The Year of the Cardinal: Capitalizing on the University of Louisville’s ‘Unique Year’ with Sr. Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations Kenny Klein

The Year of the Cardinal: Capitalizing on the University of Louisville’s ‘Unique Year’ with Sr. Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations Kenny Klein

By: Natalie Mikolich

Just in time for the upcoming Russell Athletic Bowl on December 28th when the Louisville Cardinals take on the Miami Hurricanes in Orlando, Florida, in their second straight Bowl game appearance, the University of Louisville is set to air the “Year of the Cardinal” one hour documentary December 19th on ESPNU

In 2013, Louisville became the FIRST University EVER to win a BCS Bowl game, place both its men's and women's basketball teams in the NCAA Final Four and reach the College World Series in the same season (2013).  The ESPNU documentary is just one of the communication strategies this season that the Cardinals are implementing throughout 2013-2014 school year to capitalize on the momentum of their “unique year” in 2013.

In our Q&A with Senior Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations/SID University of Louisville, Kenny Klein, he discusses more on how the rise of Louisville Athletics didn’t happen all of a sudden, but has been years in the making.  Along with this, Kenny shares how the success of their athletic programs and increased media exposure in 2013 has impacted the University from admissions to donors.

And, with their 100th basketball season now underway at Louisville, Kenny also unveils the new communication campaigns in place for the Cardinals this season and how they are seeking to “tie the attention of their current team in with their past.”

Here is more in our Q&A with Kenny Klein including details about Louisville’s communication strategies and tactics, and how the SID is in a supporting role for their coaches and programs while also developing awareness and carrying out the mission and direction set in motion by their administration:

1. Broadly, how important has the SID been for Louisville with the rise of your athletic programs the past several years while the Athletic Department was implementing their changes?

The successes of our university have certainly provided an abundance of material for our department to promote.  We have tried to capitalize on our unique accomplishment of being the first university ever to win a BCS Bowl game, place both its men's and women's basketball teams in the NCAA Final Four and reach the College World Series in the same season.  While each of those programs and others within our 23 sports programs have had their measure of success over the years, having those four reach such a high level in a single year was very special.  Our sports information staff is just one of many components within our overall athletic department that has worked to support our sports programs and the vision of our athletic director, Tom Jurich.  It didn’t happen all of a sudden.  It has been years in the making and hopefully our constructive efforts have helped in some measure.

2. How have your public relations and communication strategies and tactics changed during the rise of Louisville’s athletic programs?

We specifically focused on the unique year we had during our summer and preparations for this year across our department.  We have worked with an outside producer to create a one-hour “Year of the Cardinal” documentary, which will air on ESPNU in December.  We gained a lot of visibility with our “Year of the Cardinal” infographics and web site, providing nearly a month long of social media hits to focus on the accomplishments of the past year.  Those items are available at this link:

We are in a supporting role for our coaches and their programs, while also developing awareness and carrying out the mission and direction set in motion by our administration.  We don’t rely on mass emails, a web site or social media channels to promote our teams, although each certainly has its value and are necessary.   It also takes personal contact with mainstream media, working with television partners for maximum reach, and generating sound ideas to put into motion.

3. What kind of impact did the 2013 athletics season and increased media exposure have on the University and Athletic Department?

It was really a quadruple accomplishment with our football, baseball and men’s and women’s basketball programs.  With the level of their four achievements, others have gotten lost like reaching the final eight teams in men’s soccer or both men’s and women’s swimming teams finishing in the top 20 including a men’s individual national champion.  We had top 25 teams in volleyball, softball, rowing and field hockey too.  We’re a complete program in which everyone works together as a family and we’re poised for our impending move to the Atlantic Coast Conference.  

We have examined each of our programs to be ready for that move that affects our entire university.  There have been more football and men’s basketball media requests than we can accommodate.  We take each as a great opportunity to promote our institution, but have to manage those interview requests with the coaches and student-athletes schedules and wishes in mind.  We could have done multiple interviews a day with Kevin Ware on his recovery from a gruesome broken leg, and still not have been able to do all of them.  All of the attention and success likely had an impact on our university having to cap admissions in the spring, and it has to have a positive effect on donors to the university and our athletic department.  Our department had produced terrific results both academically and in competition, and our supporters have witnessed the development over the years and want to be a part of it.

4. For the new basketball season getting underway, are there any new communications campaigns planned for Louisville as the defending NCAA team champions for men’s basketball? Is there anything planned surrounding its 100th season on basketball at Louisville?

With this as our 100th season, we have sought to tie the attention of our current team in with our past, such as blending current player highlights with similar notable players from the past in our starting line-ups introduction video.  Our fan base is very knowledgeable, many have been around for several years and we want to recognize the stars from the past while also focusing on our current team.  While the students we are recruiting now weren’t even alive when we won our national titles in 1980 and 1986, a high percentage of the fans in our 22,000-seat arena were here then and remember those teams well. 

As in any communications, one has to remember its audience.  We have a clever series of whiteboard videos by decades that will run for a 10-week period through our men’s basketball season.  They will be shown at games and be available online as well.  We moved our Athletic Hall of Fame induction which usually is done surrounding a football weekend to basketball season this year because of the historical significance of this season.  In February, we will recognize the 50th anniversary of basketball integration during Black History Month.  Our men’s basketball team has really achieved in the classroom and we will continue to try to make others aware of that success:  winning the last three Big East team academic awards, 10 straight semesters with around a 3.0 team grade point average, and ranking in the top 10 percent in the nation in the APR.  Our national championship team had a collective 3.295 GPA, a figure which President Obama noted in his speech when our team visited the White House this summer.

5. What are the main messages you will be sharing with Louisville’s basketball fans via social or traditional media this season and what do you want to resonate most with them?

We work very hard as a department, try to execute our jobs with class and integrity, and try to have fun along the way.  We want our fans to have fun too, and to take pride in the university they support.  We want to provide them with experiences that support that and field competitive teams in all sports that are enjoyable to watch.  When you have success, it definitely adds to expectations.  We don’t want a level of expectations to adversely affect the enjoyment our fans.  We want our fans to enjoy and celebrate our third national championship and then enjoy the journey that our current team provides as we set our sights on reaching a third straight Final Four.

6. Like the “L1C4” which is unique to Louisville, are there any traditional or social media communications campaigns unique to Louisville athletics in general or tied into L1C4?

The “Louisville First, Cards Forever” tag (#L1C4 in Twitter-ese) began a few years ago when Coach Rick Pitino was rebranding our men’s basketball team as one that plays for the name on the front of the uniform first.   The total mindset of our group has been to focus on TEAM first, and the winning has followed.  A group of other simple hashtags are prevalent as well -- #CardNation, #Louisville, #Cardinals – but the #L1C4 is preferred.

7. Anything else you would like to mention about working in sports communication?

The hours can be long and the workload can be overwhelming at times, but I have an opportunity to work with terrific people that are committed to doing it the right way.  Every day brings a new challenge.