UT's successful Tie One On fund-raiser, mascot challenge tied to social media savvy

2/16/2013
BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Burns
Burns

At its third-annual Tie One On basketball game, the University of Toledo netted more than $21,000 in support of prostate cancer care.

That was just a start.

The university’s marketing team is expanding the event’s reach, making it a year-round initiative aimed at attracting donations for the athletic department and for the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio.

Bow ties, necklaces, and t-shirts giving attention to the event are for sale, and a social media initiative is being driven to keep the cause relevant long after the Jan. 26 home game against Bowling Green State University — a 75-62 Rockets win.

"The goal there is to create a brand awareness of Tie One On as a University of Toledo initiative beyond just a game," vice president for external affairs Larry Burns said.

Burns and his team have, or plan to, contact everyone who ‘Likes’ the Tie One On page on Facebook seeking donations. Money can be designated to a specific athletic team at the school or to the medical center. As of Thursday, the page had 76 profiles receiving its updates.

The university has a history of using social media to succeed in contests. In the fall, UT finished third in a contest to have Fox Sports baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal wear a UT bow tie during his coverage of game three of the World Series. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society were the only campaigns to beat UT. Rosenthal, who used to scoff at the idea of wearing a bow tie but now has an affinity for them, attended the Bowling Green game as a guest.

"The people who supported the Toledo side beat out a lot of national organizations," Rosenthal said. "I thought it was really cool. I went to the event, and I was impressed to see how they had pulled everything together. From my perspective, on the outside, it was a really neat event."

Last football season a social media campaign led mascot Rocky to an at-large bid in the 2013 Capital One mascot challenge. Only one mascot could win the write-in vote to join the field of 16, and fans were not limited to their number of votes.

"The real reason we won is we had a strategic social media campaign, and our fan base got fired up to compete with much bigger schools," Burns said. "I think that says a lot about the spirit of Rocket Nation. We may not be as well known as Michigan or Ohio State, but give us a chance to compete with them in something like this, or on the field, and we will do very well."

Tie One On items can be purchased at utoledogear.com, and a portion of the proceeds will go toward prostate cancer care. A white necklace attached to a bow-tie medallion, which can also be purchased at Harold Jaffe Jewelers, goes for $50. That is the same price for a bow tie. T-shirts are $10.

Burns, a tongue cancer survivor, owns about 100 bow ties and wears one to work three days a week, and always on "Bow Tie Friday."

He created Tie One On three years ago with help from men’s basketball coach Tod Kowalczyk. This year’s event included an auction of retro jerseys worn that night by the Rockets.

The auction pulled in $2,025, and Kowalczyk said the jerseys of Rian Pearson and Justin Drummond each received a bid of $500.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.