Marking territory

If there was ever a doubt that USF school spirit is alive and well outside of campus and athletic events, all a person has to do is drive down Fowler Avenue, a virtual landscape of green and gold. With the highest concentration of signs and banners alerting people that they’re in “Bulls Country” anywhere in the area, students, faculty and alumni can all take pride in knowing their community loves to support them.

“I feel a sense of pride and belonging,” says Jim Vitale, a senior studying psychology and business. “It makes me feel welcome when I go somewhere with a Bulls Country sign.”

When Mikael Bergbrant, a senior studying business administration, is out to spend his financial aid check, he looks specifically for Bulls Country supporters.

“I like to support businesses that support me, as a student and a Bull,” Bergbrant said.Students experience it every day on the commute to and from campus. For many it invokes responses of joy and pride. But what exactly is “Bulls Country?”

“Bulls Country,” according to the link on the University Relations Web page, is a product of the USF Office of Community Relations designed to increase school spirit and awareness of USF in the neighborhoods surrounding the University. Bulls Country signs, banners and stickers are proudly displayed, often free of charge to all parties involved, throughout USF’s immediate area and as far as downtown Tampa, Lakeland, Sarasota, Bradenton and St. Petersburg.

According to Information Coordinator Robert Fiallo, millions of drivers a week connect mentally with USF when they see a Bulls Country sign or banner, yet University Relations spent less than $10,000 total last year on signs and banners and had several thousand dollars worth donated or installed at no cost to USF.

A cross-promotional relationship with local businesses established by Bulls Country assists with events put on for students and alumni such as health fairs, food tastings, Homecoming week festivities and last week’s Round-Up.

Bulls Country not only saves money, it brings some in as well. During the four-week “Bulls Country Easter Bunny Garden” event at University Mall, students are hired wear bunny costumes. The plants used in the display are provided by USF’s Botanical Gardens and sold as a fundraiser after.

By going to the Web page, students can access a list of more than 60 local businesses belonging to Bulls Country that offer student discounts. Discounts include 10 to 15 percent off food, special hotel rates and discounted admission to Busch Gardens.

“When I find out some place has a good USF discount, I make sure to bring my boys and check it out,” says Bergbrant.

Perhaps one of the best offers a Bulls Country patron gives to students is “Pizza Hut Nights in Bulls Country,” at the Fowler Avenue location. Every other Thursday night, USF students can enjoy all-you-can-eat pizza and salad for $4.99 and $1 longneck Buds.

Students can also avoid long lines in the bookstore for Bulls apparel, opting to buy it from Bulls Country patrons, such as those found in the University Mall.

By displaying their Bull and community pride, patrons receive increased student, staff and alumni traffic, which is a lucrative demographic to tap into. Business from the USF community is vital to the Ruby Tuesday located in the University Mall, a Bulls Country supporter.

“It’s pretty important,” said manager Tyler Carlisle. “We’re located right across the street and in the mall; we get a lot of students in here.”

With increased relationships between local businesses and the University community, a mutually supportive “college town” atmosphere established around the USF area and a swelling sense of pride, it seems as if the 2-year-old Bulls Country program is on its way to defining itself as the spirit of the bulls.

Vitale agrees, “Driving through Bulls Country is like being in a pep rally every day.”