YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A Burgan Real Estate sign hangs over a section of Beeghly Center where a few hundred students sit, watching the Youngstown State University basketball teams play.
The president of Burgan Real Estate, Patrick Burgan, says his company’s sponsorship of the section is one way to keep the students from leaving the Mahoning Valley after they graduate.
“A high tide raises all ships. So the more people we could get involved with, the better for YSU, which means the better for the community, which means better for the businesses,” Burgan says. “It would certainly be a great byproduct if that would be the case.”
The student seating section is part of the Burgan advertising package with the athletics department of the university, says Chris Sumner, YSU athletics assistant director. Burgan is one of some 100 corporate sponsors of YSU athletics.
Sumner is in charge of sales and game management for Penguins men and women’s home basketball games. He sees to the visibility of the advertisements and controls a myriad of other event details unrelated to the game itself.
“We look forward to creating a great atmosphere here at Beeghly Center,” says Sumner, one of three people in the athletics department responsible for generating revenue through corporate sponsorships.
Chloe Calhoun, a sophomore, and her friends are spreading the word about the student section around campus. She is the niece of YSU men’s basketball head coach Jerrod Calhoun.
The coach’s staff and players passed out coffee and food from the on-campus Dunkin’ Donuts before the season to drum up student interest.
“I think it creates an environment for these kids to go somewhere and even meet new kids, interact with each other and rally around the school that they all attend,” Calhoun says.
The YSU men’s basketball coach says people who have never been to a basketball contest will find a fast-paced game. Getting a dedicated student section is important for the overall atmosphere.
“If we could ever get it to where it’s a loud atmosphere creating a major home court advantage, it would be something. We’re not there yet. I think we’re a work in progress. But I think creating the student section is a step in a great direction,” Calhoun says.
“It’s been a lot of hard work to do some of the things we’ve been able to do. This is a big missing piece to the puzzle. People that come to watch the men’s and women’s teams, I think they enjoy it. I think they come back once they come for the first time,” the coach says.
Calhoun, his staff and team have been visible in the community with service projects and other entities – selling a product that represents many local businesses. In turn, companies like Burgan Real Estate work with YSU athletics.
“It’s always great to see businesses that give back,” Calhoun says.
“There’s so many people that support this university and athletics. It’s one of the reasons I love being here – because there’s that interaction. It’s a small-town feel that everybody kind of knows everybody.”
Attracting the crowds
Burgan says he was looking for new and unique sponsorship opportunities. He remembers a YSU football road game he attended where students had a chance to get their books for free for a year.
Youngstown State does something similar. At each home game, a student’s name is drawn at random and given a shot at winning $10,000 – a year’s tuition. All the student has to do is putt a golf ball 94 feet across the basketball court into a hole.
“YSU does so much for our community that anything we could do to promote them or get some eyeballs on YSU and at the same time get a few eyeballs on Burgan Real Estate. That never hurts,” Burgan says.
In select YSU home basketball games, students have the chance to make a shot from half-court to win a cash prize. At the last home men and women’s basketball games, two lucky fans were given the chance to make a half-court shot for a $5,000 shopping spree at Thom Duma Fine Jewelers.
At every home Thursday men’s and Friday women’s games, there will be cornhole and activities for students.
Sumner, who spent eight years in game management with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers before coming to YSU in 2017, says he worked with AVI Foodsystems in the off-season to secure $2 beer nights for students.
Also scheduled are giveaways of T-shirts, Chick-fil-A food, pizza and business-sponsored merchandise.
“Maybe down the road [we’ll try] to incorporate more dollar hot dog nights and two-dollar beer nights – things like that,” Sumner says. “Right now it’s a focus on students. Build that and work from there.”
There will also be three kids’ days this season, the first of which was Dec. 11 against Canisius. “We’ll have inflatables up here, different activities for kids,” Sumner says.
He had two goals this season – building a student section and giving corporate groups a place to gather.
At select basketball games this season, the west bleachers will be pushed back and half of the section will be reserved for corporate customers to entertain guests.
“Here at the Beeghly Center, we didn’t have an area designated for hospitality groups,” he says. “I came up with the idea in the off-season.”
Sumner has spoken to Calhoun and YSU women’s basketball head coach John Barnes about chairback floor seating for fans. That has been put on the backburner, however, because of the pandemic.
“We’re definitely looking to do that in the future,” Sumner says.
Pictured: Chris Sumner, YSU assistant athletics director in charge of sales and event management, helped to secure this year’s Burgan Real Estate student section for the school’s basketball games.