EUGENE, OR - University of Oregon Athletic Department officials announced Wednesday that they have ended their long-standing relationship with Nike and have signed with Walmart's Avia brand to provide all athletic apparel and shoes. 

"We appreciate everything Nike and Phil Knight have done for the University of Oregon and respect the organization immensely. However, we feel that it is time for a new era in Oregon Athletics and we are confident that Walmart is the right organization to represent the Oregon brand," one official stated.


Okay, did anyone believe that for one second? Did anyone truly believe that Oregon, a major collegiate athletic program, would drop Nike in favor of Walmart? Of course not. 

But why?

A lot of reasons, most likely. For one, Nike and Phil Knight have given so much support to the University of Oregon, they'd never dream of going with any other apparel company, much less Walmart's Avia brand. But let's swap out Oregon, and let's say Michigan instead. Or Bowling Green. Or UConn. Or East Popcorn State University. Would you have believed the headline then?

East Popcorn State drops Adidas; Walmart's Avia to provide Colonels Team Apparel

 

Would that headline be any more believable? Probably not. 

But why?

Avia makes fine apparel. I have a pair of running shorts from Walmart, and I don't run any slower when I wear them than when I wear my Nike shorts. In fact, I can't tell the difference. My favorite pair of running shorts are BCG brand, not Nike. Avia could provide athletic team apparel to the Ducks that feels pretty similar to what Nike provides. The Ducks could take the field in apparel provided by Walmart and they wouldn't run any slower, throw the ball any less accurately, shoot with any lower percentage or hit with any lower of an average. 

So if Walmart were to come to the table and commit to providing everything Nike provides and a financial incentive far greater than Nike, would any major university be willing to announce that they've dropped Nike or Adidas or Under Armour in favor of a Walmart brand?

Not a chance. But why?

The answer, of course: Perception. Pride. Respect. Quality.

There's no coach or athletic director in the country that is going to send their team on the field wearing Avia or BCG or C9. And even if they were, how tough would it be to recruit kids to come play for a school if they know they'll be trading in the swoosh for the... uh, "I" with a little arrow thingy on top? The coaches, the department personnel and the kids would be embarrassed to compete in anything but a top name brand. And why? Because they'd look ridiculous. It's the same reason NBA players don't shoot free throws granny-style, despite the scientific data that shows they'd make way more shots that way. They'd get laughed at. And no one wants to be laughed at.

I'm not arguing that this is a bad thing. I jog in cheap jogging shorts. But rest assured that if I were going to be on national television, I'd go buy some brand new Nike shorts. I'd also probably try to drop a few pounds. Because on the national stage, we all want to look good. And no disrespect to Walmart, but running out of the tunnel wearing the Avia logo on your chest is not an idea that gets anyone excited. It all makes complete and total sense. I get it.

But there's something I don't get. 

There's something I don't understand at all.

This philosophy of looking good and only being willing to wear what looks the best or shoot the way that looks the best... the philosophy that we all think makes complete and total sense... why does that not apply to everything that represents our collegiate sports teams?

Why are we willing to let our team run out of the tunnel after an intro/hype video that doesn't actually build any hype? Why do we show videoboard prompts that are cheap, canned reproductions that don't match our brand? Why do we promote the sport that has the highest potential and greatest need for ticket sales revenue with marketing collateral that is just "good enough," has no research behind it and isn't positioned to actually drive attendance? Why do we not even consider for one second letting our teams wear something that isn't absolutely first-class, but when it comes to promoting those sports, driving attendance and building a game experience, we often settle for what is least expensive? This isn't the case everywhere, of course, but there are so many times at so many major universities that an athletic department will choose the Walmart version of a creative service over the Nike equivalent.

A glaring example of this is most universities' online ticket buying portals. Every school in the country wants to sell more tickets. Every school in the country wants to drive attendance. Yet if you look at the online ticket purchasing experience at those schools, the user interface is terrible, it's impossible to find the information you need, it takes way too many clicks to purchase and the pages are bland and boring and do nothing to actually make a fan want to come to the event. Everything about these portals depend on a fan already wanting to come to the event so badly that they're willing to jump through hoops to buy a ticket. And not even cool, exciting, flaming-hoops-of-fire. Boring, bland, unexciting hoops. 

