Fort Wayne 71 – Indiana 68… How does this impact the Mastodons’ Brand?

I know that some of my good friends are not going to like this latest post, but Tuesday’s upset is something I could not not comment on.

For the first two weeks of the College Basketball season, Indiana, one of the standard-bearer brands within the sport, has risen to #3 in the country and became a contender for a #1 seed in March. But Tuesday night, the Hoosiers were stunned by their university “distant cousins”, (Indiana-Purdue) Fort Wayne 71-68.

Indiana will be fine, taking this game as a potential wake-up call for the rest of their non-conference games, including North Carolina next week. Fort Wayne will try to harness this momentum leading to Summit League conference play, a conference where they are expected to contend for an NCAA Tournament birth.

I want to briefly talk about how this Fort Wayne victory will affect their program’s brand going forward and how this win could impact the Mastodons’ national notoriety.

I’ll start off by saying that Fort Wayne receives the distinction of pulling off the first, completely unexpected upset of the 2016-17 College Basketball season. A victory this significant early in the season led to #FortWayne becoming the #1 trending topic on Twitter, top billing on ESPN and the evening/morning SportsCenters and numerous articles from ESPN, Yahoo, FOX Sports, 120Sports, and more announcing to the world who the Mastodons are.

So who are the Mastodons? –

  • Their full name is Indiana University Purdue University in Fort Wayne, IPFW.
  • However, they have rebranded their athletics program solely under the “Fort Wayne” name, taking place just this season. This officially recognizes the university as Fort Wayne, which is an initiative that their conference has tried to install since 2012.

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  • Their head coach, Jon Coffman, is in his third year as HC, but has been with the school since 2011.
  • The Indiana game was played at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, but it is not their everyday home arena!
    • The Hilliard Gates Sports Center is the Mastodons’ normal venue for home basketball games, holding only 2,700 spectators.
    • Allen County Coliseum is the primary events’ venue in the city, hosting various concerts, local D-League and minor league hockey teams.
    • This game was moved in order to accommodate the expected attendance, 13,000, which looking at the broadcast was over ¾ in the favor of Indiana.
  • Fort Wayne has made a postseason tournament the last three seasons, the CIT in ’14 and ’15, along with the NIT last season.
  • They are the defending Summit League regular season champions and are the projected favorites to win the league this season.

Secondly, the fact that Fort Wayne was able to have Indiana come to them for a game is remarkable in this day-n-age of College Basketball. In today’s landscape, the flagship brands of the sport are not willing to visit the smaller schools in their states or regions and give up a potential “easy” home win. Especially when many of these smaller schools are open to taking a payment to play in these games. Coach Coffman acknowledged the Hoosiers’ willingness to make such a trip in his post-game interview, in a very classy statement towards Coach Crean.

Representatives from the city of Fort Wayne, IN, the second biggest city in the state, talked about how important this game was for the city throughout the days leading up to this past Tuesday. The fact that the game was sold out, over 7,000 bought by Indiana, had the city talking about the added revenue this game will bring to the city. From the local restaurants, hotels and other local business that will see successful days due to the visiting Hoosier fans. Coffman’s quote about the city remembering Indiana’s visit for the next 50 years is very true, when you think about what this visit gave to Fort Wayne.

Lastly, I want to look further at what this victory can do for the Fort Wayne program.

One, it solidifies the Mastodons’ brand identity update to “Fort Wayne” through such a national story and social media campaign. That leaves only the local Indiana natives calling the school by its former name of IPFW.

This win gives the Mastodons a moment that the program will be able to use in their marketing strategies for a long time, maybe even the 50 years that Coach Coffman mentioned above.

In addition, they are now a focus on Fort Wayne through the remainder of this season. Fans will keep an eye on the ESPN Bottom Line when their games’ scores appear and follow them as they make their way through the Summit League season. If they follow through as the conference’s preseason favorites and make the NCAA Tournament, you can expect them to be a top “bracket-buster” when March rolls around.

Fans have a tendency to remember these “bracket-busters” for multiple years to come. We all still remember Florida Gulf Coast’s Sweet 16 run from a couple years ago and their “Dunk City” moniker. The Bryce Drew three to help Valparaiso upset Ole Miss in 1998 remain on highlight reels and commercials 18 years later. And Butler’s success over the last decade, including two consecutive national championship game appearances, led to their brand gaining entrance into BIG EAST Conference in 2013.

Fort Wayne’s victory will be remembered through the month of December, but it has a chance to be remembered well past if they are able to make the NCAA Tournament. Which could lead to a number of notable events for their program, things like an updated Nike contract and uniforms or Coach Coffman being on the some coaching job radars this off-season.

Lastly, not only was this a win over a Top 5 team in the country, but also this was against the state’s flagship collegiate program and brand! As an assumption based on my observations, the Hoosiers are the favorite CBB team within the state of Indiana. Evidence of this was obviously by how much crimson was worn at the Allen Coliseum on Tuesday.

This victory was not a “Little Brother over Big Brother” moment. Purdue can be considered Indiana’s little brother within the state. This was not a Michigan State defeating Michigan on the football field or NC State over North Carolina on the basketball court. This was a victory by the distant cousin over the “head of the household”, from a brand perspective. Heck, Indiana University actually helps oversee the overall university operations of IPFW, but I digress back to the athletics perspective.

Think about if Northern Kentucky beat Calipari’s Kentucky? Or Florida Atlantic upsetting Florida or Florida State?

You can’t can you? College Basketball is one of the few sports that have the potential for something like this to happen! I would only hope a game like this doesn’t discourage the premier programs like Indiana from taking on challenges like this. A moment like this not only benefits the smaller program, its city and the entire NCAA landscape.

Congrats to Fort Wayne on the victory and I hope to see this brand rise throughout the season. Congrats to Indiana for being willing to play a road game like this and I hope this loss doesn’t deter other schools from doing so.

And congrats to all of us because College Basketball is back! We missed you!

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