One year later: AD Vowels focuses on enhancing Titan brand

Robert Vowels has been on the job for a year now as UDM athletic director, and branding still remains the name of the game for him. 

The former vice president of student-athlete affairs for the NCAA vowed to enhance the Titans brand at his introductory press conference last May, and hasn’t wavered in his commitment to achieving the goal. 

His first major step in improving the brand was getting broadcast contracts established with two metro-Detroit networks. 

Vowels, a former commissioner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, brought a radio presence to Detroit Titans men’s basketball with CBS Sports-owned 97.1 The Ticket and did the same on the TV side with the help of WADL, a Mount Clemens-based station. 

“Not having a radio or TV provider was a void for the (men’s) basketball program,” Vowels said. 

Vowels believes the radio contract with 97.1 was a big get for UDM athletics because “radio is still really, really big in college athletics and in sports in general.”

As for the TV contract with WADL, he saw it as an opportunity to get a regional network involved with enhancing Titans sports. 

They are not the only vehicles that Vowels will be using to gain a higher level of recognition for the university’s 19 Division I athletic programs.

In association with WADL, the Titan Classic Sports Network – a 24/7 sports network featuring classic Titan sports games, such as the men’s basketball team’s upset of eventual national champion Marquette in 1977 – launched on Labor Day.

As a result, UDM has become just the third school in the nation to have its own TV network, with Brigham Young University and the University of Texas being the other two, Vowels said.

“It’s important because people who have kind of forgotten about us and former student-athletes who maybe have grown disconnected from the program over the years, such as U of D football players, now have a platform to use for re-connecting with the university,” Vowels said.

Vowels plans to build TCSN into a “robust and vibrant” network going forward.

Games from last season and ones to be played this season are scheduled to be added into the library of programming, along with other men’s and women’s basketball properties from years past.

And the student-athletes playing in those men’s and women’s basketball games this season, plus those competing in the 17 other UDM sports programs, will be sporting only one of two logos during the 2014-15 academic year: the Titan Shield, which bears the Detroit Titans name spread over the shield, or the red block “D,” which possesses a blue and gray outline.

Establishing consistency across all platforms is key in the overall branding movement, according to Vowels.

It begs the question of whether or not he has done a satisfactory job in improving and promoting the brand thus far.

As for Vowels’ personal critique, he gave himself a “B-,” claiming that athletics hit some goals, but also missed some opportunities to enliven the UDM sports image.

Titans radio announcer Dan Leach believes Vowels has already taken the brand to “impressive heights” in his first year on the job, and that it can only be strengthened and taken to greater heights by his presence. 

Making all coaches the CEOs of their respective sports programs is the next step in Vowels’ large-scale image-enhancement plan for athletics. 

This large-scale idea of Vowels and his staff incorporates having coaches handle the recruiting, scheduling and academics of their programs. 

With this being the case, his plan ultimately is to have each program “dominate” the Horizon League, with no less than a third-place finish within the conference. 

While it might not be manageable for every sports team at UDM this year, Vowels envisions it being a distinct possibility for this season's men’s basketball team due to head coach Ray McCallum’s strong recruiting and the “camaraderie” built from the team’s Vancouver trip this summer. 

During the team’s five-day stay in Canada, McCallum’s squad managed to win all four games. 

It’s not just about getting men’s basketball on the national radar, however. 

It’s a university-wide initiative that Vowels is committed to bringing to fruition in his tenure as Detroit athletic director, and the only thing capable of preventing it from happening appears to be Vowels putting a halt to the campaign himself.