You are no doubt familiar with the concept of wreaking havoc. If you know some Shakespeare you would know about the cry of havoc. But how do you sell it? And perhaps you want to take a step back and figure out why anyone would want to sell it. We have found the greatest salesman in the history of havoc.
Luke Winn, at Sports Illustrated, took a great inside look at the formerly upstart and now contender Virginia Commonwealth Basketball in his article, “Cry Havoc And Let Slip the Dogs of Hoops” (February 4,2013). We loved the article for many reasons: well written, great background on the program, and great look at coach Shaka Smart with his well-developed system that has led to a meteoric rise. But here at Sportaphorically Speaking we love Winn’s article for another reason: it’s a textbook example of what we are all about. Winn gives us the inside story; the story behind the story you might say. He gives us insight into VCU and Shaka Smart that make us know them and want to follow them. Now, we want to take it from there. How does this inside story fit within the bigger story? First, I better give you a little summary of the article. I highly encourage you read it for yourself, but here’s a snapshot.
VCU surged onto the national stage primarily through relentless, full-court pressing, turnover-making defense that isn’t aware there is a game clock. Shaka Smart saw the fruits of this kind of a system in his playing days and coaching experience before stepping on the campus in Richmond. It requires a certain type of player. It requires a certain type of planning. It requires a certain type of conditioning. It requires a certain mentality. Winn gives us the the backstory on all this in vivid style. You finish the article feeling like you know Shaka and his program. In fact, you are rooting for them.
The next step, sportaphorically speaking, is to ask how this happened and why it worked? Winn gives insight and tidbits in his discovery, but I want to organize some details in a way that was rightly beyond his goal in the article.
Shaka Smart understood how to sell havoc. He knew what it would take to sell it–sell it to coachers, sell it to players, sell it to recruits, and sell it to fans. Turns out, he actually sold it to a whole city and now beyond.
On April 2, 2009 the nearly thirty-two year old Shaka Smart introduced himself to the VCU community with these words: “We are going to wreak havoc on our opponents’ psyche and their plan of attack.” Perhaps unknowingly at that moment, Smart unleashed a marketing extravaganza that would brand his program with one word: havoc.
A consultant called in to work with program picked up on the word. It became the all-encompassing term that replaced various synonyms: frenzy, spurtability etc. It quickly made it out of the team room and onto the back of the black warm up jerseys. The student section wasn’t far behind. And yes, it made it to billboards in Richmond: “Havoc Lives Here.”
Why did it work? After all, other programs were modeled on the same principles but we aren’t talking about them. One of Shaka’s mentors focused on the same system under the ever-catchy acronym MTIXE. Now, that’s hard to sell. You are unlikely to see a band during March Madness with those letters plastered across the slide of the trombone! Shaka sold havoc. He needed a brand. He found it. And he sold it. He sold it to coaches: His 5 month old daughter wore it with pride. He sold it to players. He sold it to recruits. He sold it to fans. And they bought it. Why? Because we all love to be a part of a new story–a new identity that’s bigger than we are, especially if it’s marketed well and backed up with performance. You might be thinking: “Hey, you guys over at Sportaphorically Speaking–maybe it worked simply because he got good players and they went to the Final Four.” That was a huge factor. No argument here. But over here at Sportaphorically, we want to turn it around on you: Are you sure it worked because they got players and made it to the Final 4? After all, 5 star recruits are not known to fly into Richmond for a visit. Maybe, just maybe, they made it to the Final 4 with good players because they had a brand that they believed in. What’s the difference between a VCU first round upset that is followed by a well-respected exit and a run to the final four? What’s the difference between one great March Madness first round upset that ends 2 days later and a program that simply makes that upset the first chapter in a story that hasn’t ended? We suggest it’s that Shaka sold a brand. He gave them a new identity and it has never left. It’s the chicken or the egg question—players and success led to the brand or the brand led to the players and success?
Hey Spike, I’m sold too.
If you live in the Eastern time zone, Havoc will be most visible to the naked eye Thursday night at 9:45 PM. And don’t miss the potential second installment against Michigan on Saturday.
(Thanks to Will Weaver @ willweaverphoto.com for use of the photos)