Like any good hype man, Cameron Driver doesn’t blend well.
He’s the pale-skinned kid with lightning white hair who usually leads Coastal Carolina University’s student chants, whether from the stands or outside the buses, before a road game.
But WhiteCDaddy, as he’s known on Twitter, hopes it will be tough to spot him at Brooks Stadium Saturday.
“It would be a dream come true to have the whole stadium filled with teal,” Driver said. “Like a whole sea of teal.”
The sophomore may get his wish.
The university on Friday announced that all 2,100 student tickets had been reserved. The game is a sellout, with 10,184 tickets sold or requested. And after months of surveys, the rebranding of the student fan organization and a social media blitz, university officials and football players are eager to see if students will finally show the Chanticleers some love.
“If you look on TV, you see a lot of the crazy fans, like Clemson and South Carolina,” said senior linebacker Quinn Backus. “A lot of us guys, we pay attention to that. We’re like, ‘Why can’t we get our school to do that? We are playing college football.’”
Keeping students in seats
By most metrics, CCU football is thriving. The team won a school record 12 games last year and reached the third round of the playoffs. Season ticket sales are up nearly 12 percent and ticket revenues have increased by more than $30,000, according to the university’s athletics department.
Student attendance also rose by 31 percent last year, but that number is misleading.
While more students reserved tickets for games, university officials noticed they didn’t stick around long. They weren’t loud either, making for a weak game-day experience.
The lukewarm student section disappointed Travis Overton, the dean of students, so he began a research project. He surveyed students. He met with focus groups of athletes. He met with focus groups of those who don’t play sports.
Overton sought advice from a variety of sources, making sure to speak with students who go to games as well as those who don’t.
“One of the big, big pieces that came out of that was that our students want more opportunities to interact with the athletes,” he said. “They know of the athletes and they might see them, but they don’t really have a relationship with them as much. … Why do you go to your nephew’s band concert? Well, it’s because your nephew’s in the concert.”
Students also told Overton that life in the stands was dull. Even if the team was doing well, the music was old and uninspiring. There weren’t enough giveaways or exciting promotions, either.
“They really want to have a fun game atmosphere,” he said. “In the stands, they just want to be able to have a great time. … So of course then the question became, ‘Well, how? What do we do in order to enhance that?’”
They started by renaming the student fan organization. What had been traditionally called SCREAM (Student Community Restoring Enthusiasm at Athletic Matches) became Chant Nation.
Karly Southall, a sophomore member of Chant Nation, said the reorganized group is better prepared for game day. Chant Nation is developing cheers for each section and call leaders have been appointed to help keep the Chant chants going.
“Last year, we kind of amped it up,” she said. “This year, we’re amping it up more. … The stands should be full.”
CCU also hired a new band director, one focused on playing versions of the pop songs students want to hear.
“The vision that he has for the band is amazing,” Overton said.
Along with those changes, university officials hit social media hard, encouraging students to travel to away games on buses provided by CCU.
So far, those efforts appear to be paying off.
“We’re starting to grow that campus-wide school spirit,” said Matt Hogue, CCU’s interim athletics director. “We’re getting our student body rallied to support the Chanticleers.”
The road game rides are more popular than they’ve ever been, Hogue said, and the university has added buses to accommodate all the students who want to travel to games.
Nadae Beaty sported a teal shirt as she waited for a bus to last Saturday’s game. Although she’s a senior, she said she’d never been to a CCU football game until last week.
The buzz around campus and interest from her family in New Jersey changed her mind.
“It’s definitely enough hype where I feel like I should come out and support my school,” she said.
Football players have been doing their part, too. After talking with Overton about the soft student support, Backus said he started a Twitter account and reached out to CCU students there. He began wearing his Chanticleer football shirt to class and chatted up students he met on the sidewalk.
Backus said he’s heard that some students have wanted to meet the players but have been too shy to say anything.
“We’ve got to change that,” he said. “We’ve been doing good in football, but it’s hard to realize that if you don’t have the student body’s support.”
Sophomore running back De’Angelo Henderson has also made the campus meet-and-greets a priority.
“Seeing a bunch of people in the crowd, it just makes you play that much better,” he said. “We all grew up having that fantasy of playing college football and playing in front of 80,000 people. But we’re at Coastal Carolina where there’s only 10,000 people. We understand it’s not going to be as big as we would like, but at the same time, the more the merrier.”
Coach Joe Moglia is getting in on the action, too.
After Wednesday’s practice, players were told about an upcoming promotional event. They were encouraged to participate in “Spot a Chant,” where they would stand on Prince Lawn and pose with students for selfies.
An assistant told the players the event was voluntary and asked who could make it. A few hands went up. Then Moglia stepped in.
“It’s not going to look good if we don’t go out there and do that,” he said.
The coach talked about the team playing a role in changing the fan culture. Unless they had a class, he said, they better be there.
“It’s a little less voluntary,” he said.
The problem of finding fans isn’t unique to CCU.
University President David DeCenzo said he sits on an NCAA committee that looks at trends in attendance at college athletic events. The forecast isn’t promising.
“What we’re finding is that the average age of attending a sporting event is 45,” he said. “Those individuals that are late 30s, 40s and beyond love to come and watch a game. The student population, because of the technology, prefer to watch the game on their iPad or their cell phone or in a sports bar where you’ve got multiple games going.”
Despite that challenge, CCU leaders and students aren’t giving up. Because of students’ high tech interests, Overton has been reaching out to them via social media. He communicates with many students through Twitter, and he’s encouraging them to build their own traditions at the young university, which has only been an independent institution since 1993.
“We’re still at the phase where we’re learning who we are,” Overton said. “If you go to an Ohio State, when you get there, you’re kind of told, ‘This is what you’ve got to do.’ At Coastal, because the institution is so young and is so fresh in its environment, there’s a lot of opportunity to build what you’re doing.”
Creating those traditions requires recruiting younger fans.
Driver, one of the leaders in Chant Nation and in student government, said he’s been urging first-year students to go to games.
“Hashtag CCU18 is very pumped up,” he said, referencing the freshman presence on Twitter. “Lots of energy from the freshman class coming in. We’re trying to have them come in and already have the mentality that Coastal’s football team is the best football team.”
One of the freshman members of Chant Nation is Sean Edwards.
The 18-year-old has been on the campus just four weeks and he’s been to both road games.
In some ways, Edwards was an easy sell. He led the student section at Florence Christian School. He was the guy who dressed up as a member of the Blue Man Group because the school’s colors are blue and gold.
On Saturday, he’ll be covered in teal.
“I only have four, four and a half years at Coastal,” he said. “So if I’m going to be here, I might as well make the most of it.”