When the University of Nebraska football program again failed to produce a winning season last fall, new athletic director Bill Moos fired head coach Mike Riley and promptly hired former Husker Scott Frost. After years of losing, Nebraska is hopeful that they have found a winner with Frost. The Wood River, Nebraska, native quarterbacked NU to its last national championship in 1997, under the direction of legendary Husker head coach Tom Osborne.
Bringing Frost back into the fold for the much-scrutinized role of head football coach in Lincoln was an easy decision because he fits NU culture to a T.
“Nobody else would have generated that type of enthusiasm,” Osborne says. “He’s here now and we’re glad to see it. Where Scott really brings a lot to the table is he understands Nebraska and what you have to do in a sparsely populated state where there’s cold weather and not a lot of geographical advantages like beaches or mountains.”
Osborne continues, “I don’t think there’s anybody more prepared than Scott to do the job. He’s intelligent, he has energy, he’s played and coached offense and defense at a high level.”
In Nebraska, Frost has only coached the 2018 exhibition spring game, but he is viewed as the deliverer who will lead the program out of the wilderness of mediocrity and irrelevancy it has fallen into.
Fans are voicing their approval via social media and sports talk shows. They are also purchasing extensive amounts of Husker merchandise and tickets, making donations, and turning out for events at increased rates.
Call it the Scott Frost Effect.
NU is taking advantage of this return-of-the-conquering-hero narrative by ramping-up development efforts wherever large bases of Husker fans reside.
“We’re really reaching outside the borders,” says NU Executive Associate Athletic Director Marc Boehm, who oversees external operations.
He says fundraising junkets to Chicago, Dallas, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, and Palm Springs and Naples, Florida, are tapping into “enthusiasm over the hire and for the direction the program is heading.”
Nebraska Alumni Association Executive Director Shelley Zaborowski notes a ripple effect.
“We have certainly seen increased interest from alumni,” she says. “Our trip to Chicago for the upcoming Northwestern football game sold out in record time, our allocation of football tickets sold quickly, and we have received a high volume of calls about the Nebraska Champions Club.”
The association’s previous trips for the Northwestern game sold out between July 1 and the start of football season. This year tickets were nearly gone by the spring game in April; however, this is also the first year the alumni association has used an online ticketing system.
The waiting list for tailgate spots at the Nebraska Champions Club has grown by nearly 50 percent this spring. Zabroski wrote in an email that the membership numbers for May were the third best since 2014.
“It’s a little soon for us to attribute a spike in membership to ‘the Frost Effect,’ but we have high hopes the collective enthusiasm will pay off in that way, too. Anecdotally, there are a lot of people excited—[with] our local alumni and our chapters across the country. His return home is a point of pride and enthusiasm for Nebraska alumni and friends.”
University of Nebraska Foundation President & CEO Brian Hastings echoes the sentiment.
“Our fundraisers travel around Nebraska and the country, and they certainly are hearing a lot of excitement and enthusiasm from our alumni and supporters. Athletics—especially football—is a front door to the university, so we are excited to have a lot of eyes on the University of Nebraska this fall.”
Wherever Frost has appeared, he has been well received. A record 86,000-plus fans attended the April 21 spring game at Memorial Stadium.
The June 11-12 Husker Nation Tour saw the new head coach, his assistants, and Moos and other administrators criss-cross the state to pump the Big Red well in anticipation of the 2018 season. High-energy crowds turned out at all 26 town stops.
All good signs the Frost Effect is paying dividends.
“There are barometers in which to confirm that,” Moos says. “We sold out our spring game, which is basically a scrimmage, in less than 36 hours. [It was the first time the game has sold out] It was incredible. Our season ticket renewal rate was 96 percent. That’s about 1.5 percent higher than in 2017, but you’ve got to realize there aren’t a lot of seats available year-to-year.
“Our novelty stores and online site Fanatics were up about 10 percent in December [over the previous December] after Scott’s hire from people jumping on the wagon to celebrate the coming home of one of our stars. We’ve seen a great surge in sales—over 15 percent—in Husker items from all of our licensees.”
Husker Hounds owner Scott Strunc says, “Coach Frost has generated a ton of excitement again with Husker Nation. Our sales are up 40 percent from last year through May. I anticipate the excitement building as the first game gets closer. The ‘Frost Effect’ has been the best thing to happen to our business in 20 years.”
Positive media spin generates free publicity.
“The media has been all over our campus following this new era,” Moos says. “We’ve had USA Today, Sports Illustrated, espn.com, The Athletic, Bleacher Report, cbsports.com, and the Big Ten Network. It’s a big story and big excitement.”
Boehm has “seen a lot of ups and downs” with Husker football’s following since 2001.”This past year it was getting concerning, where you saw a little apathy setting in, which is never good,” he says. “Then once that hire hit, it was game on. The biggest thing is that the state is now unified. When that happens, it can be a pretty big force.”
Boehm says the economic engine of Husker football will be most felt in-season, when fans spend thousands of dollars at the stadium and at bars, restaurants, hotels, and shops in Lincoln. Fans watching the games at Omaha venues will do
“Nebraskans are very proud, and right now that pride is back,” he says, “and it’s much more than the investment—it’s the time and energy donors and prospects put into coming to the games. Forget about the financial end, it’s actually showing up and being emotionally invested again.”
Nebraska proudly touts the NCAA record for consecutive home football sellouts and Osborne says that streak “certainly was in dire jeopardy if we hadn’t got somebody like Scott to come back,” adding, “I think it’s important that people have hope and I think there’s a renewed sense of hope.”
Moos observes how “the feverish pitch of the fan base” is in stark contrast to the mood he found upon arriving in November.
“I’ve always felt that what intercollegiate athletics could do for an institution is be a source of leadership, morale, and positive feeling,” Moos says. “All those things are in place and it’s just a real good time to be involved with the University of Nebraska. It’s been my experience that when football is firing on all cylinders, then all boats rise. The attention a school’s football program brings to it is something you can’t really put a price tag on. Applications for admission grow. Already have. Donations across campus improve. When people have a good feeling about their university, are happy with the results, and anticipate a good future, they’re more apt to loosen the purse strings and get involved, and that’s where I feel we are right now.”
Moos says the savvy Frost knows that as football goes, so goes the athletic department, and that, despite NU’s recent on-the-field struggles, the school boasts the tradition, facilities, financial resources, and fan support to be competitive.
“He’s aware. Scott’s been around the game a lot at every level and has been involved in some big-time college programs, so he knows what we have in comparison to others and is very appreciative.”
Few wish to broach what will happen if things don’t pan out with Frost. Osborne suggests this may be NU’s last, best chance to regain top status. “I think people more or less realize if this doesn’t work we’re going to be really hard-pressed to find somebody who can do better, because Scott has pretty much all the pieces you’re looking for.”
Moos echoes Osborne in expressing guarded optimism that all the right moving parts are in place—Frost being the key chess piece on the board.
“Scott definitely has the coaching know-how and not many times do you get to implement that at a place you love and that loves you. It’s a dream come true.”
Moos also knows fans’ fickle nature can turn this honeymoon into hell if NU doesn’t win big
He quips, “But, hey, we’re still undefeated.”
Visit huskers.com for more information about Nebraska football.
This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.