Every year, Vanderbilt University students and fans wait with great anticipation to line up for the baseball team’s new official poster and baseball signing. This very popular event, filled with spirited pomp and circumstance, draws Vandy enthusiasts eager to meet their favorite players and their coach, pose with them for photos, and have a treasured piece of memorabilia autographed.
If supporters typically are excited for this annual pre-season event held at the Barnes & Noble at Vanderbilt University bookstore, imagine the thrill this year, as fervent fans came to the signing still charged by the Commodores’ 2014 College World Series win. The bookstore, managed by Barnes & Noble College since 2011, is located near Hawkins Field and Memorial Gym — prime real estate for maximizing its strong relationship with Vanderbilt Athletics and finding new ways to build partnerships.
“When Barnes & Noble took over management of the Vanderbilt bookstore, it completely renovated the two-story building near the gym, the football field, the baseball stadium and West End Avenue, the main road that runs through Nashville,” explained Stephanie Smith, the bookstore’s general merchandise manager. “It’s a prime location and a much larger store. We have a full Barnes & Noble bookstore here. A lot of people don’t even realize that we’re university affiliated until they see all the Vanderbilt apparel.”
During the bookstore’s signing event, Vandy fans came out to meet head baseball coach Tim Corbin and players Bryan Reynolds, Carson Fulmer, Dansby Swanson and Walker Buehler from the National Championship team. They showed their support by brandishing free baseball posters provided by Vanderbilt Athletics and purchasing National Championship baseball items for autographs. Fans also enjoyed a selection of refreshments provided by the Barnes & Noble at Vanderbilt Café and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
“This was the first time we held the signing as a stand-alone event, and not before a game,” said Kyle Parkinson, Vanderbilt’s director of baseball communications. “There was no other reason to come down to campus except for this event — and we drew close to 100 people. It was really great.” School spirit was high with cheerleaders stirring up enthusiasm and fans taking photos with the national championship trophy.
“The bookstore is a great partner,” stated Parkinson, who added that Vanderbilt frequently collaborates with the bookstore for sports programs. “Three years ago, we had a reveal party for our new football uniforms at the bookstore. And it has more merchandise available than ever — especially baseball-specific merchandise with the national championship logo. They’re capitalizing on our being a hot ticket and it works out well for everyone, especially for our students and fan base, which grows every year.”
In its continued effort to work with Vanderbilt Athletics, the bookstore this year also had a presence at the 2015 Baseball Banquet. Typically, the annual affair draws a few hundred guests, but more than 1,000 people came to celebrate the 2014 College World Series win. “We changed the venue this year and held the banquet at The Omni Hotel downtown. It was fantastic; it made a big evening even bigger.”
During the banquet, the Barnes & Noble team set up a pop-up store where guests could buy Vandy merchandise and register to win a gift basket filled with College World Series paraphernalia, including a logo t-shirt, a baseball and a car flag. It also provided an opportunity to promote the upcoming in-store baseball team poster signing.
“The people who attend this banquet are die-hard Vanderbilt fans. Many of them didn’t know about the bookstore and the merchandise we carry,” Smith said. “We sold about four times what we typically sell at a baseball game, which was terrific. It also was great to meet 1,000 fans and let them know we’re here.”
No doubt, the bookstore team ranks among the Commodores’ greatest fans. “We’re proud to be part of the Vanderbilt University community,” Smith said. “The championship definitely has impacted the store. We’re still carrying all of our national championship merchandise — t-shirts, polos, jackets, car flags, baseballs — and it’s still selling very well. The demand for the national championship merchandise is still high. The team has generated a lot of attention, and the win put us in the national spotlight.”