Finding an identity for UB

There’s a diamond in the rough in the WNY sports scene that has the potential to become one of the preeminent pieces of the athletic community in the region. It’s a team simultaneously fighting for the attention of WNY sports fans and a larger identity crisis.

As the years have ticked by, UB has battled an increasing difficult fight in an attempt to gain relevance on a regional and national level – specifically in the cash cow sports of basketball and football. As the 2013-14 athletics calendar heats up, UB’s newest facelift will be in full view.

One of Danny White’s first steps in his role as AD has been to usher in the use of New York as the most prominent branding feature for the school’s athletics team. Instead of focusing on being the University at Buffalo Bulls, they will be the State University of NEW YORK at Buffalo Bulls. The change has been welcomed with varying reviews, although the angle makes perfect sense.

In practice, I don’t think the change has been well executed. The big New York font on the football uniforms and Alumni Arena court looks awkward and doesn’t play very well on the eyes. While I support the thinking behind this type of rebranding, I’m not sure it is going to work as planned.

By population, UB is the largest university in the state of New York. It also serves as the flagship university for the state university system. This is the same as other public powerhouses like Penn State, Ohio State or Texas. These are major universities identified by their allegiance to their home state, not the city in which they reside.

The main issue here is that saying SUNY in full form is a mouthful. It doesn’t lend itself well to marketing either, especially when adding the accompanying city at the end. Short of completely renaming the school to NY State University or something else (a preposterous proposal), there are few alternatives to UB or SUNY at Buffalo.

Ideally UB alone would be enough to begin to resonate on a national level as the program’s profile grows. Considering that’s the idea behind the New York plan, building the program to a level of national respect would begin making UB or Buffalo a household name with or without the new look for this season.

To use the everlasting wisdom of The Rock “it doesn’t matter what your name is”. Once the team(s) begin to resonate with fans and the school’s athletic reputation grows, the branding will be relevant. The questionable appeal of the Buffalo-Niagara region aside, having a popular sports program will be all the marketing needed. It’s not as if Boise is a bustling metropolis, but the team’s success has put them on the map.

Where the disconnect is for me is how little UB seems to resonate on a local level. It’s awfully hard for a school to gain respect nationally when potential fans in the area consider it a cast off and rarely attend games.

It’s sad to think that a Division I athletics program at the state’s largest university is treated with such apathy by many fans and media members. In fact, for such a sports (particularly football) crazed city, you’d think that the lure of the NCAA would be an easy draw.

Based on my perception, the lack of respect starts with the media coverage the team gets. Yes, Rodney McKissic does a great job in his role, but The Buffalo News, as a whole, just doesn’t devote enough to the teams. There just isn’t enough coverage.

Just as valuable as a consistent winning product would be for fan interest, even getting third billing from the area’s only major publication would do wonders for the football and basketball teams. Currently the Buffalo News website lists Sabres & NHL, Bills & NFL, Bisons & Baseball, Colleges, High School in that order. I’ll ignore the blatant disregard for the Bandits on that listing for the time being and focus on the fact that the region’s top school isn’t given billing on the college section.

The same could be said for WGR. While they sprinkle in interviews from time to time, there isn’t any sort of consistent effort given to justify UB’s top two teams as legitimate entities in the WNY sports scene. It’s sad because it’s a DI sport. Sure it’s a mid-major conference, but the potential to grow the Bulls into a BCS-buster type of program is something that shouldn’t be ignored.

By no means should the News and radio stations be out tooting their UB horns while wearing rose colored glasses. But they could also put a little more behind their coverage and aid these teams in to the level of Buffalo’s top two professional teams in terms of perception.

Third in line may not be perfect, but it would do a hell of a lot towards building the notoriety that will eventually put UB on the map.

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