Zinn Making His Mark In WVU’s Marketing Department
MORGANTOWN — Even in a rare 21-loss season for Bob Huggins’ West Virginia basketball team last year, going to the game remained the most entertaining show in town.
Right from the National Anthem to a light show to rolling out the carpet and the introduction of the players, to the T-shirt tosses and the “Kiss Cam,” to the halftime entertainment and the Kroger Shopping Cart Shoot Out, a basketball game at the Coliseum always is an event to look forward to.
The man behind it is Nathaniel Zinn, assistant athletic director/marketing, who along with his staff, pieces together the entertainment that enhances the main event, which is WVU basketball.
Zinn, from Clarksburg, is a WVU graduate who was a walk-on placekicker in football. What he does isn’t easy, but it isn’t exactly what you’d call hard work, either, putting it all together.
“I tell our staff when you come to work, let’s have fun. We’re here to entertain our fans,” Zinn said on Wednesday, having just successfully put together a pulsating atmosphere at the Coliseum for the first NCAA final ever held in Morgantown in rifle.
That was such a hit that the magazine “Shooting Sports USA” characterized it as “nothing short of electric” before a record crowd — more than double the previous record.
“Ranging from AC/DC to Bruce Springsteen to Van Morrison — both the shooters and spectators alike were enjoying themselves!” the magazine wrote.
And that was mild compared to the wild event that is a basketball night at the Coliseum.
It starts, really, with the National Anthem.
“We build up to the start of the game as people come into the game and it starts with a great national anthem,” Zinn explained. “We have had a lot of great singers here within driving distance of the Coliseum. People come and go, things happen in their lives, so we’re always looking for new singers.”
They just lost one of their prize Anthem singers as Leslie Dorchester has gone to Houston with her husband, Ryan, the right hand man of football coach Dana Holgorsen.
“Honestly, that was a tough loss. We talked about that just the other day,” Zinn said. “I’ll have to let the Houston marketing staff know about her … and they have the professional teams there, too.”
Still, there are many favorites such as Peter Wilson, a native of Morgantown who is a violinist in the U.S. Marine White House Band, and Ed Lewis, whose voice fills the Coliseum and whose act is expanding. You can see him on Youtube auditioning this January at PNC Park in a snowstorm to sing before a Pittsburgh Pirates’ game.
“Sometimes it’s planned out and there’s a lot of effort behind the scenes that go into getting a singer … and sometimes you get lucky,” Zinn said
So it was with Patrolman Carlton Smith.
“We had one of those bad snow storms before the Kansas game a couple of years. We had Leslie scheduled to sing, but she couldn’t make because of the snowstorm and traffic was gridlocked all over town,” Zinn said.
“He happened to be working that night. It was 10 minutes before the anthem and we were getting ready to have the band play it when I happened to see him walk by the cheerleaders.
“Hey, Carlton, didn’t you sing the anthem for us once or twice this year before a soccer game,” Zinn said.
“Yeah,” he answered.
“Would you be willing to sing it tonight?” Zinn asked.
“How much time do I have?”
“About five minutes,” Zinn answered.
“Great, I’d be happy to do it. Can I get a bottle of water and a place to tune up a little?” he asked.
That night he wowed the crowd.
From the Anthem there’s a pregame video.
“We make a strong team entrance video with the lights out. That builds up excitement going into the tipoff. Then after that we go with the flow of the game,” Zinn said.
Of course, the pre-game highlight is the introduction and the rolling out of the carpet, one of the great traditions in college basketball.
There is a lot of competition for fans, the team even competing with itself on television and social media, so the in-house experience must be exciting.
The students play a big part in that. They take up a section of prime seats that could be sold for top dollar, but they have resisted making that change.
“As we’ve seen over the years, the Mountaineer Maniacs and the student section leads the way as far as crowd involvement over the years. If you have the students involved and engaged in the game, I feel like the rest of the crowd is right there behind them,” Zinn said.
“So they turn into almost like cheerleaders for the other 14,000 who are here. We want them to push that atmosphere and make it intimidating for the other teams.”
All through the game they try to be as interactive with the fans as they can be.
That means the Pep Band doing “YMCA,” the “Kiss Cam,” the “Dance Cam,” the ever-popular Kroger Shopping Cart Shootout, which has become a tradition.
“Change is a huge thing,” Zinn said. “You have to be constantly making changes, but there some things that if you ever change them, you will hear from the entire fan base.”
The Kroger Shootout is one of those things.
So, too, are the T-shirt tosses.
Now how many T-shirts do you think they give away in a year?
“I’d say a couple of thousand is a good guesstimate in all our sports,” said Zinn.
And Zinn and Co. do a great job of rounding up acts for halftime, the most popular ever being The Red Panda on her tall unicycle flipping dishes onto her head from her foot while balanced high above the floor on the cycle.
“Halftime is one of the more fun things with basketball. You can do more with entertainment,” Zinn said. “We’ve had everything from slam dunk teams to the Red Panda on her unicycle. We have Quick Change artists and everyone loves animals who do tricks, so we’ve had dogs who chase Frisbees.
“We’ve been fortunate. We try to target those acts for weekend games in the Big 12 season and we try to make it a great day even better. We work with Coca-Cola finding those acts and we know our schedule early enough so we can fit into their travel schedule.”