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Athletics: Cayenne caper - Is Cajun sports mascot dead or alive?

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, June 26, 2017

It remains a mystery.

ultickets.jpg Buy Photo

Ragin' Cajuns sports spirit leader Cayenne, shown here surfing the crowd during UL's 2011 New Orleans Bowl win, has been mysteriously absent in recent seasons. (Photo: ADVERTISER FILE PHOTO)

Is Cayenne really dead?

Can the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s nationally known spirit leader somehow be rescued and revived, or is it time for a proper burial?

The questions are ones new UL athletic director Bryan Maggard suspects must, and will, be answered at some point.

“I know that will be a bridge we cross sooner or later,” Maggard said in March during his first month on the job. “(It’s) a big part of branding.”

And branding was a huge part of ex-University of Missouri athletic director Mike Alden’s six-month examination of UL’s athletic department.

Completed prior to the hiring of Maggard, who inherited a lengthy to-do list, the study made several recommendations that either still are unaddressed or just now are being acted upon.

Also among them are many related to marketing, game-day operations and ticket sales issues, as outlined in a report from Alden that was made public a little more than a year ago.

The Alden Report recommended development and implementation of “comprehensive” marketing and sales campaigns for football and men’s and women’s basketball.

MORE: Many Alden Report suggestions unaddressedPost-Alden Report, UL still seeks multimedia partner

Shortly after Maggard’s March arrival, UL did begin its 2017 football season-ticket sales campaign — and there are plans for a similar basketball campaign.

Maggard set a goal of 14,000 season tickets sold for football in the season to come, which would be higher than the existing  record in the 13,000-range and significantly more than the last season’s total in the 9,000-range.   

“We know we need to be much more aggressive and take an out-bound sales approach to our ticket sales as opposed to just waiting, sitting back and expecting the renewals to come in,” said Maggard, who added there’s also a need “to do a better job promoting group sales.”

Eventually, Maggard said, the 14,000 number for football season tickets should be “the floor, not the ceiling.”

More: UL football season tickets on sale to the public

Another recommendation among 20 in the Alden Report was to “develop and implement a comprehensive football game day and marketing master plan.”

UL recently surveyed a sampling of fans and season-ticket holders, seeking their suggestions, input and opinions.

Results of that survey, Maggard said Monday, are being studied now.

“What we’ve been discussing in great depth is making sure we improve the game-day experience for our fans,” Maggard said.

“We know that’s something we have to develop and do a better job in, but that’s a national trend. That’s not specific to UL, by any means.”

Maggard is well-aware of what he calls the “strong tailgating tradition” of Cajun football fans.

But he suggested there’s a need to guide more tailgaters from their parking-lot spots into Cajun Field, then keep them inside the stadium once they’re past its gates.

More: 10 Louisiana tailgate delicacies

“We just need to make sure … people want to stay in there, and have the best experience they can,” he said.

As for whether or not Cayenne will ever roam again at Cajun Field, or in the Cajundome for basketball games, it’s uncertain.

Some suspect he’s long gone and already has joined Mr. Ragin’ Cajun and the Fabulous Cajun Chicken among the list of late Cajun mascot-like characters.

Others aren’t so sure.

Suspects in Cayenne's disappearance seem tied more to Martin Hall, the school's administration center, than the athletic department, although The Daily Advertiser reported in September 2014 that UL president Joseph Savoie wasn't aware he was missing someone brought it up at a student leadership meeting.

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Where in the world is Cayenne?

UL's Fabulous Cajun Chicken mascot, now in retirement, Buy Photo

UL's Fabulous Cajun Chicken mascot, now in retirement, takes the field in celebration of Turn Back the Clock day during a 2007 UL baseball game against Southeastern Louisiana at M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field.  (Photo: ADVERTISER FILE PHOTO)

The fiery, larger-than-life hot pepper has haters and backers alike.

In 2010, TopTenz.net listed Cayenne as one of its “Top 10 Bad College Mascots,” and in 2015, even while in apparent exile, he was voted the 21st-worst college mascot according to Sportspickle.com.

In 2014, the character earned honorable mention on Bleacher Report’s list of the “10 Strangest Mascots in College Basketball” — although the same website called him “easily one of the best mascots in the country.”

And in 2012, Cayenne — though technically not a mascot — was named to Yahoo! Sports’ list of the “Top 25 Great College Football Mascots.”

But in 2014 the Daily Advertiser reported Cayenne — born sometime around 2000 — had gone missing because of funding issues, and that it would cost about $16,000 for two new costumes needed to replace ones that had become worn out.

Whether or not he’s resuscitated is one of many to-be-addressed matters on the UL athletic department's crowded plate.

One Alden Report recommendation was to develop a licensing strategic plan, but there’s been little or no progress on that.

Another was to create a committee to focus on maximizing brand potential.

Maggard said that hadn’t occurred prior to his arrival, but he readily acknowledges that branding is a key component for the program going forward.

Related: New UL athletic director Maggard 'likes people'

“I think there is quite a bit of confusion, both internally and externally, on ‘what is our brand?’” he said. “Which of our logos do we want to use as our primary mark, which is secondary?”

Until a change to “Ragin’ Cajuns” in the 1960s, UL’s football team was nicknamed the “Bulldogs.”

In recent years the program has been embroiled in a name controversy, with the university’s sports teams wanting to be known as the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns — not Louisiana-Lafayette, or other variations including ULL and UL-L.

In-state rival UL Monroe and others initially put up strong resistance to the preference for using "Louisiana," but ULM’s fight seems to have simmered lately.

The Sun Belt Conference’s reference guide, in fact, now advises use of “Louisiana” for the school.

Some media entities, meanwhile, often use logos from years gone by; one, ESPN, frequently has incorrectly used the logo of a lower-level school from Pennsylvania, Lafayette College, instead of UL’s for TV graphic purposes.

Maggard was familiar with UL’s stacked "Ragin’ Cajuns" logo prior to his arrival — one that uses a small pepper as an apostrophe, with one word positioned above the other.

But he knows several others have been used as well.

“We will help ourselves greatly, I think, from a brand standpoint if we as a group internally can solidify our pick,” the athletic director said.

“That’s important. We know that’s important. … We just have to better job of identifying what our marks are, and staying consistent with those.”

Then there’s Cayenne.

Is UL mascot Cayeene, shown  here during a 2013 football Buy Photo

Is UL mascot Cayeene, shown here during a 2013 football game at Cajun Field against Nicholls State, really dead?  (Photo: ADVERTISER FILE PHOTO)

Maggard said there has been discussion about “what the mascot is, and should be.”

His fate, however, is a hot-pepper topic that officially remains unresolved.

If one addendum page in the Alden Report offers any insight, though, funeral plans indeed may be in order.

If, that is, one hasn’t secretly been held already.

According to a document from the Raymond Entertainment Group that addresses the process for “developing” a new mascot, “the organization should be prepared for and expect an atmosphere of negativity from many alumni and other sources through social media and media outlets in general.”

The entertainment group recommended creation of a “mascot back story … written to gain acceptance and support both on campus and from the community at large.”

Because “change in this regard is always met with push back,” the report stated, “it is vital for the organization to be aligned in the belief that this character brand has been created correctly and for the long run.”

Athletic Network Footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas:

Click here for the Mascots and Traditions Photo Gallery to view Gee the Bulldog and others since that time.