“We need to be the king of the state,” Thomas said after his announcement in a Memorial Stadium luxury box. “We need to be the king of Chicago. We need to have a real presence there.
“We have to make sure we have our arms around Chicago. What the gameplan is right now, 3 to 4 hours after accepting this position, I can’t give you all the details, but I can tell you it will be a priority.”“From my reconnaissance, even within the conference, they think there is great opportunity here to continue to grow what’s already happened here,” Thomas said. “Whether you use the word sleeping giant or high ceiling, there’s room for growth here.
“It’s my job to make sure I do whatever possible to make sure that happens.”
Mike Thomas - University of Illinois Athletic Director
As a long time follower of Fighting Illini sports these comments should be incredibly refreshing. For years, Ron Guenther did little to capitalize on the second largest market in the United States. The University of Illinois, which has arguably the largest living alumni base of any University in the US, needs to be more proactive with growing their brand.
Can anyone tell me what station University of Illinois sporting events are broadcasted in the greater Chicagoland area? If you aren't a regular follower, I assume you can't. U of I sports are broadcasted on WIND 560 AM. Saturday sporting events are sandwiched between "Home Life with Wayne Messmer", "The Townstone Financial Show", or "Jim Paris' Internet Business Show." I am unfortunately not joking. This is not where a charter member of the Big Ten belongs. On similar Saturdays, you can hear Northern Illinois Husky football on 670 The Score and 670 The Score.com, Chicago's #1 sports radio station. AM 670 also spans out to a larger listener base by area than AM 560 could ever reach. Show a dedication and commitment to your listeners and your brand. People want to listen and watch your games. Don't make them search through radio stations and sift through home improvement talk to reach your product.
The Fighting Illini need to take a page out of the Northwestern playbook, and begin an all out push into the Chicago market (one which they should have made 10 years ago with their program at an all time high). Coaches should be present, and vocal in the Chicago media. Most importantly, the athletic director needs to be a major player in the media as well. Northwestern A.D., Jim Phillips, knows the importance that Chicago holds to his University, and he has been active in fundraising, advertising, and innovating events like the Wrigley Field football game last season and an upcoming game at Soldier Field. There is no reason that the Illini can't be just as innovative, and active in the Chicago market.
Most Illini fans will scoff at the idea that they need Chicago, but without becoming a bigger player in the Chicago market the Fighting Illini will never grow as a program to the level that most fans believe they are already at. Years of mediocrity and complacency under Guenther have bred this belief, it's refreshing to see new leadership understand the importance and embrace the opportunity.