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Old Hat presented their findings to us in a way that was easy to understand, provided great detail and immediately got our staff excited about the opportunities in front of us. Their findings provided a solid foundation from which we started sharing ideas with one another, igniting a spirited discussion around future campaigns that will push Eastern Athletics to another level.


- Andy Rowdon, Sr. Assoc. Athletic Director for External Affairs -


Eastern Michigan, located in Ypsilanti, sits just 10 miles from the University of Michigan and “Big Ten Country”. Strapped with financial challenges on a campus that doesn’t embrace the mission of athletics, the Eagles wanted to hit the “reset” button. They asked Old Hat to review where they stand amongst their fans and how they can find consistency across their external departments while being creative to overcome their budgetary constraints.


Our challenge was to help Eastern Athletics overcome an overall negative sentiment by fans and the community – some which was developed over time by a lack of relevancy and lack of success; other negativity which was sparked by the recent cutting of sports due to financial issues. Old Hat was tasked with using our unbiased perspective to determine how to reconnect athletics, campus and the community. Furthermore, we worked to provide the type of messaging that would be appropriate for these groups.

In the winter of 2019, Old Hat conducted an internal discovery session with members of the Eastern athletics department. Some of these staffers had been with the department for more than 10 years, while others just a few months. The purpose of the discovery was to uncover the challenges and opportunities that lie before Eastern Athletics. From there, we developed a community survey that was sent to 10,000 people in Ypsilanti and the surrounding communities.


Coupling the survey results with an existing fan survey from the 2016-18 seasons, we were able to compare fan, community and internal perceptions about Eastern Athletics, to identify any gaps that would need to be bridged.

General apathy and lack of information seem to be the two biggest factors playing into Eastern’s disconnect with the community. However, Ypsilanti is a community that needs entertainment at a good value and Eastern can assist in filling that void. The area is experiencing a revitalization and Eastern has a great opportunity to become a partner in this effort.

Based on community feedback, we found that those that have attended athletic events are pleasantly surprised with the fan experience. The major task at hand is to devise creative ways to get new fans to the events.


Community survey demographics:

  • 77% of Ypsi residents haven’t been to an Eastern Athletics event in more than 5 years.

  • 76% of respondents attend Football games.

  • 74% of respondents have never attended an Eastern Athletics event (41%), or attended more than 5 years ago (33%)

  • 69% of alumni are not residents of Ypsi.

  • 50% of non-alumni have attended events for 10+ years.

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Census Data Analysis

With a population of just over 20,000, the city of Ypsilanti sits in Washtenaw County, the sixth largest county in Michigan. The county, as a whole, boasts a median household income (MHI) of $70,000 and a 14% poverty rate; the city, however, is a different story as the MHI is just half that of the county’s and the poverty rate is double.


As they look at drawing new fans to games, the numbers show a market that is untapped in areas. The challenge for the University lies in the message as 35% of students at Eastern are over the age of 25 and might not be looking for that standard college student experience.


Any successful plan must start with internal buy-in and work its way out. Eastern must take this opportunity to establish the brand vision and develop priorities around clearly-defined end goals. By cultivating relationships with campus and the community, Eastern can be the spark that instills pride in the University and the greater Ypsilanti community.

Eastern needs to bridge the gap between athletics, academics and the community, thus creating a shared purpose. Athletics needs to show how it is affirming its commitment to the University’s academic side and to its current student-athletes.

The strategy to bring these two sides together and encourage community buy-in is not necessarily a drastic change in visual elements, but is, instead, one of message.

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As the Old Hat team spent time in Ypsilanti, it was apparent that the University should partner with aspects of the City and assimilate itself into areas rather than take advantage of it. Depot Town, a historic area with shops, restaurants, and some residences, is the spot to start to cultivate this partnership. Hosting a variety of festivals, events, and even a farmer’s market, Depot Town is a fertile ground for Eastern  to tie itself into the rich tradition that already exists.

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Old Hat also developed a “One Eastern” slogan which the staff members enthusiastically embraced. Incorporating this design into businesses and corporate partnerships would allow for a sense of pride to be formed with the community and those who are most suited to benefit from this partnership.

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