By Rich Figel
PROGRAM ALERT: The May episode of Career Changers TV premieres Sat. night at 8:30 PM on OC16. Tetris empire builder Henk Rogers tells how a heart attack changed his life "missions," and we also take a look at his Blue Startups accelerator program to help launch new businesses from his Downtown Honolulu headquarters. You can find details on daily viewing times and links to segments posted on YouTube by clicking here.
There's some revisionist reportage going on about the lack of fan response to the June Jones decision back in 2000 to excise the Rainbows from the UH football team nickname. True, there weren't any rallies or organized protests back then. But many longtime supporters DID vote with their dollars, and the dwindling attendance figures over the past few years shows what happens when a state institution turns its back on the very people it's supposed to serve.
The numbers are deceptive because for awhile, winning overcomes all kinds of negativity. Read Scoreboard, Baby - A Story of College Football, Crime and Complicity, a book about the University of Washington's 2000 football season under coach Rick Neuheisel. Hmm, come to think of it there were similarities between him and June -- both had huge egos, a kind of swagger and a sense of certainty in whatever they did to achieve the ends they desired. However, winning doesn't necessarily build long-term loyalty as evidenced by the exodus of fair-weather fans who jumped ship once the "Warriors" football team began their descent into mediocrity. At even their lowest points though, you could still see old-timers walking around Aloha Stadium in their faded Rainbows and "Go Bows" t-shirts and hats.
What I really want to address is UH Athletic Dictator -- er, Director -- Ben Jay's rationale for dropping Rainbows from all UH men sports, while curiously retaining it for the Wahine... even though he says it has nothing to do with claims that homophobia is the real reason the boys should be called Warriors. Jay says it's for the sake of uniformity, branding and marketing purposes. He said it was to end "confusion" amongst the media and fans.
Really? First, there was NO confusion until June changed the name on his own accord. In fact, the "brand" had been so ingrained in the minds of national sportscasters that they continued to call them the Rainbows or Bows even as recently as last year when doing football games on ESPN. And I don't recall any of them ever snickering or belittling the name... although calling them the "Warriors" when they were being shellacked by actual brand name schools did sound sort of ridiculous. Anyhow, back to my main point: unless I am mistaken, Ben Jay was not hired to be the UH Marketing Director and/or Director of Public Relations -- we already pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to other UH staff for PR and marketing mismanagement.
Moreover, when I hear anyone toss around terms like "branding" I have to laugh. That's a buzz word which was in vogue about a decade ago and is best used when referring to old school marketing for things like pizza and toothpaste. It may work for big corporations like Microsoft or corporate-like institutions such as Ohio State, but the new trend is really anti-branding -- take Apple, for example. It's about expressing what is unique, different and cool about your product or who you are. It is about identity.
The Rainbow has always been about more than a school nickname or logo. Ask anyone on the Mainland what image comes to mind when they think about Hawaii, and right behind the ocean and beaches, you will probably hear rainbows mentioned. Why? On sportscasts and travel shows, in countless photographs snapped by millions of visitors, the ubiquitous symbol never fails to inspire awe and wonder when it seems to magically appear above our valleys -- or over Aloha Stadium and the Stan Sheriff Arena in Manoa. The Rainbow is bigger than June Jones, Ben Jay or the University of Hawaii. It represents the islands of Hawaii, the many hues and colors of the people who call this place home, who work hard and take pride in rooting for the teams that are supposed to represent us -- not some marketing plan made up by Mainland transplants sitting in an office.
Didn't June even used to play Bruddah Iz's version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" during warm-ups before the game?
Lastly, if you want to make the argument that eliminating the Rainbows from merchandise and marketing will somehow help increase sales, do the math. Less product diversity and choices equals less sales for nearly every type of product or service you can think of. Less isn't more in this case. What Ben Jay is offering is Brand Bland: one jagged "H" design in your choice of basic black and moldy green -- and that's it, folks. Meanwhile, in places like the University of Oregon (and every professional sports franchise, for that matter) the actual marketing pros are cashing in on apparel that comes in a wide array of colors/designs, as well as retro merchandise that appeals to both old and young fans.
Anyhow, my wife and I never stopped cheering for the Rainbows even when the cheerleaders were instructed to stop using that name by June and the UH athletic department higher ups at football games and men volleyball matches. Sadly though, without the school's backing, the "Let's Go Bows" chant at games has been drowned out by the din of commercials and drunken profanities shouted by the new brand of macho Warrior fans.