George Washington University’s Latest Marketing Play: Its Basketball Court
Four minutes into George Washington’s scrimmage Saturday against Bowie State, senior forward Isaiah Armwood received a pass from Kethan Savage, squared his shoulders, set his feet, and sank a three-pointer from the Capitol Building.
“Isaiah’s playing really well this year,” head coach Mike Lonergan would say afterward. “When he shoots and he’s open, I feel it’s going to go in.” But that first-half feat of Armwood’s will hardly be a rare one for the Colonials and their opponents this season.
Scoring from the picture of the White House stained on at mid-court might prove a bit more of a challenge.
On the lookout for new marketing opportunities, Athletic Director Patrick Nero made national headlines in April when he set plans in motion for a unique court facelift at GW’s Charles E. Smith Center. In a year in which the university has received no shortage of ugly press, after all, any bit of inventive P.R. is surely welcome.
And so, seven months later, when their historic 100th season opens Friday against Radford, the Colonials will count themselves among college basketball’s trendsetters—tipping off with images of the U.S. Capitol, White House, and Washington Monument beneath their feet.
“With brands and marketing, you want to be out front—you want to be on that cutting edge, you want to be hip,” says Assistant Athletic Director for Facilities Jason Wilson. “We wanted a brand and identity that really spoke about us as a university and where we are.”
With that in mind, the athletic department took a month, Wilson says, to talk with students and alumni to come to a verdict on the new look. The athletic department’s creative staff eventually narrowed the options down to three designs, and the one featuring the trio of Washington landmarks came out on top.
One major challenge of the redesign’s realization, though, was to navigate the fine line between distinctive and distracting.
“The only thing I asked is that we keep it outside the three-point lines, which they did,” says Lonergan, who was wary of a more sweeping scheme like those at the University of Oregon and Florida International. “I was a little nervous when we were talking about doing it. But then when I saw it, it’s like, hey, this is awesome.”
GW officials wouldn't say how much the redesign cost but insisted that the extra staining made this year's renovation only marginally more expensive than the more limited upkeep the Smith Center receives each summer. “It was kind of like a perfect storm,” says Wilson.
The Odenton, Md., company Weyer’s Flooring, Inc. was responsible for the makeover. The Smith Center’s caretakers for as long as owner Larry Weyer can remember, the firm handles "just about every floor in the Washington area," including the Verizon Center and the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center. Having first laid down the current GW floor three years ago, Weyer and his team began the five-week redesign in June by sanding down the wood to prepare it for the stain, and then placed down a large vinyl stencil of the buildings. Each image was then stained on the floor and sealed in, the rest of the court was painted, and a full buff completed the process. Weyer calls it "the biggest and most intricate stain job we've ever done."
"It definitely gives us a pride factor," says guard Maurice Creek, who just transferred from Indiana. "We come off the floor after practices, and [we'll feel] that pride and what we're all about."
That pride is something that's been lacking the last few years in Foggy Bottom, which hasn't seen an NCAA tournament berth since the Colonials lost to Vanderbilt in the first round in 2007.
George Washington is set to play at least 22 televised games this season, including nine national broadcasts across ESPN, CBS Sports Network, and NBC Sports Network. To Wilson and the athletic staff, that means at least 22 opportunities for their new floor to make an impression. “For the few that don’t know George Washington, they see the Capitol, they see the Monument, the White House, and they’re like, ‘Oh, Washington, D.C.,” Wilson explains. “It’s so much more than just sports.”
The university has invested in other athletic facilities in recent years, as well. In addition to a $40 million Smith Center overhaul in 2010, the school has completed large-scale renovations of its baseball, softball, and soccer fields in the last two years.
So far, university officials say, reception to their latest project has been overwhelmingly positive. One exception: the end of the court that's now emblazoned with the phrase "#RaiseHigh," a Twitter-ready version of the campus motto.
“The only negative thing I’ve ever read is I think someone said something about the hashtag thing on the baseline,” Lonergan says. “But hey, that’s social media. We’re up with the times.”
Top photo by William Atkins. FIU photo courtesy FIU Athletics.