Promoting our teams with poor quality marketing isn't just as bad as sending them onto the court in Walmart brand shoes. It's like sending them onto the court with no shoes at all. We wouldn't be giving them the tools to succeed and by relying on the least expensive option for marketing, we're not giving ourselves the tools to succeed in driving attendance. 

So all that said, I'm not ignorant to the idea that sometimes the least expensive option is the only option. Budgets are tight in collegiate athletics and sometimes you can control the amount you're given to promote your sports. So here are some practical tips that you can employ to help drive attendance at your events.

Ticket Sales Portal

Count the Clicks - How many clicks does it take to buy a ticket on your website? On the high end, we sometimes see that it can take up to 7-8 clicks to make a purchase. Some have streamlined it down to as few as 3. Obviously, the lower the number, the more likely people are to purchase. And most of the time, you can make changes to your site to bring that number down. Count the number of clicks it takes to make a purchase and see if you can cut that number in half.

Spruce Up the Joint - Unfortunately, most ticketing companies provide a portal that is boring and unengaging. They don't do much to actually make a fan want to purchase. But there are typically at least a couple of things you can to do customize that page. Take advantage of those opportunities by bringing your marketing campaign for that sport into the headers and other graphics on that page. In a perfect world, add some video content to those pages, even if it's just your stadium intro/hype video. Fans love to watch those things and if the only place to watch it is by going to your ticket sales page, that could go a long way toward driving ticket sales. Best way to sell a ticket to someone is to give them the opportunity to buy when they're most excited about it. 

Marketing Collateral

Forget Your Die-Hard Fans - I wrote an article a few weeks ago about how we need to start looking at schedule posters as advertisements rather than promotional tools. Because most of the time, they don't do much to drive attendance. But every advertising campaign starts with research to determine who your audience is. Maybe you don't have a budget for research. That's fine. You know your area and you know who has the most potential to become new ticket purchasers. Spend some time thinking about who those people are and develop a campaign that targets those people. The die-hard fans are going to come regardless of what the poster looks like or the tagline that's on it. So think about a way to appeal (both through messaging and through the visuals) to a different group. You'll probably find that putting all the seniors on the poster with a generic tagline isn't the best way to appeal to those people. Be bold and put something unique out there. Because like I said, the die-hards are coming anyway. And by trying something unique you just might appeal to a totally new group.

Game Experience

Take Advantage of Your Friends & Family - The best thing I can advise for improving your game experience is to identify where things are lacking. And the best way to do that is to engage a firm to do a comprehensive gameday audit. But if your budget doesn't allow for that, make your friends and family work for those tickets they begged you for! Give them a checklist and have them rate every experience on a scale of 1 to 5. Ticket takers, concessionaires, ushers, intro video, band, cheer, etc. You may not get a comprehensive report from industry experts, but you'll have more information than you started with. And sometimes it's good to have input from people who aren't immersed in collegiate athletics 24/7. At the very least, you'll have a unique perspective outside your own.

 

We might have mentioned it once or twice before, but last spring, we conducted a Sports180 with SMU Athletics. We met with SMU's staff, did the research, and decided how to strategically and visually approach this year and drive attendance at SMU events on campus.

Last weekend, SMU hosted Liberty University for the first Mustang home football game of the year. I #GotThere and watched the game in person! I love being able to see the work our designers created in real life. Usually I only get to see it on my computer screen.  Thanks again to the SMU staff for having me!

As a part of the Sports180, we've created many many pieces for SMU sports all following a consistent brand.  For football specifically, those include:

A dedicated football ticket sales site: GetHereForGameday.com

This HUGE poster:

Schedule Card:

Billboard:

Season Tickets:

Snapchat Filter:

Social Media Templates:

Stadium Souvenier Cup:

Yard Sign:

Fire Box Graphics - they shoot fire when the team runs out of the tunnel, and we designed this for the boxes.

Intro Video: 

Mustang You - Get to Know's

Player Features

 

Here's some photos of our video board graphics actually on the video board!

A wise man once said, "I love it when a plan comes together." That's the best way I could describe how I felt after delivering the University of Illinois Football Intro Video. It started all the way back on April 25th with a simple email, subject line "This might be something in 2016-17" and a link to a song. And the rest they say is "history." Or is it "yada yada yada?" Just kidding, I'm not going to gloss over the numbers.

