Aug 232007
 
Authors: Jeff Dillon

When Paul Kowalczyk took over as CSU athletic director in May of 2006, he said he found something missing: a community consistently supportive of Ram athletics.

Now he is working to change that, and fans will get a first-hand example this fall with the unveiling of “Ram Town,” a free fan experience that will open three hours prior to each home football game.

Ram Town, which will be east of the player entrance tunnel on the south side of Hughes Stadium, will feature attractions for all ages, including interactive displays and tailgating areas.

With up-and-down football attendance the past several seasons (the Rams’ average of 24,183 per game last season ranked seventh in the Mountain West), Kowalczyk said he feels the Fort Collins community is capable of better involvement.

“When everyone’s pulling in the same direction, it’s pretty exciting and we can be very successful,” he said. “I didn’t get that feeling (when I got) here. I got the feeling that CSU athletics were getting taken for granted and that no one pays much attention to them.”

Enter Ram Town, an idea spawned in November of last year when Kowalczyk discussed improving game management with Associate AD Gary Ozzello.

“Paul sat everyone down and said ‘I want more community support, what can we do to get that?'” Ozzello said. “We wanted to take some steps to increase community spirit around the school and its athletics.”

That meeting progressed into further meetings involving members of the community, including City Manager Darin Atteberry, Jim Clark, executive director of the Fort Collins Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Ann Hutchison of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce.

Kowalczyk said many ideas were borrowed from similar initiatives at other universities, including Southern Illinois, where Kowalczyk served as AD before coming to CSU.

“We had done something similar at SIU,” he said. “We started with a stretch of grass and a dream and we turned it unto something very popular.”

Ram Town is part of the program’s broader “Game Day Fort Collins” initiative, which includes a brand new CSU Web site, which is designed to give fans easy access to tickets, lodging and restaurants in Fort Collins.

A group called the Ram Ambassadors will also be present at each home football game to give information and assist fans.

Coach Sonny Lubick said he believes Fort Collins is the perfect college sports town, when enough people get involved.

“Ever since I came here, I hoped we could make Colorado State on Saturday a football town,” said Lubick. “We haven’t had the best team the past few years, but look at a program like Nebraska. They’re down for several years and they still get their 75,000. We’ve had some years with a lot of excitement and we need every year to be like that.”

Ozzello agreed, and said he expects Ram Town to help inspire more fans to come out to the games.

“One of the reasons we adopted this is to provide an environment that, win or lose, every person leaves saying ‘man, that was fun, I can’t wait to come back again next week,'” Ozzello said.

But Kowalczyk said he realizes the bottom line will always be wins and losses.

“What matters most is how we play,” he said. “But we want people to realize that these games are huge economic events for this town. Each game brings in around $1.5 million to this community. It’s their party, we want them to be a part of it.”

Kowalczyk said that students are invited to take part in the Ram Town festivities, beginning with the Rams’ first home game against California Sept. 8.

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What is Ram Town?

A fan-friendly, football pre-game center featuring:

– Inflatable displays and interactive play areas for kids

– A “Ram Locker Room Experience”

– Food and Beverage venders

– Corporate and Individual tailgating areas

– For more info, call CSU athletics at 970-491-4666

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