For nearly two years, the Northwestern Wildcats have been Chicago's Big Ten team, as stated on the numerous billboards throughout the Chicago area.
NU director of athletics Jim Phillips and marketing guru Mike Polisky spearheaded the campaign prior to the 2010 season, in an attempt to increase attendance and build the Wildcat brand. Northwestern's athletic department is pleased with the results.
"We've tried to be very aggressive, and we're going to continue to be very aggressive," Phillips said at the Big Ten's spring meetings. "We feel strongly about the traction we've been able to accomplish as Chicago's Big Ten team."
In an attempt to attract new Chicago-area fans, Northwestern hosted a football game at Wrigley Field in 2010, drawing a sellout crowd. Phillips hopes for further off-campus games in the future. He suggested Wrigley Field and Soldier Field as possibilities for future football games, and the United Center or Sears Center as a potential host for a basketball game.
The slogan has drawn ire from fans of the conference's 11 other schools. Northwestern, after all, has the 11th-largest Big Ten alumni base in Chicago (only Penn State has fewer).
Phillips explained that the marketing campaign isn't meant as a jab toward Northwestern's Big Ten rivals.
"Folks in the Chicagoland area may have gone to another school, or not have gone to college, but they can have a second-favorite team," Phillips said. "They can have a school that they root for based on where their location is, based on the affinity for that school. That was the whole idea behind that Chicago's Big Ten team (campaign). I know it's irked some people, etcetera."
Phillips, a lifelong Chicago-area resident and graduate of Illinois, feels Northwestern's marketing campaign can reach the Windy City's passionate fans.
"It's not about what Chicago's favorite college team is," said Phillips. "Having been born and raised in Chicago, I truly believe I understand the Chicago sports mindset. There's a great affinity and great loyalty to Chicago's teams."
Northwestern's advertising campaign and marketing department have been a success, thus far. After averaging 24,190 fans in 2010, Ryan Field has seen a 39 percent increase in attendance.
Prior to last season, NU's marketing department launched the "PersaStrong" campaign, promoted senior quarterback Dan Persa has a Heisman Trophy contender. While injuries prevented Persa from reaching contention, the billboard planted in Chicago and Bristol, CT. helped bring exposure to Wildcat football.
Phillips hopes Northwestern's marketing efforts continue to reach Chicago-area football fans, and help promote the university's brand.
"I feel great about what it has done and certainly feel really, really good about where we're headed," said Phillips. "When you look at things like ticket sales, corporate sponsor sales, website hits, and what we're doing form an external standpoint, all of our indicators have tracked in a positive direction, a northerly direction."
While other Big Ten schools target Chicago as an important area for growth, Northwestern is proud to call itself "Chicago's Big Ten team."
"It is about sustainability, and staying true to that," Phillips said. "I'm not interested in reversing courses when we've shown nothing but positive results to it."