Alcorn State Making Its Mark

Marcus Ward remembers a time when Alcorn State University’s football stadium was nothing to look at. The facility was so bland, he joked it could be picked up and dropped at any college campus, and nobody would have any idea where it came from.

“It was very plain,” said Ward, executive director of the Alcorn State University Foundation. “We wanted to put our name on it.”

In 2012, campus leaders decided that needed to change. The university’s football team was about to begin a home-and-home series with a rival school, and the athletic program wanted to create an environment that was welcoming yet imposing to opponents who set foot on its turf. Major renovations were out of the question, but what the program could do was initiate a rebranding campaign that would revitalize the atmosphere inside the stadium.

“We wanted to send a message that they’re in our territory — the home of the Braves — and the message kind of revolved around that,” Ward said. “We brought in this explosive theme that said you’re in our backyard now, and it’s a different ballgame here.”

Alcorn State’s improvements started with windscreens at its football stadium, but upgrades continued in the ensuing years. Banners from BigSigns.com were added around the scoreboard and the perimeter of the stadium, and a year later more banners were placed by the locker room entrances. Following the 2014 season, one where the Braves won the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship and the SBN Sports Black College National Championship, new signs honored the university’s history season.

Ward hopes to soon make the transition to other facilities. The softball stadium was recently upgraded with new backstop pads, on-deck circles and mesh screening, and improvements to the tennis courts could be on the horizon.

Hanging banners sounds like a simple project, but it came with challenges. Ward said the university leaned heavily on BigSigns.com to make sure signs and banners were done correctly and on time. The company has an in-house graphics team, so Ward described exactly what he wanted and BigSigns.com took it from there.

The process can be overwhelming for someone who has never managed a re-branding effort, but Ward said there was a lot of collaboration between those at the university and graphic designers. That helped the athletic program create signs that satisfied everyone. 

“We did involve our facilities team and our athletic team because we wanted to make sure we’re getting what we want as far as athletic branding,” Ward said.

Ward had a feeling fans and student-athletes would have a positive response to the improvements, but he was a little surprised by the excitement. Some drove out to the stadium during non-game days just to take photos of the banners.

The images also could have an impact on recruiting efforts. Ward said the facilities improvements impress athletes, families and students, and that can have a lasting impression when they visit campus for the first time.

“They want to go to a place that looks good,” Ward said. “We want to keep our wheels turning and our wheels greased to continue building our program. If you’re not adding, you’re subtracting.”

For athletic administrators considering similar improvements, Ward recommends jumping right in. Some might be hesitant because of the cost, but re-branding projects are hardly as expensive as most other facility improvements. It might even help teams on the field.

“It inspired our athletes to success, and it inspires student-athletes who want to fight for your program,” Ward said. “They went out to compete to the point where we were consecutive conference champions, and we hadn’t done that in nearly 30 years.”

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