Collegiate athletics marketing is all about activating fan affinity. We pour painstaking effort into producing visually dynamic schedule posters with die-cuts, custom photography, stellar taglines and whatever the latest printing technique is so we can slap our fans in the face and get them excited about the upcoming season. We post social media graphics to let all of our followers know there's a game coming up or tell them about the game we just won. I could sit here and list out the hundreds of things we do, as an industry, that are aimed at activating the affinity that exists within our fans so they'll want to attend our events.

But that's where the problem lies. Read that statement again: ...activating the affinity that exists within our fans... If you think about it, most of what we do is focused on existing affinity. And we're just trying to activate it.

But what happens when there is no affinity to activate? What happens when you've run out of fans to activate affinity within? 

During the course of a recent research engagement, we discovered something very important about a particular university's market: the alumni base in that area is extremely small. Additionally, the alumni from this school are quite wealthy and their attention isn't just being pulled by other local entertainment options, it's being pulled by far-off, exotic weekend getaways. Even if we overcame the things that were pulling fans away and activated fan affinity in every member of the university's core local audience, we still wouldn't be able to fill the football stadium because the pool of people with an existing affinity is so small. 

The other mistake many programs make is assuming that alumni and/or fans that used to have affinity for their athletic programs still have affinity to be activated. We all like to think that because someone went to our university or used to come to our games, all we have to do is figure out how to activate that thing inside of them that will make them want to come back. But for a multitude of reasons, sometimes that's just not the case. Sometimes alumni don't care. Sometimes with former fans, it's too late.

Whether you're reaching out to people who have no ties to your athletic programs, alumni with little existing affinity for your programs or former fans that have grown apathetic, we must change the conversation from one of trying to activate fan affinity to one of creating fan affinity. It can be done, trust me. You see brands all over the world that go from non-existent to having extremely loyal "fans." They do this by creating affinity for their brands. 

Okay, great. Stop activating. Start creating. Where do we start? 

Research.

A coach wouldn't develop a strategy to win a game without first scouting the opponent. In the same way, you must scout your opponent. Your opponent is apathy toward your program.

1. Who are THEY?

First things first: figure out who is in your market and speak their language. Time and time again, I've seen athletic organizations invest in a marketing plan targeted at individuals that may not even exist. The prospect group you envision is probably out there, but you have to make sure there are enough of those people in your market to move the revenue needle if you reach them and convert them. For instance, if you think the people most likely to attend your events are single men and you target your message to them, you're going to have a problem if your market is actually full of 35-year-old mothers of two. If you know your market is full of PhDs, your message will be different than if you think it's full of factory workers. 

2. Who are YOU?

Now that you know who you're trying to reach, you have to figure out a way to position yourselves in a way that is appealing to those most likely to come to your events. What makes what you have to offer better than what is competing for your potential fans' time? Remember, we're creating affinity here. We're trying to appeal to potential fans that have no feelings one way or another toward our programs. Is your gameday experience family-friendly? Are you priced well? Are you a Power 5 school with big name opponents coming in? There's no right or wrong answer. You just have to figure out why what you're offering is better than whatever you're competing with.

3. Find Compatibility

Now that you know who your potential fans are and you've done a deep dive into figuring out who you are, you have to find common ground. If 35-year-old mothers are making decisions about what to do with their young children on Saturday afternoons, the hard-hitting action of top name opponents probably isn't what is going to appeal to them the most. At the same time, if big hairy men are your target, talking up the hard-hitting action may be the way to go. We may be perpetuating stereotypes here, but marketing is based largely on understanding the typical characteristics and preferences of big groups of people and tapping into those likes and needs in order to make a connection and influence a decision. It works for every other industry in the world. It will work for you. Think of it like having a conversation with your father-in-law... if he's a mechanic and you're in marketing, you're not going to insist on talking about marketing or he'll check out. You do some research and figure out that he's really into competitive duck-herding. OMG, you're into competitive duck-herding! Now you have something to talk about at Thanksgiving. Find out what you and your fan base have in common. Then connect over it.

 The reality is this: die-hard fans are coming to your games no matter how amazing your poster and social media graphics are. So marketing to them is like paying for the free mints at the end of a meal. And that's exactly who you're marketing to with the die-cut, 3D, pop-up, scratch-n-sniff schedule posters and animated gifs of Jimmy hitting that three-pointer. Don't get us wrong: there's a place for that when it comes to maintaining your fan base. But if you want to actually grow your fan base, you need to create affinity for your athletic programs. Do some research or engage someone to help you do some research. If you figure out who your potential fans are and then figure out who you are, you have what you need to drive attendance.

 

If you have worked in any industry that has physical locations, you have probably at least heard of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance. When most people think of ADA compliance, they think of things like wheelchair accessibility and other facilities requirements. It’s natural to include ADA considerations in your $100 million stadium project, but have you ever thought about ADA compliance when it comes to your website? 

ADA compliance for websites is a convoluted and sometimes difficult thing to understand, but let's take a look at what you need to know.  

There a few groups of businesses that must adhere to ADA compliance law:  

  • Businesses with 15 or more employees
  • State and local agencies
  • Businesses with public accommodations and commercial facilities

The last one is where most organizations are covered, which is Title III of ADA law. 

“...the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of "public accommodation" by any person who owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation. Public accommodations include most places of lodging (such as inns and hotels), recreation, transportation, education, and dining, along with stores, care providers, and places of public displays.”

Although ADA law was written for physical facilities, recent court cases show that it is now being applied to the digital world. For example, supermarket chain Winn-Dixie was recently ruled to have violated a blind man's rights because the coupons presented on their site were only images and could not be read by a screen reader. As a result of this case, Winn-Dixie was required to update their site to make all of their content screen reader friendly.

