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Maryland commissioned PR campaign to pitch Big Ten move

Terrapins officials added positive comments to fan message boards to move public opinion in favor of Maryland's move away from the ACC.

Patrick McDermott

Expecting most fans to be hostile to their decision to move to the Big Ten Conference, administrators at the University of Maryland built a public relations campaign to pitch the school's realignment. According to a report by Jeff Barker of the Baltimore Sun, Maryland lobbied influential media members, including ESPN SportsCenter anchor and noted Terps fan Scott Van Pelt, and planted positive comments on Maryland fan message boards in an attempt to calm irate supporters.

Last November, Maryland announced it was leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference, where it had played since the league was founded in 1953, to join the Big Ten. School officials cited the financial windfall promised by Big Ten membership, estimated at $100 million over the university's first six years in its new conference, as the dominant factor in agreeing to the move. Leaving the ACC, however, would likely mean the end of regional rivalries with the likes of Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Emails obtained by the Sun indicate that the negative reaction of fans to news of the change was expected and somewhat mollified by the school's PR strategy:

"So far, this is unfolding just as we expected," Brian Ullmann, assistant vice president for marketing and communications, wrote in an email to deputy athletic director Nathan Pine on Nov. 18, one day after negotiations on the impending move were disclosed in the media. "We knew that in the absence of our messaging during this initial stage, most fans would react emotionally and negatively. That has occurred and clearly the message boards and comments sections skew heavily negative. Several of us placed comments on boards and media sites last night to help balance it out."

Maryland is finishing its final season in the ACC, and will join the Big Ten in July 2014.

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