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The Bradsher Beat
Tuesday, March 26, 2013

By Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher

P.R. Machine running fast break

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

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Myatt's Inside Game Day: ECU zone slows Greyhounds

Post-game audio: ECU coach Jeff Lebo...

Post-game audio: Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos...

Post-game audio: ECU players Maurice Kemp & Robert Sampson... Tournament Scoreboard & Schedule

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GREENVILLE — Every Tuesday night in Mendenhall Student Center, quite a number of East Carolina students gather for a group called College Life. But last night College Life's regular meeting room was empty, its members displaced to the student section at Minges Coliseum.

The Pirate basketball team has played on several other Tuesdays this season, and this is the first time College Life has changed its plans in deference to a game. That development, says ECU director of marketing Scott Wetherbee, represents the kind of culture shift coming out of the Pirates’ involvement with a tournament known as the CIT.

With a resounding 70-58 victory over Loyola (MD) on Tuesday night, the Pirates found themselves in unknown territory — competitive basketball with April just around the corner. And with another home game on Saturday, the Pirate Nation is squeezing every drop out of the experience.

Naysayers will dismiss the Tournament as too obscure to deserve notice, but Wetherbee and his staff have taken the opposite approach. Shortly after ECU accepted a CIT bid and offered to host the first-round game, Wetherbee visited head coach Jeff Lebo in his office and warned him about what was coming: Marketing’s version of the full-court press.

“We’ve done just as much marketing over the last 10 days as we did all year,” Wetherbee said. “We’re trying to get people here and trying to get people excited and get them on board. Our biggest thing is, these are the small building blocks to building a program.”

Their efforts have taken many forms: Ticket promotions, robocalls to Pirate Club members with a message from Lebo, videos, tweets and game time activities to keep the crowds engaged. Wetherbee overheard some fans at Saturday’s Rider game commenting on the band holding up giant copies of Lebo and Heather Macy’s heads to distract opposing free-throw shooters. The band has been doing that all year, and it confirmed his hope that this postseason run is reeling in new fans.

“This is giving us the chance to kind of showcase the program and get ready for next year,” he said.

The marketing and event staff at ECU certainly deserves plenty of credit for turning the CIT into a marquee happening, but they are riding the coattails of Lebo and his players as they churn out victories. Each win, as Wetherbee sees it, is another opportunity to propel the Pirate Nation forward.

Article continues after the following picture.

Seniors Miguel Paul (0) and Maurice Kemp fire up the fans during ECU's CIT
quarterfinal win over Loyola (MD) Tuesday night. Students accounted for
a considerable share of the energetic crowd of 4,512. (W.A. Myatt photo)

And then there’s the lightning bolt of fate thrown down in the form of an aeronautic one-handed Maurice Kemp dunk during Saturday’s victory. The dunk electrified the crowd and became must-see YouTube material, but it didn’t stop there. The play made ESPN’s Top 10 Plays of the Week on Monday’s Sportscenter, getting screen time usually reserved only for the darlings of the NCAA tourney.

Wetherbee and his colleagues were thrilled by the ascendancy of Kemp’s clip, but their favorite part of the phenomenon is something only a marketing-minded person would hone in on — the size of the crowd as captured by the camera.

“Several people have said, “It looks like the place was sold out in that video,” he said.

It has been well-documented that East Carolina has to pay upwards of $30,000 per game to host, but ticket sales have been brisk enough to counter that expense, and Wetherbee and other ECU officials are convinced that the upside is considerable. And with at least one more game to host, they plan to roll out the big marketing guns again.

“We already have a plan for Saturday,” he said. “We know what we will roll out and we’ll be ready to go — e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, videos. It’s going to be an uphill battle because of the Easter break, but we’re hoping to get the students to stick around for one more day.”

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03/27/2013 06:22 AM

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