Can anyone recall the last time Towson University athletics were the talk of Towson?
Last week, the Towson men's basketball team hosted President Barack Obama and actor Bill Murray. This Saturday the Towson football team is scheduled for a playoff match against Lehigh University in the second-round Football Championship Subdivision—the biggest game in the program's history.
The Greater Towson Council of Community Associations and Towson Chamber of Commerce are hosting a tailgate before Saturday's game, a show of support perhaps unthinkable just two years ago, when community leaders sparred with the university and then-president Robert Caret over construction of the new arena.
"We want to make sure that Towson University knows that we know how successful they've been this year," said GTCCA President David Kosak.
Kosak said he expects at least 25 community members and their families to drop by the organizations' parking spaces in Lot 21, near the Towson Center Arena.
The community support comes at a time when everything is coming together for the athletic department. That Towson finally found success on the football field under third-year head coach Rob Ambrose was both a longtime project and a happy coincidence.
Off the field, Mike Waddell, the school's athletic director since 2010, has revved up efforts to engage neighbors in the local business and residential community, from offering discounts to Rodgers Forge residents and rec leagues to striking deals with the likes of WNST-AM (which now broadcasts many Towson sports games) and Under Armour.
"A lot more people right now are returning our phone calls than they did six months ago," Waddell said. "People want to be associated with a winner."
Waddell's staff put a new coat of paint on marketing efforts, headlined by the slogan "Restore the Roar," and clearly something's clicking: Five of the top 14 home crowds ever seen at a Towson game showed up this season.
As of Thursday evening, nearly 9,000 tickets had been sold to the Saturday afternoon game. Waddell said the game could sell out. Depending on how the next several weeks of playoffs pan out, it will likely be Towson's only home playoff game this year.
"We're 240 minutes away from being the national champions," he said. "We need students, townspeople, alumni, brothers, sisters, anybody that has a pulse ... If we have an overwhelming crowd that's cheering for the black and gold of Towson University, our odds go sky high."
There are no studies about the economic impact of FCS football, but Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, prefers to talk about things more anecdotal. More Towson apparel is on the streets. Outlets from The Baltimore Sun to ESPN are throwing the Towson name out there. That's the sort of advertising you can't buy. And people all over Towson are excited, she said.
"They weren't discussing their football team last year. The business community wasn't talking Towson football, but they're talking Towson football now," Hafford said. "I think we'll be able to get people to go to some games, not just business people, but community people."
The tailgate plan came together last Saturday, according to Kosak. Kosak, himself a Towson graduate, said he has been on campus almost as often as when he was a student. He has attended several Towson games this season, and thinks other residents are starting to catch on.
"The idea that I can drive a mile and a half and tailgate and go watch a playoff football game is pretty awesome," he said.