes monitoring what is posted here for general tone of the fan base. If you have an idea then drop us a line in the comment section, or feel free to e-mail myself or Riley, and we will pass it along to the AD.

Here’s to being excited about Wake Forest basketball again.

Here’s to having the potential to be fully united as a fanbase again..

Here’s to... The New Era.

—For more frequent updates on Wake Forest recruiting, statistics, and news, you can follow me on Twitter @DeacFan3.