  • 9 locations total for this shoot. I love touring a pretty college campus on a golf cart. It's an underappreciated video asset right outside your front door: well-manicured lawns, beautiful landscaping, unique architecture and statues for days! We only used the campus beauty shots for about :13, but I think they worked well in setting the scene with the music and the voice over. We photographed the players in the indoor practice facility (gotta love a steamy venue in July) as well as their locker room (thankfully air conditioned).
 
 
  •  1 concept from the get-go. Dustin and I have been wanting to do some type of stop-motion photography in a practical sports setting with the athletes for several years now. In the past we've shot the photographs with a black background. I like the stop-motion look because it gives the athletes a really cool stop-and-start look that worked quite well with the music.
 
  • 3617 photographs shot. That's a lot of strobe lights going off in about three hours. Thankfully, there were no light-induced seizures that afternoon. It was quite bright. Without getting TOO technical, for most of our videos there are 30 frames of video per second. So if we're shooting photographs we'll need a lot to fill about 60% of the one minute video.
 

  • 120 photos actually scripted and used in the final edit Yeah, that's not a very big percentage. Sorry, Dustin. We used the best stills or series of stills and then had to make room for campus shots, graphics, and of course highlights. WE'VE ONLY GOT ONE MINUTE!!
 
  • 16 Illini football student athletes. Listen, shoots are cool, but they're hard work, they take time, and you're often waiting your turn...in the steamy indoor football facility. I've worked with hundreds of players over the last eight years and these guys were absolutely great to work with. They followed directions, brought enthusiasm and intensity, and were very patient. We had them in full pads and gear and I didn't hear one complaint. Coach Smith has a great group this year. We got awesome photographs and the guys got done an hour early. Win-win.



He was actually growling at Dustin. It was fantastic.

  • 5,000 the number of times I listened to "The House of the Rising Sun" at my computer, driving home, mowing the lawn. I'm a big fan of covers done well.

  • 8 Illini Athletic Marketing staff members holding lights, carrying boxes, bringing us 5lb bags of Swedish Fish, driving us around campus. Amazing group of awesomeness led by the Canadian King of Awesomeness Brad Wurthman.
 
  • 3 Old Hatters just doing what they love to do.
 
 
  • 48,644 fans in attendance at Memorial Stadium for the 52-3 victory over Murray State.
 

The article I posted earlier in the week has caused some negative, yet understandable feedback. It comes as no surprise to me that some feathers were ruffled by the solution I proposed to the new Federal Labor Standards Act. Below is an expanded version of a response I posted to a comment on the original blog post.

I would like to reiterate what I stated in the article which is that, "If you love your current creative staff or freelancer, don’t fire them just because you can’t afford to pay them enough to meet all your needs." The idea that we are advocating widespread layoffs leaves me wondering if people actually read the article or just the headline. I clearly stated that I do not feel changes should be made if an athletic department has a good creative staff in place. 

What some people may not realize is that I was once on an internal creative staff myself. And if I felt that someone were advocating that I get fired, I'd be quite upset. However, the FLSA rules are estimated to have a $1.5 million impact to the average mid-major athletic department. While some can absorb that, others will have to make cuts. That's just the reality of the situation. I would love to think that rather than cutting anyone, departments would increase everyone's wage to the new threshold. I just don't believe that's realistic. Departments will have a greater need than ever to get fans in seats to increase revenue and honestly, I've never seen a situation in which using Old Hat wouldn't save an athletic department vast sums of money over having in-house creative. I've run the numbers many times and the fact of the matter is, a department could save themselves thousands of dollars annually by using Old Hat for their high level creative rather than an in-house crew. 

We can't forget that the mission of an athletic department is anything other than educating the student-athlete and giving the opportunity to as many young people as possible to compete and get an education. The FLSA rules are going to have a major impact whether we like it or not. We are simply recommending an option that will help contribute to a department's ability to continue that mission.

Big changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) will take effect on December 1, 2016. That means you have the first half of the school year to: (a) get as much overtime out of your current employees as possible while you still can, and (b) figure out how the heck you’re going to make things work when the new rules go into effect. 

Here’s the issue in a nutshell: you won’t be able to afford to keep doing things the way you do them today. 

We all know that there’s no such thing as a 40 hour workweek for employees in collegiate athletics. Especially not for employees at the lower end of the pay scale. Right now, you don’t have to pay overtime rates to professional, administrative or executive employees whose salaries are $23,660 per year or more. But come December, that threshold jumps to $47,476 per year. So here’s the question: can you survive without all the overtime hours your lower-paid employees currently work, or can you afford to pay them a lot more in the future? 

