Holt Arena is not a pretty structure. The field goes the wrong way. The seats are these ugly chunks of multi-colored plastic. And most of the interior amenities have been antiquated for decades.
But you stare at the Southwest wall and that’s all on the backburner. It is a monstrosity of a graphic plastered along the ramp the Idaho State football team passes each time they make the trek from their locker room to the Holt Arena turf.
It cascades from dark to light as you walk down the ramp. The big centerpiece is a current ISU player next to the program’s slogan: Fear the Roar. Below that, all the great alumni of Idaho State football are like boards that descend down the ramp. There’s Marvin Lewis and Dirk Koetter and Mike Machurek and Merril Hoge and Jared Allen and Josh Hill. The wall shifts from dark to light as it gets closer to the present day. Then just before you hit the turf, there sits a graphic of the current Bengals in all their glory.
It is not an optical allusion, but it does play a small trick on your mind. You stare at it long enough and start to believe Idaho State has a storied football history.
Year-by-year results for the last half-century will discredit that, but the wall captures what Idaho State fans have long taken pride in: the alumni.
What’s odd is that the creator of the piece can’t yet even call herself that. No, Emily Christensen is still a senior at Idaho State.
“I pretty much redid every design like five or six times,” Christensen said of the wall art. “I did it in like six or seven sections. I sent them like all those files and then they printed them … I can’t even tell you how awesome it was to see it.”
“The wall wrap in Holt is pretty striking, and really enhanced the atmosphere,” said Idaho State Athletic Director Pauline Thiros. “Emily has done excellent work for the Bengals. Her graphic arts talent and her creativity are tremendous, and are of a quality far beyond her experience.”
Her skills have also become a necessity for the Idaho State, which lost its director of marketing and marketing assistant in May.
A former video coordinator at Cleveland State, Rosbie Mutcherson began as an Idaho State men’s basketball assistant coach soon after the marketing departures. He began asking around, trying to figure who does what in the athletic department. Eventually, Christensen’s name came up.
Mutcherson did his research, visiting her Twitter and finding a link to her stocked portfolio. His impression?
“I know what good graphics look like,” Mutcherson said, “and when I saw her profile I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. I’ve got to talk to this girl,’ … I asked her to help us out.”
Mutcherson wanted the basketball program to have a presence online. He started off by asking Christensen to create a weekly video for the basketball program’s eight-week summer workouts. After that, he wanted her to formulate some interesting graphics that showcased the career achievements of coach Ryan Looney – pictures the coaching staff could text to recruits.
“We wanted it to look like it was coming from Duke,” Mutcherson noted. “Idaho State is in Pocatello. Sometimes people don’t know about us. So seeing a video or a cool graphic, all that kind of stuff creates more awareness for the program.”
Christensen has been the go-to for ISU coaches looking to turn their brain child into an actual work of art. They text her almost every day with different ideas and questions about myriad things that will end up on social media.
Technically, she is a student marketing assistant making $9 an hour and capped at being paid 20 hours a week. In reality, she is spending 40 to 50 hours a week bolstering the online look of Idaho State’s athletic programs – on top of attending school. It is not exactly a luxurious gig, but it is a rare chance to run a Division I program’s graphics while still in school.
“In the last few weeks, I’ve just seen myself grow as a graphic designer and I’ve been learning a lot of new things,” Christensen said. With all the things that have been posted and getting put out there, people are just super encouraging and I’m feeling really good about them. It feels like an attainable goal.”
On most nights, she’ll sit at her home with her MacBook on a laptop riser, turn on music and try and get into the zone. Three to six hours later, ISU will have a shiny new graphic to post. Perhaps it’ll be a schedule graphic featuring linebacker Oshea Trujillo. Or maybe a Prezi-like creation to show where ISU’s basketball coaches are recruiting at. Or maybe one that showcases Looney’s melon on Bald is Beautiful Day.
Whatever it is, it shows Christensen’s talent and proves she will likely have a fruitful career in sports graphic design.
“I’ve had to learn a lot really fast – and it’s been a lot with school, but it’s been really fun and I enjoy it,” she said. “All I want to do is get better.”
Over the last half-decade or so, creatives have begun to carve spots for themselves in athletic departments across the country. It is part promotional and part necessity. Graphics and videos help fans connect with the team, help highlight or give a behind-the-scenes sneak peek to the team. Similar graphics, too, have become essential in recruiting. Instead of a constant stream of texts from coaches, different artwork is almost coveted by prospects and often ends up on their social media.
For all the big schools around the country, this is no problem. They create multiple jobs for that sort of stuff. With a smaller budget, Idaho State does not have that luxury. No one has the sole job of a designer or a videographer or whatever. Everyone has a defined role … then has a handful of other responsibilities.
It’s not that the graphics coming out of Idaho State’s social channels pre-Christensen were bad, but they rarely changed. There was not enough manpower to create unique graphics every week, so often graphics to announce a score or preview a contest were variations of the same template.
Christensen has changed that.
“I think she’s a rock star in the making,” said Steve Schaack, an ISU Senior Associate AD who oversees Christensen. “It allows our coaches to sell their program to recruits and it allows our community to get a grasp on our programs.”
“It helps us be visible in the community and hopefully increase ticket sales and attendance at games,” said Looney. “We’re just trying to be creative and adapt with the times and use it as a way to connect with as many people as possible.”
It seems that already coming to fruition. A company called SkullSparks tracks the interaction of every collegiate social media accounts, basically provides numerical data to all those cool graphics and funny tweets. On one of the more recent rankings, the Idaho State Athletics account boosted to No. 130 out of more than 300 DI programs – one of its highest rankings to date.
“A lot of that is a credit to her and her work and her designs,” said Schaack.