Jun 22, 2013

‘Bearcat Hangouts’: Bringing Alumni Together in Your City

Say you live in the Chicago area — long-time resident or newly relocated. You love watching your Bearcats, ideally with other UC alums. What’s a Chicagolander to do?

2010 UC vs. Fresno State game watch at O'Leary's in Chicago
That’s an easy answer:  Get to O’Leary’s in the River North area. It’s been Chicago’s Bearcat Bar since the fall of 2004. Alumni network leader Dave Watkins, A&S ’92, happened to be dining there and started chatting with the owner because he needed a venue for his upcoming UC-XU Crosstown Shootout game-watch.

“Official” Bearcat hangouts like O’Leary’s act like glue for alums in cities with UC Alumni Association-coordinated networks.

“Everyone knows to head to O’Leary’s and they’ll find other Bearcats watching the UC games,” Watkins said. “And it isn’t just about sports — it’s great to just socialize with someone who can relate to going to UC.”

The Washington D.C. counterpart to O’Leary’s is Penn Quarter Sports Tavern. A couple years ago, Adam Thurn and a friend wanted a place to watch Bearcats games and looked near a metro stop, since traffic and parking can be problems in D.C.  Penn Quarter fit the bill, and it has hosted eight football and three basketball game-watch parties, plus a Bearcats Happy Hour, in the past year.

Inflatable Bearcat in front of O'Leary's
“Having a place everyone knows about, and which doesn’t vary from week to week, simplifies our planning and provides continuity for alumni here,” said Thurn, CEAS ’10, who helps lead the D.C. network.

In Columbus, Bearcats gather at Gresso’s, whose owner works closely with the local UC group, even providing menus with dishes renamed with a Bearcats theme. That key ingredient — an interested, hands-on owner who can spot new business potential — is crucial in setting up a “Bearcat hangout.”

“You need to find an owner who is actively engaged in day-to-day operations, because it’s easier to get the support you need right away without going through a middleman,” said Andrew Maurer, CEAS ’09, of Columbus.

Building such a relationship with the owner and management benefits everyone involved.

“We generate a lot of money for them, so the people at O’Leary’s have been great to us,” Watkins said. “They’ll use Montgomery Inn sauce on their pulled pork sandwich and discount it for us a couple times a year. If I provide the Skyline, they’ll provide the fixings for coneys. One of their bartenders has even concocted a ‘Bearcat Shot.’”

Young Bearcats fan at Gresso's
Veteran network leaders feel that establishing, promoting and cultivating a “Bearcat hangout” is a necessity in growing a vital alumni network.

“The hangouts make it much easier for those who are just getting involved,” said Columbus’ Shaun Simpson, Bus ’00. “Sporting events provide a common bond which makes it easier to engage with each other and grow the group.”

For alumni in other cities looking to develop a “home base” for alumni activities, the Chicago, Washington and Columbus network leaders suggest a simple, two-step process:

  1. Find the right combination of an accessible location and an enthusiastic owner who sees the value of working with you. It also helps if the venue has private areas that can host closed events.
  2. Once you find such a place, stay with it. Promote it virally, via social media and other channels in the city. And at events, make it look like a Bearcat hangout as much as possible.

“It’s been the single most important thing we’ve done to grow our Chicago network,” Watkins said. “Whether they’re regulars here, they have moved away but are back in town visiting, or they’re just passing through, alums love having a place to watch the game with other UC people and feel at home. One told me, ‘It’s like Homecoming without the parade!’”

Want to start up a “Bearcat hangout” in your city? Contact Sam Walston at Sam.Walston@uc.edu or 513-556-4404.

What's your favorite "Bearcat hangout"? Let us know with a comment below!

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