It’s not like you have a bunch of extra money laying around. And if you’re a Division I school, you may already in a budget crunch thanks to recent changes related to food service and scholarship rules.

Unfortunately, your practices, games, and related activities are not going to magically start fitting into a tidy little 40 hour workweek…no matter how many of you write letters to Santa. 

Something’s gotta give.

Here’s our advice: cut your creative staff.

Yep. You heard that right. 

Drastic times call for drastic measures. 

So yeah. Your graphic designer. Your video production specialist. Send’em packing.

We’re not saying you don’t need marketing support. Of course you do! It’s just that you don’t need to keep those individuals on your staff as yet another piece of your salary and overtime puzzle. And even if your marketing team isn’t working overtime, we all know they’re still a likely target when budget cuts come around.

The way we see it, you’ve got 3 alternatives to consider.

#1 – Hire Freelancers

If you’ve never tried it before, this might sound like a good idea. But most of you who have been around the block once or twice are cringing right now. Most athletic departments haven’t had a lot of luck with freelancers providing consistently high-quality work that’s on time and on target. Unless you have a freelancer who has worked with you before or who came from the collegiate athletics marketing industry, you’ll probably find they lack the expertise and insight you’re looking for. On the other hand, if you’re lucky enough to have found a really great freelancer, that person is probably working a lot more than 40 hours for you at an annual salary that’s lower than the new FLSA threshold…which means in December, you’ll have the same problem with your freelance rock star as you would with your own in-house staff.

#2 – Two Words: Student Internship

Hey, look around. In your neighborhood, there’s no shortage of young soon-to-be-professionals eager to build their resumes and score some real-world experience. And most of them don’t want to work anywhere close to 40 hours a week anyway. Assembling a low-cost creative staff will be like shooting fish in a barrel! What could possibly go wrong? Well, other than lack of experience, inconsistency, the need for a lot of oversight, not having any of the aforementioned industry expertise, some pesky rules or limitations… Reality check: you get what you pay for. There’s a reason you haven’t relied on this type of manpower to serve as your creative staff before. Sure, you may have some top-notch students who help you out from time to time, and that’s great. But as a year-over-year strategy, trying to rely on them to fill the gap FLSA is about to create won’t earn you a barrel of Gatorade over the head.

#3 – Outsource It

If only you knew somebody with a wealth of industry experience, mad design skills, a deep bench of talent, and serious strategic chops that you could hire and rely on without having to even think about overtime or paying a higher salary. Oh, wait. You do. All joking aside, Old Hat can provide everything you need from a creative standpoint. From design to video production, project management, strategic planning and copywriting, we offer a full range of creative services. We’re good enough, we’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like us. If you don’t have your dream team in place right now, take them off your payroll and let us be your creative staff instead. Want to have a designer right there on campus with you? No problem – we can be the one to hire them, pay them, and worry about their hours, plus we’ve got the capacity to absorb any excess work. 

Or don’t cut your creative staff. Augment them the smart way.

If you love your current creative staff or freelancer, don’t fire them just because you can’t afford to pay them enough to meet all your needs. I mean, really. Do we come across as that callous or short-sighted? (For the record, we’re neither.) Instead, let us augment your team and handle all those extra hours you can’t afford to pay them for. Old Hat can provide you subscription-style creative support that will cost you a lot less in the long run than paying overtime rates or higher salaries, while delivering the highest quality results. We’ll work with you to come up with a plan that gives you all services you need, when you need them. We’ll even dedicate somebody to becoming your brand expert. Everybody wins! Want to talk it over? Give us a call.

 

Old Hat just recently completed video shoots for The University of Illinois' football and men's basketball teams. We were very excited to once again head out to Champaign and work with the Illini marketing staff and their respective student-athletes on a unique video concept. 

When we started talking with Illinois about these shoots we wanted to find a way to show their student-athletes and the familiar concepts of a football and men's basketball shoot in a different way. We settled on stop-motion as the method of telling our story. 

A stop-motion video is simply a series of still photographs played back at the speed of video which is typically 24 frames per second. That means for every second of video we show on-screen we shot 24 photographs to make that moment come alive. 

