SDSU recognized as ‘premier university’ through national spotlight

Gracie Terrall, Co-Editor-in-Chief (She/Her)

Within less than two months, South Dakota State University had two publicity opportunities on a national scale with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and FCS Championship game. What does all of this recognition mean for the future of SDSU? University spokesperson Mike Lockrem said it shows that the school is a “premier university with premier opportunities.”

In November, the Pride of the Dakotas sent 360 band members to New York City for a six-day trip, ending with a once-in-a-lifetime performance in the Macy’s parade. Well over three million people crowded the streets of New York to watch the parade, and over 27 million watched the live coverage on NBC. 

“If we tried to purchase an advertisement for the Pride on that stage with that many people, I don’t think we ever could have afforded it,” Kevin Kessler, director of athletic bands, said. 

And just six weeks later, SDSU was again on national television when the football team won the FCS Championship game against rival NDSU in front of a national ESPN Sunday audience. 

Jennifer Fleming, a public relations expert who owns her own consulting agency, Next Jen, and a 1994 SDSU graduate, said the opportunities the school has had on a national front elevate the school and students.

“I think it’s invaluable in that overall awareness and visibility and recognition that people who may not have otherwise been exposed to the university have an opportunity to learn a little bit more,” she said. 

Brad Cordts, a 1986 SDSU graduate, is still a die-hard Jacks fan and attended the FCS game in Texas with his family. Cordts now works as a lawyer in Memphis and isn’t exposed to Jackrabbits in the media as often in Tennessee, so he was excited to see people talking about the game. 

“It’s very exciting that the Jacks are on ESPN+, people would talk about it and would always ask me about it,” he said. 

While he was in school, Cordts ran cross country and track but made a point to attend every football game because he loves the sport so much. 

“In the fall of ‘85 we beat USD at Hobo Day, which was the biggest game since I was there,” he said. “But it seemed like we never could beat NDSU, and now they’ve been so successful and it was just the perfect time to go see NDSU versus SDSU. It was the perfect game.”

Andi Fouberg, president of the Alumni Association, said other alums have been reaching out to her office to express their pride for the band and football team after seeing them on the national news. Kessler similarly expressed the connection with alumni that the Macy’s performance fostered. After the parade, Kessler said former band members and directors reached out from across the country.  

“In addition to certainly being beneficial to our future and having that national exposure and helping to inspire people to join, I think the other benefit of it that I’m not sure I really fully grasped until what happened was how much connection we made to our alumni,” he said.

Fouberg said that as the university starts to rise in prominence, so does the ability for alums to get recognized in the job field for attending SDSU. 

“It just feels like the momentum of this place just continues to go up and is always pushing us into new spheres,” she said. “Employers hear the name and there’s just some awareness that gets generated by all of this that may not happen otherwise.”

One way the school capitalized on this national momentum was through billboards along the Interstate to Frisco. Lockrem said the school was able to secure billboards in cities like Sioux Falls, Omaha, Wichita, Oklahoma City and Frisco to promote and congratulate the football team on their win. The SDSU signs were featured for upwards of 14 days in some places and just so happened to be along the same route that NDSU fans took. 

 “Our alums and people at the university were able to see, but also you’re introducing our brand to other markets,” Lockrem said. “Athletics served as a front door to the university, and it was certainly a unique opportunity to get our name, our brand out in front of a lot more people.”

Lockrem assured that despite the two monumental opportunities students had this year, it won’t be the last time SDSU makes it into the national spotlight. 

“How well represented everything was on all levels for this university on those national stages is extremely impressive,” he said. “It’s not the last time it’s going to happen, but certainly was an incredibly memorable and historic time.”