By ALAN SNEL
A half-hour before kickoff of UNLV’s football season, alum Tony Iverson held a beer in a coolie in a grassy Rebel pre-game area and scanned the fans who had gathered for the Rebels’ game against Howard.
“The better the team gets, the bigger this gets,” said Iverson, a teacher who is a 2002 UNLV graduate before earning a Masters at UNLV in 2007.
Sadly, it can also work in reverse. After Saturday night’s embarrassing loss to 45-point underdog Howard, now it will be even a more daunting challenge to sell tickets, ads and sponsorships for a football team that had bowl game aspirations this season.
Before the game, UNLV officials tried to improve the fans’ pre-game experience with live music and free student shuttles but fans were looking for shade and misters with temperatures soaring to 108 for the 6 p.m. start on the first Saturday in September.
Even though the football team took it on the chin with the 43-40 loss to Howard, the UNLV band members sweated in their black outfits but performed well before the game.
The UNLV band even did a dance in the triple-digit temps before heading into Sam Boyd Stadium.
While coach Tony Sanchez faces the task of shoring up a weak defense, Dan Dolby — Learfield’s new UNLV sports marketing chief — also faces the daunting challenge of trying to massage sponsorship deals out of local businesses after the team’s embarrassing loss went national Saturday.
ESPN’s website, for example, listed this post headline as its second item under “Top Headlines”: “Howard (+45) pulls CFB’s biggest upset ever.”
Even Erik Pappa, who oversees Clark County’s communications, had this idea: just get rid of UNLV football. On his Twitter account, Pappa wrote, “End #Vegas suffering. End UNLV football once and for all. We get pro ball in 2020 anyway.”
Learfield took over for IMG College shortly before the season when IMG’s contract with UNLV expired.
Dolby has a young, eager staff of sponsorship sellers, but convincing businesses to buy ads and signage is a tough sell when the UNLV football team loses to a squad that had a 2-9 record in 2016 and 1-10 record in 2015.
UNLV’s sports marketing challenges follow a disappointing season by the men’s basketball team. Dolby, in an interview with LVSportsBiz.com a month ago, acknowledged that he faces a tough uphill climb to sign up new advertisers when the basketball and football teams perform weakly.
In his interview about the UNLV football team a month ago, Dolby said, We are “selling hope and pride. We’re selling a commodity that is unknown at this point. But I feel bullish we’ll improve year after year. I’m going after people’s prides. We have a blank canvas right now.”
Sadly, that commodity just got known after last night and the canvas is no longer blank. Hopefully, fans will have more look to forward to than just seeing the Hey Reb! mascot at games.
And let’s hope UNLV Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois doesn’t do a U-turn and head back to her old job at Virginia Tech or her old lawyer job with the Oakland Raiders after Saturday night’s painful loss.