Let's get to a few of the technical challenges with this video. It was shot with a Canon 7D Mark II, which shoots stills at a maximum frame rate of 10 fps. Obviously this isn't quite up to the speed of 24 fps of shooting video, so you get a unique staccato, strobe-y feel to the video. The 7D is great because it's basically the poor man's sports shooter.  Just as many frames for way less than their flagship cameras. 

 

In the photo above you can see the 7D Mark II sitting atop a Glidecam 4000 on a steadicam arm. One of the things we wanted to do on these shoots was to really move the camera around like we would a video camera, even though we were shooting stills. Shooting with a steadicam allowed us to achieve that look. 

Here's a reverse angle of a slightly different setup. You can see that two strobes are on stands and the larger octabank is being handheld by light-holder extraordinaire Brad Wurthman, who also happens to be in charge of marketing at Illinois. In several other setups and throughout the day we had a person holding each individual light stand to facilitate movement of the camera and all of the lights simultaneously. 

We shot with Profoto B1 strobes. The B1's are battery powered and gave us the ability to move around quickly without having to worry about extension cords and finding power. We could go anywhere and continue to light our subjects. User replaceable batteries meant we could have backups charged and ready to go whenever we were running low. All in all we shot over 8,000 photographs between football and men's basketball, which is a lot of flashes. 

Stay tuned for the football video to make its debut in the coming weeks!

 

No, I'm not talking about Christmas. It's shoot season!

It's the time of year when we get to travel around the country and see our clients in real life! I also enjoy getting to see everyone in their natural habitats on campus.

Recently, Dustin and I adventured out to Salt Lake City to see our friends at the University of Utah. We were on-site to capture football and volleyball photos. The photos we take at this shoot go on pretty much every marketing piece Utah sends out, so we make sure to take plenty to last them all season. 

We also caught up with our on campus Old Hat designer, Douglas. It's always great to see him as well.

Here's a few photos I captured on my iPhone while Dustin was capturing photos on his "real camera":

Yay Douglas! 

 

When we got to our hotel, the power was out for most of the evening.  All I had were these two glow sticks to light up my room.

Obviously we have to take some diving photos.  Always one of my favorites.

Very intimidating.

Dustin...also very intimidating.

Swoop came by, and before we knew it, we had a handstand contest on our hands!

Dustin and Swoop in deep conversation...not having a handstand contest.

Last Monday I posted an article about the death of the schedule poster as we know it and talked about the need to breathe life back into it through treating it more like an advertisement than an informational tool. Simply informing people of when the games will be played and scattering athlete photos around an 18 x 24" space doesn't do much to actually drive attendance anymore. It needs to be a part of a grander marketing campaign.

So that begs the question: How do we do that?

Answer: Through a research & discovery, internal & external surveys, target audience indentification, strategic messaging, media audits and brilliant creative.

Sounds difficult and daunting, doesn't it? Well, it's not. It's time-consuming and requires expertise in all of these fields. It involves large groups of people working together to provide feedback and input. It requires everyone in an organization buying in to a common goal. But fortunately, Old Hat has the tools and processes in place to facilitate all of it. It's called the Sports180° Process and is our proven, research-based process that gets to the heart of your unique position. Through this approach, we help you clarify objectives, analyze your playing field, and develop a winning strategy.

We just completed the initial phases of the Sports180° with SMU and are entering implementation phase where we will launch an internal and external marketing campaign, a ticket sales website and multiple gameday experience pieces that are united under a common message and goal.

Phase 1: Scouting

The first step in the process is research and discovery. Understanding your internal culture and inspiring your staff can prevent disconnects between your brand promise and what your fans experience. Their weigh-in will produce buy-in.  We talk to Senior Athletic Department Staff, Individual Department Team Members, Development, Marketing, Ticket Sales, Sponsorship and Support Staff as Directed (Team Operations, Coaches, Game Operations, Designers, Interns, Game Day Contractors, Facility Staff, Merchandise, etc.)

There are other key groups that play a role in the success of your brand, so we meet with a few representatives or request their participation in your survey. This may include groups like Fundraising Club Members, Alumni, Students, Community Influencers, Individual Game Buyers, Premium Customers, etc.

By the end of this phase we’ll understand both your market and your uniquely compelling story, as told straight from the horse’s mouth.


Discovery process on campus at SMU

Phase 2: Playbook

In phase two we analyze the research and develop a playbook to achieve your objectives. This phase involves refining your leadership vision, identifying sales and marketing opportunities, aligning your target audiences with your brand differentiators, and assessing how you can win against your competitors.

