UH Must Reach Out To Distrusting Fans

A dejected Norm Chow bows his head after a 56-59 loss to Wyoming. UH is banking on Chow to turn things around in 2014 and hoping fans will be there to see it | AP photo

A dejected Norm Chow bows his head after a 56-59 loss to Wyoming. UH is banking on Chow to turn things around in 2014 and hoping fans will be there to see it | AP photo

The University of Hawaii has 254 days to convince a skeptical public that its football program is worthy of investment. That’s going to be a hard sell for a ticket base that is growing weary of getting less value for its entertainment dollar. So far, the actions have been minimal and have done little to instill confidence.

The firing of defensive coordinator Thom Kaumeyer had to happen. What looked like a stout defense early on regressed into one of the worst units in the country, giving up an average 38.8 points per game (No. 125 in the nation), including 42.1 over its last six games. Line-backers coach Tony Tuioti, a well-thought-of former player who seemed to have a bright future at his alma mater, also was let go in a cleanup process that could have included any coach on the roster, including those on offense.

For all the talk about the team’s offensive improvements, its inability to protect the passer, stay away from dumb penalties and protect the football put continued pressure on the overmatched defense. The offense was 10th in the Mountain West in scoring, 11th in total offense, and last in rushing and sacks allowed. Changes on defense had to happen, but for the offensive staff to remain intact after one of the worst campaigns in school history unfairly places the blame on just one side of the ball. It also shows a lack of any real understanding of the problems, which has further eroded fan confidence. UH needs to begin repairing its relationship with fans immediately. A first step is apologizing.

I’m not naive enough to think this would actually happen. Coaches tend to admit mistakes only in small doses and only to protect players. For the old-school and button-lipped Norm Chow, such a suggestion is even more absurd. But as athletic departments are being asked to operate more as actual businesses, apologizing, in theory, is not so far-fetched.

The idea that businesses should apologize for failures (legal, moral or otherwise) is becoming commonplace. According to Ivey Business Journal (IBJ), a well-crafted, correctly issued apology can enhance a company’s reputation and build trust, satisfaction and customer loyalty.

These are all things the football program lacks with its ticket buyers.

The Journal article goes on to say businesses cannot afford to ignore failures and avoid apologizing. Doing so would be difficult but not impossible.

To make an apology believable, Chow would need to say what everyone already knows: that his team failed because of the decisions he made. This is what IBJ calls staying away from a “non-apology apology.” Dodging responsibility, it says, is not only unacceptable but can lead to further distrust. With everything that has happened in Manoa over the last year, trust is all but gone.

Impossible? Almost surely. But there are ways to keep fans engaged.

UH needs to make football at Aloha Stadium an event. Just as it has done with its Keiki Fun Zone, UH can create new programs to entice ticket buyers. Here are a few suggestions.

* Car Giveaway. Home opener Aug. 30 vs. Washington. According to Kelly Blue Book, a 2014 Honda Civic sedan has an out-the-door price of $21,000 – that’s 60 cents per seat at 35,000 tickets sold. Promote it all summer. Winning ticket from those in attendance between the third and fourth quarters.

* Noga Night. Home opener at Aloha Stadium. Put Al, Niko, George and Pete into real old-school unis and pay them to cruise the parking lot and the stadium to interact with fans. Show their highlights on scoreboard at half-time.

* Timmy Chang Night. Nov. 5, 2014 (if home game that weekend). This has to happen anyway. On Nov. 2, 2004, Chang became the all-time leading passer in NCAA history. Celebrate his legacy by staging a reunion with former teammates (Jason Rivers, Nate Ilaoa, Tala Esera, Mel Purcell, Leonard Peters, etc.) for autographs and a half-time flag-football game.

* Free semester night. Last home game of season. A student is entered into the drawing every time he/she goes to a game. Winning student gets free semester of tuition.

It can’t hurt to try.
Twitter @SteveMurray84