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Since 1995, only Ohio State, and Michigan have more Big 10 football championships than Northwestern.So when he assumed his role as athletic director in April 2008, Jim Phillips was shocked by the lack of interest in Wildcat football.
After all, despite playing just nine miles from the centre of the second-biggest media market in America, the team couldn’t consistently draw enough fans to fill its 47,000-seat stadium. Meanwhile, Penn State – winners of one fewer Big 10 title than the ‘Cats – fill their 107,000-seat stadium without batting an eye.
Worse, when Ryan Field does sell out, it’s usually because Iowa fans decided to make the trip to watch their boys face Northwestern.
Phillips felt Northwestern deserved that kind of support, too. He was hired for his marketing prowess, and immediately took it upon himself to leverage the school’s proximity to Chicago into more fans.
“If you look at the Big 10 institutions, NU has the X factor: Chicago. Nobody else has a city like Chicago in their backyard. A lot of college fans don’t have an affiliation in the area, and that’s the group we want to target.”
In the meantime, Northwestern has won eight games for two consecutive seasons, and made a New Year’s Day Bowl appearance last January. Phillips is betting that this game – despite the endzone mess – will lift the program to new heights. And so far, he’s right.
ESPN College Gameday is coming to Evanston for the first time since 1995, and the game has monopolized headlines in the college sports media. So Chicago is officially listening – now the ‘Cats just needs to show them they’re worth following on the field.
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