May 14, 2012
By Kyle Campbell
Assistant Athletics Director for Media and Public Relations
Here are the numbers: 3,241 fans (not including Oxford), 1,927 miles, 45 media clips, 28 staff members, 16 events, 6 days, 3 dynamic leaders and 1 strong message.
Those figures do not do justice to the inaugural Rebel Road Trip. The weeklong journey across three states began with one goal in mind: unite Rebel Nation. Mission accomplished.
With Chancellor Dan Jones, Athletics Director Ross Bjork and Head Football Coach Hugh Freeze leading the rallying cries, the atmosphere was electric at each stop, and a sense of confidence was restored in the future of the Ole Miss Rebels.
The “caravan” concept of meetings is not new to college athletics, and the idea of it had been tossed around the university for several years. With the current climate of the fanbase and new leadership in place in Rebel Athletics, it was clear to all of us that the timing was right to do something new and exciting.
With that, a routine meeting in January between Athletics, the Alumni Association and the UMAA Foundation about summer speaking engagements turned into a unanimous agreement to launch an ambitious tour that would span the region and generate a blitz of media.
BLOG: RRT12 Media Blitz
An aggressive marketing campaign began that included a website, poster, social media, newspaper ads, etc., and planning commenced on an event format that would turn a club meeting of the past into a fan festival that could draw large crowds. Consistency was paramount, so that every event is as exciting as the next.
Some of the new elements of the tour had a concert style to them, particularly the merchandise and the wrapped motorcoach that would transport the speakers from location to location.
Putting on three events per day of this magnitude required plenty of staff to prep each venue. Two advanced teams were formed, led by Brandon Hudspeth from Athletics Marketing and Port Kaigler from Alumni. Teams would alternate events and were comprised of approximately seven people.
BLOG: RRT12 Staff Shoutouts
While the advanced teams traveled in university vans and SUVs, the speakers group hit the roads in a motorcoach provided and driven by generous Vaught Society member Ben Burns of Iuka. Several flights on the university plane were also sprinkled in for the longer legs of the tour.
Athletics Director Ross Bjork, Ben Burns, Burns' son Konner, Coach Hugh Freeze, and Chancellor Dan Jones in front of Burns' motorcoach (Photo Courtesy Alumni Association).
Alumni Profile: Ben Burns
Times of the events were 7:30-9 a.m., 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. and 5:30-7:30 p.m. There were initial concerns about the size of crowds for the early morning events, but when 136 energetic Rebels greeted us for the RRT kickoff in Meridian that Monday morning, those anxieties were gone.
Freeze was presented a personalized Peavey guitar in Meridian (Photo Courtesy Alumni Association).
The program was the same at each meeting. Alumni Association Executive Director Tim Walsh emceed the events and began each meeting with a brief introduction leading into a six-minute video about the university.
A video was already in the works before plans formulated for RRT, and Athletics’ creative director Micah Ginn made sure it was a special one. Filled with commentary from university and student leaders, the six-minute piece brought a message of optimism and gratitude and served as the perfect table setter for the event.
Chancellor Jones immediately followed the video and continued that sentiment of thankfulness to the fans during his five-minute talk. He also shared some of the remarkable happenings on campus before introducing the new Athletics Director.
Bjork’s 15-minute speech focused on the many outstanding qualities he saw at Ole Miss as an outsider coming in. With group hugs at every stop, he stressed that central message of unity and how there is not a better time to be an Ole Miss Rebel.
Last to the podium was Freeze, who showed why he has been in such demand as a motivational speaker over his career. His funny stories, inspirational messages and brutal honesty wowed the crowds during the 20-minute speech and ensuing Q&A and left everyone ready to kick off the 2012 football season in April.
Attendance was outstanding for the tour, and at least six venues were at capacity. The best turnouts were Corinth among the morning events at 240, Nashville at lunch at 240 and Jackson in the evening at 680.
BLOG: RRT12 Capacity Crowds
Perhaps the greatest stop in the trip was the last. The event lasted less than 10 minutes, but our speakers’ time on the Double Decker stage that Saturday in Oxford was unforgettable.
The crowds for the Double Decker Arts Festival are not always of the sports fan variety, so we were not sure what to expect. Just moments before our time on the stage, the gathering of people on the north end of the Square was still fairly small.
However, in a matter of seconds, hundreds of people turned into thousands, and the result was one of the greatest Hotty Toddies every shouted. It provided the perfect ending to a weeklong rejuvenation of Rebel Nation.
Although it may be hard to top, plans are already being made for future Rebel Road Trips. A tentative 2013 schedule is in place, and future stops are being lined up. We would like to thank all of those who joined us for the first RRT, and we hope many more of you join us in the future.
RebelRoadTrip.com: Future Schedules