Lights, camera and action for the Nebraska Cornhusker Marching Band.
By Randy York
Forget about the Big Splash on national television Friday night with Tommy Lee going to college at Nebraska again, so he could help launch a new era of Nebrasketball. Quit dwelling about the University of Nebraska Marching Band strutting on Pinnacle Bank Arena’s new hardwood, not to mention some band members being invited inside the facility’s new suites so they can blow their Big Red horns to inaugurate Season One in PBA. Put out of your mind getting Nebraska-related Karmin singing the National Anthem. Let’s face it: The reality of Tommy, sidekick D.J. Aero, the full marching band and a popular pop duo singing the National Anthem again aren’t high. They may, in fact, be one-hit wonders for the historic 2013-14 season after the Huskers tipped off for 37 straight years in the Devaney Center. In no way, however, does that mean Nebraska basketball’s game day experience will rest on its season-opening laurels, especially after one Big Ten Network commentator called the pregame theatrics as good as anything in the state or across the country. “This place was absolutely rocking with Tommy Lee and the University of Nebraska Marching Band. I’ll tell you what: We had goose bumps the size of oranges,” BTN’s Tom Hamilton said. “The atmosphere in here was riveting.”
Riveting is several notches above electric, the minimum standard in Nebraska’s new approach to game day experiences for all sports. “One of the Athletic Department’s top priorities is to improve the fan experience in every sport,” Nebraska Executive Associate AD Marc Boehm said. “This past year, we changed and elevated the role of Ethan Rowley from director of Marketing to director of Fan Experience, and he’s been leading a group of athletic department specialists and university specialists since last summer.
"The Fan Experience Team includes many elements, such as HuskerVision, the band, our cheerleaders and our dancers, plus anyone else who connects with our fans for upcoming events. I congratulate the entire Fan Experience Team for showing what can happen when people collaborate. It was fun to watch Friday night and it rattled the rafters, just like Coach (Tim) Miles and his team did with their performance against Florida Gulf Coast.”
Coach Tim Miles Knows Best: ‘We’re the Show!’
Miles called the pregame an “awesome experience” but stays focused on his role. “Our fans were spectacular and our administration really put on a show … really, really cool stuff,” Miles said. “I’ll remember all of it for a lifetime. But you know what? We’re the show, and the only way we’re going to be the show is if we play basketball really well.’” That is his singular focus, and it will not change. The team is, was and always will be the catalyst and the focus of every gameday experience, and Miles appreciates having a team dedicated to that cause.
Friday morning, Miles addressed more than 4,300 middle school students and their chaperones inside PBA. He stressed the importance of setting goals and then sharing your goals with others who will help hold you accountable in pursuit of those goals. Miles said that his goal was to achieve what no Nebraska Cornhusker basketball coach has achieved in more than 100 years – qualify for the NCAA Tournament and then win a game in that tournament. “That’s my goal and my team’s goal,” he said, and anything that enhances the Huskers reaching that goal will be treated like gold. And that leads us to the next “deal” that affects every season ticketholder and every fan who finds a way to see the Husker men compete live in Season One.
As Nebraska Athletics’ first director of Fan Experience, Rowley works hard every day to inform, entertain and inspire fan interaction. He coordinates a talent-driven team that conjured up a uniquely Nebraskan pregame. They were too superstitious to predict that fans would eat it up like they did as program designers. Rowley is relieved, happy and satisfied that it all came together like a good movie with scattered parts. “It worked well because it came off as one fluid celebration,” he said. “So many people worked together – from the connection with Tommy Lee to getting the whole band together and even getting Karmin at the end. There were so many pieces involved, including the HuskerVision videos that captured the tone and excitement of the night. We couldn’t have done something so big without the collaboration and cooperation from the production folks who work for SMG and PBA.” Both organizations worked their magic with a stunning array of lighting and ribbon board effects shown in the photo above..
Biggest Goal: Become the Huskers’ Sixth Man
The team is understandably proud of producing something that compellingly commemorated a new, sold-out arena in Season One. But before sharing their fingerprints and thoughts on the matter, let’s remind everyone of two primary purposes that connect every Joe and Jane Fan out there and why it’s important to push the envelope: 1) to create a home-game atmosphere that makes it more difficult for opposing teams to beat Nebraska in Lincoln; and 2) to engage every season ticketholder who is now officially a part of a historic, consolidated and committed fan base and remind all of them of the role they can play to become the proverbial “sixth man” at every Nebraska home game.
Miles likes to exhort Husker fans to be loud and proud, and that’s exactly what happened Friday night in Nebraska’s lopsided win over Florida Gulf Coast, which had three starters from last year’s Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament team in its starting lineup.
Give Ben Coleman, the percussion director for the Cornhusker Marching Band, major kudos for his help in taking Friday night’s fan experience to incredible heights. When Tommy Lee arrived in Lincoln nine years ago to film his major network reality show “Tommy Lee Goes to College”, Coleman was a student at UNL. He has kept in touch with him over the years, and the two consider each other as close friends.
Full Marching Band Inside PBA … Quite a Sight!
Coleman became the bridge for the creative team to Lee, the celebrity who helped launch Friday night’s mini-concert/celebration “The energy the crowd shared during the performance was great,” Coleman said. “It’s all about pacing and setting the audience up for something big, one piece at a time. I thought it was a great vision and a great package by all parties. They hooked the audience in from the start and never let up till the end. Seeing a whole collegiate marching band fill an arena floor is quite a sight.” Indeed. Even the announcement of starting lineups had a new lighting/special effects wrinkle. “It was a real power statement,” Coleman said. “For me, it was another can’t miss portion of the night.” Make no mistake. HuskerVision’s creativity was apparent throughout, as always. Kirk Hartman, Tyler Bassinger and Chris Pankonin made sure the videos wove into the fabric of everything else.
The big splash was a big deal to Coleman, who strongly believes Husker fans across the state think it’s time for a new wave of across-the-board energy in Nebraska Athletics. “Lately,” he said, “I’ve been reminiscing on the word ‘moment’. There are so many moments in our lives, we often pass them off without noticing. We take too many things for granted.” Coleman knows Nebraska fans are not accustomed to big splashes like Friday night’s pregame. “Our reputation as hospitable and respectful fans has sometimes kept us in the conservative hole a bit too much,” he said. “While those statements are fabulous and we should never step back from our hospitality, we’ve become known as a bit average. I think the tide is turning, though, and a new wave of energy is slowly pushing through the athletic department and the university as a whole. It certainly doesn’t mean things need to be reinvented, but it’s exciting to see us take the next step.”
Anthony Falcone, UNL’s Associate Director of Bands and the Director of the Cornhusker Marching Band, believes the collaboration among all entities contributed to the game atmosphere and, he said, “It was a privilege and a joy to be a part of such a great team.” Of course he’s partial to the Drumline and Cornhusker Marching Band, but what seems most important to Falcone is something that Miles puts atop his priorities. “The big splash shows the fans, the conference and the country that Nebraska means business when it comes to basketball,” Falcone said. “Hopefully, our fans are learning that they can be just as big a part of the atmosphere as any other element, if not bigger.”
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