How long will the Fresno State baseball buzz last?

06/30/2008 6:14 AM

07/01/2008 2:11 AM

The Fresno State baseball team's amazing playoff run sparked a rise in fan interest even before the Bulldogs were crowned national champions.

Angie DiLiddo saw it Wednesday afternoon, shortly before coach Mike Batesole's team took the field in Omaha, Neb., against Georgia in the College World Series championship game.

A long-time Bulldog Foundation member, DiLiddo was at the booster organization's office near Beiden Field when a man called. He wanted to make a donation to the fund that pays for all Bulldogs athletic scholarships. And with his specific level of gift came a standard reward -- two football season tickets and two men's basketball season tickets.

The Bulldogs' 6-1 victory and the first national title in the baseball program's history were still hours away. But the caller said he already had new priorities: keep the football tickets and give him a couple of baseball season tickets instead.

"He wanted to get in on the excitement," DiLiddo says.

The baseball team's national championship, she adds, "is going to help all of our sales, including baseball."

Fresno State President John Welty says, "There's tremendous enthusiasm as a result of the success of the baseball team."

Athletic director Thomas Boeh says he hopes the baseball team's success will lead to a bounce in next season's attendance. He also hopes the strong efforts of most Fresno State teams in 2007-08 will generate more donations and ticket sales throughout the program.

But, Boeh adds, "we need to be measured in our expectations."

A word of caution comes from Mel Franks, a long-time official in the California State University, Fullerton athletic department. The Titans have won four national baseball titles, most recently in 2004. And, like Fresno State, Cal State-Fullerton is a commuter school in the California State University system, although it doesn't have a football program.

Franks acknowledges the two schools' markets couldn't be more different: "Fresno State is the only game in town." But, he adds, their baseball programs carry the same burden -- they aren't football or men's basketball, the sports attracting the most interest from fans and advertisers.

The Bulldogs' national title certainly won't hurt marketing efforts, Franks says. But, he adds, the championship probably won't translate into a financial spike for the baseball program or a significant spillover of fan support for other sports.

"The bookstore will reap the benefit," Franks says, referring to sales of athletic department merchandise.

Franks says Cal State-Fullerton didn't attempt to leverage its national titles into an expanded marketing campaign the following season. Why spend scarce resources on a marketing fight against the likes of USC, UCLA, the Lakers, the Clippers, the Dodgers and the Angels? Titans baseball is a great product, Franks says, but that entertainment lineup is too tough to beat.

One thing is certain at Fresno State: Bulldogs athletics needs money, and has for many years. University officials have often said that one area with big potential for revenue growth is ticket sales.

Inman Perkins, who carved himself a place in Bulldogs history with his decades of unofficial but passionate cheerleading at athletic events, minced no words on this issue at a rally for the baseball team on Thursday.

"Be here next year," Perkins told an estimated 6,500 people at Beiden Field.

Just in case some people didn't grasp his point, Perkins pointed toward the Bulldog Stadium ticket office, located about a hundred yards from the baseball stadium.

"I want you to go over to that ticket office and buy a season ticket," Perkins shouted.

The baseball team's month-long playoff run is generating huge increases in the sale of merchandise. University officials on Wednesday said The Bulldog Shop was averaging $10,000 to $15,000 a day in sales, compared to a normal daily average of $1,000 to $2,000.

But university and Bulldog Foundation officials say turning the baseball team's national championship into riches for the baseball program isn't enough.

They say the entire athletic program needs more fan support. And, officials add, fans should keep in mind that most Fresno State sports this year performed at a championship level.

The list is long, but includes the women's basketball team, which qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in that program's history; the softball team, which went to the NCAA Tournament for the 27th straight year, a feat unprecedented in the tournament's history; and the football team, which bounced back from a 4-8 record in 2006 to go 9-4 last fall and beat Georgia Tech in the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl.

For the first time, Fresno State won the annual Commissioner's Cup, signifying the Western Athletic Conference's top overall program.

These successes show "the potential we have here at Fresno State," Boeh says. "It's a reminder that Fresno State can be nationally competitive."

The Bulldog Foundation's DiLiddo says none of this success happens without money, especially donations for scholarships.

"Everybody wants to get on the bandwagon when you win, and that's great," says DiLiddo. "But there's not going to be a bandwagon unless the scholarships hold up."

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