The ADA standards for websites are still in development (with a tentative release date in 2018), so the judge in this case made his ruling based on WCAG 2.0 (WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). These guidelines were created by the World Wide Web Consortium and updated in 2008. They’re currently the standard by which sites are measured for accessibility.  

The WCAG 2.0 guidelines have four basic principles:

Principle 1 – Perceivable. Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.

Principle 2 – Operable. User interface components and navigation must be operable.

Principle 3 – Understandable. Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.

Principle 4 – Robust. Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

See the full breakdown here

The bottom line is that people need to be able to consume your content and take advantage of what you offer online, regardless of their disability.  

WCAG 2.0 is also broken down to different levels of conformance. 

A. This is the lowest level of conformity. The goal here is to make the site accessible (readable) to most browser and screen readers. While this is an improvement to a lot of websites, it is not at a level that would that provide a lot of benefit for impaired users and is not at a level that the court cases have mandated sites (in those cases) achieve.  

AA. This makes a site considerably more accessible. It will not change the look of a site completely, but will put it in a much safer place in terms of compliance. It includes guidance on errors and even some on color contrast. Most businesses will be fine achieving this level of compliance and it seems this is the level the courts are pushing on the sites. AA is also recommended by the WCAG themselves. 

AAA. This level is considerably more robust and typically requires significant changes on most sites. It does make the site accessible to the widest range of disabilities. Site design would be heavily impacted by this level.  

Each of these guidelines is broken down in more detail on the WCAG website, but for most people the AA guidelines should be the aim.  

So how does this affect you? It depends on your website. There are a lot of tools out there that can check your site for compliance. There are also several firms that will offer you services to do the same. 

Here are a few key things to keep in mind. First, ADA compliance starts with programming. Make sure the people who are building your site know what they are doing and are following WCAG protocols. They should be educated about ADA compliance and be able to answer your questions. Second, think about the purpose of your site. Is it an extension of a physical location? If so, what services are offered at the physical location and can those be offered on the website? ADA compliance is all about accessibility and equal access. Having a phone number or a live chat option on your site can go a long way toward enhancing accessibility, especially if those resources are available 24/7.   

While a lack of web-specific ADA law makes compliance a little challenging, following the WCAG guidelines and keeping accessibility in mind will help you offer people an online experience that is as accessible to them as an in-person experience at your physical location.

So you say you're tired of the same old Hype-Intro Video with highlights cut to really theatrical epic music. We get it. Seriously, we.get.it. You want something with "PRODUCTION VALUE." That's one of those buzzwords you'll hear video production people say a lot. It's something most folks outside of the creative community don't care a whole lot about. And that's not a knock on them. They're very concerned about things like the bottom line and keeping 16 other head coaches happy. Yikes. However, if you can get a majority of the cooks in your video kitchen vaguely aware of "production value" it will make everybody a little happier when these things finally play on the video board and on your mobile devices

You can buy your team all of the cool new cameras, gadgets, and smoke grenades you want, but a high-quality video is not only about pointing, shooting and looking tough on camera.

It’s about all of the other ‘tiny’ things:

  • Idea
  • Preparations
  • Storytelling
  • Script
  • Location
  • Cinematography
  • Acting
  • Directing
  • Staging
  • Editing
  • Color Correction
  • Graphic Elements
  • Music
  • Sound Engineering
  • File Encoding
 

I could go on and on. That's why movie and television awards shows are so long. 

There's a difference between the videos that stand out and the ones that look like all the others. And it's not budget, y'all. It just comes down to taking care of the little things and not taking short cuts.

Now, we here at Old Hat can only control so many things when it comes to a video and a video shoot, I'll discuss that a little more in a bit. Our team can do a cool video, but for us to pull off something like we did at Illinois back in July you need a ton of buy-in and support from Illinois Athletics Marketing and Illinois Football.

We are absolutely nowhere without the high-level of communication and coordination completed by those two camps. We needed to secure five different locations and determine power sources at each place. We needed campus security and fire to be alerted that there might be reports of heavy orange smoke. We needed a couple of folks to run with smoke grenades over a span of three hours. We needed to secure some workout equipment from Strength & Conditioning. We needed to secure game-ready gear from the Equipment team. We needed eight student athletes to give up one of their evenings doing things that might make them feel kind of silly in full uniform and pads in 90-degree heat. Oh, and we needed them to sell it to the camera. Want to see wide receiver, Mike Dudek's face when we told him to catch a football in a giant plume of orange smoke?

"I can't see anything!" - The Dude.

Get the point yet? You can't just throw a shoot together. I mean, you can, but the proof is in the pudding. Your team has got to have a Sabrina, a Michelle, a Kassidy, a Giana, a Davontay, an Alex, a Madison and a Brad. Total buy in. All on the same page. Getting stuff done. 

For Old Hat's part, it started with presenting this team a few different concepts: Rain, giant light panels, green screen, night-vs-day, practical-vs-unique locations, uniforms-vs-practice gear. The one that stuck: Smoke in football practical and unique campus locations.

Next up for us: How to add production value to this smoke concept. Without production value, you've just got another sports marketing gimmick. Here are a few of the inspiration images and shoot screenshots: 

Add in a little storytelling, that may or may not have once been compared to that storming the castle scene from Beauty and Beast, some solid directing and acting, as well as lighting, a total Brad Wurthman music find and some of the best post-production artist work around, and you've got something pretty cool and unique. Something you're proud to watch on a giant screen at least six times during the season. 

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