Maryland Women's Basketball Becomes an Internet Force
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Brenda Frese is always looking for new ways to promote her nationally ranked Maryland women's basketball program. Her players will meet with local reporters this afternoon as part of the team's annual media day, much like every other team in the country has done. But while that is happening, the players will also be introducing themselves to a much wider audience as part of a new Web site that the team is officially launching today.
The site, MarylandWomens Basketball.com, is a multimedia mix designed to define the image of the program in the minds of potential recruits and die-hard fans, as well as casual visitors.
"I think whenever you get on any college athletic Web site, you're just blurred by busyness and ads and sponsorships and pop-ups," Frese said. "You can't get to the meat of what you really want to read. That was the thing: We wanted something that would give us really sharp focus and was a really good blend between something that obviously would help us from a recruiting end, but that was also fan friendly."
Frese, who is beginning her seventh season at Maryland, has used different methods to present her program. For the past four seasons, the team has had its own reality television show called "Under the Shell," which has documented everything from the Terrapins' run to the 2006 national title to the birth of Frese's twin sons.
The new Web site incorporates many of those videos, using them as a way to illustrate different aspects of the program. The section on academics, for instance, has a video of sophomore forward Drey Mingo, who would like to become a pediatric cardiologist, talking about how she went to one of Frese's sonogram appointments.
There are also videos that were created specifically for the Web site, such as two tours of Comcast Center -- one from a player's perspective (sophomore guard Marah Strickland is the guide) and the other from a longtime fan's.
"We've always wanted to be ahead of the curve," Frese said. "Look at the typical college-age student: They're on the Internet; they're on YouTube. It's all about the videos. How can they be wowed, how can they be entertained?"
The player profile section uses cover-flow navigation similar to what's used on the latest iPods and iTunes. Each profile includes basic biographical information and photos, as well as recorded audio messages from Frese and the player herself.
So instead of just reading about Yemi Oyefuwa, a freshman center from London, fans can listen to an audio message from Oyefuwa, in which she explains how to pronounce her last name, describes herself as "a bit of a computer geek," and reveals that her favorite food is chicken -- all in her lilting accent and backed by a music track.
"We had a lot of fun with that," Strickland said of the player profiles. "If you just see a picture and read a bio, it's not as exciting as hearing someone's voice and hearing the passion she has. It's nice to put a special touch on it, to put our own little flavor on it, to show our personalities."
That was one of the goals of Michelle Miller, a former Maryland walk-on who is spearheading the project. Frese approached Miller earlier this year after reading an article about Miller, who at the time was commuting between Denver (where she was an executive with an Internet domain company) and Arlington (where she was coaching the Washington-Lee girls basketball team). In August, Miller replaced Billy Fennelly as Maryland's administrative assistant to the recruiting coordinator, and focused on creating the Web site.
"There was this kind of mutual respect that [Frese and I] instantly had, despite coming from completely different worlds," said Miller, who graduated from Maryland in 2000 with degrees in finance and marketing. "The common denominator for the two of us was we both agreed that this program could benefit from having something really empowering and unique. [Frese] loves to make a statement, and to put herself out there."
Miller worked with Frese to develop a overall theme -- "More Than Just Basketball" -- for the project. Miller came up with the concept, the brand and the overall design, and put the site together with Bethesda-based BrowserMedia. All told, it took roughly three months -- a grueling schedule that Miller said she was willing to do because she believes so strongly in Frese's vision.
"As a women's program, we have to work harder to get even half the exposure of the men," Miller said. "We really believe that this Web site is a catalyst to turn some heads. . . . That's our number one goal: to say hey, we are more than just basketball, our Web site even shows that itself. It captures things in a way that no one else has done."