Before Thursday morning, Saturday’s football game between the University of Maine and Stony Brook University was simply the Black Bears’ home opener.
Now, thanks to ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning” show, it’s “The Battle for the Butter.”
No matter how you slice it, it’s creating good publicity for both teams as well as the Colonial Athletic Association and Big South Conference.
“Yeah, we’re having some fun with it,” said Doug DeBiase, UM’s associate manager of media relations. “It’s pretty exciting just in terms of the publicity we’re getting from it. We could win 10 straight national titles and not get this kind of national coverage.”
UMaine’s marketing department is milking this opportunity for all it’s worth, and trying to butter up the hosts at the same time.
“Both schools have sent out full press packages to the show’s producers. We sent them a box of Maine football items including a foam football helmet and game jersey, and our marketing people have printed up 150 T-shirts to give out at the game,” said DeBiase, who called the show and talked to the hosts on Thursday.
The game kicks off at 6 p.m. today at Alfond Stadium in Orono.
The extra hubbub over the game resulted from a Thursday morning show discussion between producer Liam Chapman and hosts Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg about Saturday’s big game between Ohio State University and the University of Southern California and the moniker ESPN was using to promote it: “Collision at the Coliseum.”
“We were just joking around and thought it would be fun to name another, lesser-known game that wouldn’t get much publicity,” Chapman explained. We got out a newspaper, looked at a list, and picked four.”
Those four were Maine-Stony Brook, Iona-Wagner, Franklin-Butler and Temple-Buffalo.
“It’s too easy to name USC-Ohio State,” said Greenberg on the show. “Let’s have a challenge here.”
Chapman, who hails from Worthing, England, had final say and chose Maine, but it wasn’t exactly a random choice.
“My girlfriend’s parents have a cottage in Wells Beach. I love Maine,” he said. “We make it up there about two or three times a year.”
Once that choice was made, the hosts threw it open to their listeners to come up with a catch name during the show, which runs each day from 6 to 10 a.m. on ESPN Radio and is simulcast on ESPN2-TV, but only one hour of the show can be heard locally. The 9-10 a.m. segment runs on Bangor’s WZON, 620 AM.
Everything from “Bore on the Shore” to “Lollapalooza in Lobster Land” was submitted by phone and e-mail before Battle for the Butter, submitted by a Las Vegas man, was chosen. The name refers to the preferred condiment to serve with Maine’s signature sea creature delicacy.
“We all agreed,” Chapman said. “We liked the alliteration and we didn’t want one that made fun of the schools or dumped on the game.”
It didn’t stop there. Show contributor Todd McShay, who normally would break down the USC-Ohio State game Monday, instead will break down the Maine-Stony Brook game with video clips supplied by WABI-TV of Bangor. Ironically, McShay used to play for the University of Richmond, another CAA and former Atlantic 10 member.
“I have a jersey from each school. We’ll display the winning one on the set, and we’ll talk to the winning coach by phone Monday,” Chapman said.
ESPN communications manager Dan Quinn said the idea has become so instantly popular it will become a weekly staple of the show.
“We had a feeling it was kind of a unique thing,” Chapman said. “Who knows? We could make this an annual thing, but we don’t want it to get too carried away.”
Whatever happens, Maine officials are happy to be part of the initial concept.
“This just kind of landed in our laps, but the national exposure is great,” said Joe Roberts, UMaine’s associate athletic director. “They were essentially talking for an hour and a half about us yesterday.”
A win will give head coach Jack Cosgrove further opportunity to promote UMaine by talking about the level of football it plays, the number of pro players it has produced, and some of the Bears’ big recent victories. This kind of promotion could even land the Black Bears a recruit or two.
“Not only potential recruits, but students as well. I don’t know what the cost is for that type of commercial on a national TV or radio broadcast, but we know there’s a lot of value in it just from the number of calls and e-mails we’re getting from people all over the country.” said Roberts. “We’re trying to see if the number of hits on our Web site went up.”
Although the game is now the talk of the Orono campus and well beyond, it hasn’t exactly been foremost on the minds of coaches and players.
“Jack hasn’t thought too much about it because he’s so focused on the game itself,” DeBiase said. “Some of the players saw it yesterday, but there hasn’t been a lot of talk about it around practice and the locker room.”
DeBiase and Roberts said they’ve had many friends and family members from all over the country call them about the game after hearing about it.
“My brother-in-law in Virginia was talking to me about it yesterday and he’s not even a sports fan,” Roberts said.
Thanks to the show, the game has gone from regional interest to national topic, and people from Columbia Falls to Columbia Heights, Wash., have more than a passing interest in which team is the cream of the crop, and who gets whipped.
The game will be carried live by WABI-TV; on Learfield Black Bear Radio Network stations Bangor’s WVOM (103.9 FM), Millinocket’s WSYY (1240 AM), Rockland’s WRKD (1450 AM), Augusta’s WFAU (1280 AM), Boothbay’s WCME (96.7 FM), Portland’s WLOB (1300 AM), and Houlton’s WBCQ (94.7 FM); and online at www.watchmainesports.com and www.goblackbears.com.
Before it was “Battle for the Butter”
ESPN Radio listener suggestions for the promotional nickname to bill Saturday’s Stony Brook University-University of Maine football game:
The Bore on the Shore
Slaughter at the Sea
Laughingstock at the Lighthouse
Lollapalooza in Lobster Land
Mobsters vs. Lobsters
Altercation on the Atlantic
The Rock Lobster Bowl
The Beatdown in Bangor
Bash at the Bears Den
Ruckus on the Rocks
The L.L. Bean Bowl
Commotion by the Ocean
Stone Cold Clash
Clash of the Crab Cakes Cupcakes
Rock in a Hard Place
If You Love This One, You’ll Love Iona-Wagner
Ineptitude in the North Latitude
The Lashing at the Lighthouse