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FAMU grapples with how to recreate its magical brand

FAMU Band Rebuid Could Be Long Process

Posted Feb 22, 2012 by Imagine Band News Desk

The sixth man obviously has been missing at Florida A&M basketball games this season. Without the Marching 100 — placed on indefinite suspension by FAMU President James H. Ammons days after the Nov. 19 hazing death of drum major Robert Champion — the Lawson Center has been noticeably quiet.

Occasionally recorded versions of the renowned band blare inside the sparsely filled arena, but no matter the size of the crowd, the energy level hasn't been the same.

"You can tell there is something missing. There is no energy," said FAMU sophomore Marquez Brown. "When the band is playing, it gives the crowd energy; gets the crowd moving. Once the band gets the crowd going, the basketball team gets going. As the band gives everybody that initial push, the games just seem big."

The impact that the Marching 100 has had on FAMU athletics goes far beyond energizing a crowd at football and basketball games. The band has been one of the biggest incentives for those with the task of marketing FAMU sports — not to mention the university at large — to potential corporate backers and especially in the negotiations of football games for huge financial guarantees.

In essence, the Marching 100 has been the FAMU brand and has made it easy for the university to seal football deals worth millions each season. Without the band, FAMU's athletic department loses one of its biggest negotiation chips, while the administration does damage control and at the same time searches for ways to eliminate hazing.

Finding a way to bring back the band is high on the list of priorities, Ammons said, because of what it means to campus life. More important, though, is what the band means to FAMU in the business of athletics.

"Every invitation we have gotten, the band is a part of the package," Ammons said. "It's such an integral part of FAMU athletics and that's why we have to study — very seriously — how we move forward with the band in the wake of what has happened."

FAMU has hired DKC, a New York-based public relations firm, to help deal with fallout from the hazing death. The final terms of their agreement are yet to be ironed out, but in the meantime FAMU can help itself by highlighting achievements of the band before the incident, said Carrie Englert Zimmerman.

Zimmerman's advertising company, The Zimmerman Agency, is a Tallahassee firm that has helped with branding and image restoration for major companies. But the agency primarily helps businesses keep a squeaky clean public image.

She expressed concern that FAMU might not have gotten out in front of the crisis soon enough, but said the damage could be fixed.

"They need to move the conversation away from it being about issues with the band and create a conversation about what it does for our youth and people and their future," said Zimmerman, whose list of clients includes Ritz Carlton, Amtrak and Cooper Tires. "I believe the Marching 100 can become a vital part of the FAMU brand again because they should be; it's part of their legacy. But it has to be done with great care."

Doing that will require transparency and honesty from FAMU administrators, Zimmerman said, adding that the situation is akin to restoring a broken relationship.

"The reputation and the perception of the reputation is the biggest issue right now at FAMU, " she said.

The right approach, the American tendency to be forgiving and the band's international reputation are reasons to be optimistic, Zimmerman said. The Marching 100 has played at presidential inaugurations, at Super Bowls and for European royalty. Such accomplishments, plus FAMU's 125 years of existence, should go a long way in restoring the brand name, Zimmerman said.

"FAMU is an iconic historically black university that goes back a far greater time period than even FSU," she said. "The reason why it's survived more than 100 years is because it is a great brand in itself."

Troy Harris, vice president of FAMU's student body, shares Zimmerman's optimism, saying that revival of the band will take his school to new heights.

"I would assume (because) it's like a broken bone; once it heals back it's stronger than it was before," he said. "I think people have been so anticipatory of it that it probably won't take that much."

Meanwhile, there is concern about whether the band will be reinstated in time for the upcoming football season, especially for the classics and financial-guarantee games against BCS teams. In the case of those games, many fans have treated the games as an afterthought to watching the band perform.

In fact, the hazing that led to Champion's death occurred following the Florida Classic, one of the few seasons that the game seemed more significant than the band's performance. FAMU was playing for second place in the MEAC and a chance for coach Joe Taylor to record his third eight-win season.

The Atlanta Classic is another of the biggest black college football games that has thrived on the presence of the Marching 100. In fact, contracts between FAMU and the 100 Black Men of Atlanta, which stages the game, specify that FAMU presents its band.

It isn't clear how the absence of a band might affect terms of the Atlanta Classic. John Grant, CEO of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta, has not returned calls and messages left at his office.

However, Ammons said, FAMU was looking into "how do we honor those contracts where we have this total package that people want from Florida A&M University?" Contracts between South Florida, which the Rattlers played last season and will play again in 2015, also mentions the band. FAMU also successfully negotiated games against Oklahoma this season and Ohio State next year.

By St. Clair Murraine
Democrat staff writer

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