Leadership Vision: Review and discussion of the vision shared by your organization’s key leaders.

Research Findings: Presentation of comprehensive research findings and analysis, including key takeaways and opportunities.

Audience Alignment: Development and presentation of profile personas for key current and desired target audiences.

Marketing Opportunities: Identification of opportunities that support your vision, engage your key audiences, and position you for greater success.

Examples of Findings:

 Phase 3: Game Day

Incorporating your feedback and our research findings, this is where we execute our recommendations and begin to engage with your fans, alumni and donors. We will present a set of campaign platforms that demonstrate how you will connect with your key stakeholders. You’ll also receive comprehensive reports with our research findings and strategic recommendations plus a detailed brand launch marketing plan.

Key Components

Strategic Recommendations: Summary of insights and recommended actions.

Brand Platform: Presentation of final creative look, feel, and messaging as a springboard for future tactical elements.

Marketing Communications Plan: Marketing campaign launch plan, including recommended tactics, message channels, delivery, and timing. 

Brand Style Guide: Written brand style guide detailing fonts, colors, photo types, brand language and more for internal use in execution. Provided following final approval of brand platform.



The SMU Sports180° is complete and the creative elements will begin to see the light of day in the coming weeks. Through our research, we were able to identify what their most important needs were and how to properly address those needs. Portions of the Sports180° process were also used in the Raise Up Carolina project where we conducted research to identify what was unique about football game days in Chapel Hill and built a site around that position that was targeted at the proper audience. 

A brilliant marketing campaign targeted at the wrong audience will produce no better results than a terrible campaign targeted at the right audience. Old Hat has the proper experience, tools and processes that allow us to both identify and target the proper audience and build the creative that will reach them.

The mission of most collegiate athletic departments surround the idea of developing the student-athlete. And we know that's impossible without the financial support that comes from having fans in the stands. Old Hat's mission is to increase attendance at sporting events. Plain and simple. Together, and using this process, Old Hat can achieve our mission while helping you achieve yours.

Here’s an example of one of hundreds of conversations I’ve had over the past 15 years with people I meet:

Person: What do you do for a living?

Me: Sports Marketing.

Person: What does that mean, exactly?

Me: I own a creative agency that works with athletics organizations.

Person: (looks at me blankly) So you like, print t-shirts or something?

Me: No. We partner with universities to help them with their marketing efforts. 

Person: Huh?

Me: Okay, so you know how when you walk down Main Street in your nearest college town and there’s a poster in the local bar window advertising the State U. volleyball team? We design those!

Person: Ahhhhh! That’s cool.

The conversation usually then turns into all the other stuff we do. But it all begins with the schedule poster. Everyone knows what a schedule poster is. And Old Hat was built on the schedule poster. We don’t know exactly how many we’ve designed over the years but conservative estimates put us at more than 4,000. 

Four. THOUSAND. Schedule posters. 

That’s insane.

 

The Dying Art of the Schedule Poster

Used to be, schedule posters were something people actually looked at in order to find out their favorite team’s schedule.  I remember seeing an OU Sooners Football schedule poster from 1985 hanging in a restaurant in Norman. No photos, no crazy photoshop effects, no cheesy tagline. Just the schedule. And the thing about it is, that poster probably did more to get people to the games than most of what is produced these days. People don’t have to walk over to the poster on the wall anymore to see what the schedule is. In fact, there have been times when I’ve had the OU football poster on my wall behind me and I’ve still pulled out my phone to see when the next game is. Because when I do that, I can then tell Google to put it in my calendar automatically and set it to send me a reminder to buy tickets to the specific away games I want to go to. Last time I checked, the poster on the wall couldn’t do that. 

Schedule posters are going the way of the dodo bird as a promotional tool. They have some value in recruiting but let’s be honest, 18-year-old student-athletes are probably way more interested in the multi-million dollar weight room and the 64-foot wall graphic than the idea that when they’re a senior, they might get to be on a poster. 

Once upon a time, just putting your schedule on a poster was enough to get people to the game. The art of the schedule poster has come a long way since then. Some of the posters we produce here are truly works of art. But these days, they have to be so much more than that if you want them to actually result in a fan taking action.

I’ve talked a lot about how we are fighting for people’s attention unlike ever before. The world has changed more in the past decade than it did in the 50 years preceding it and that has resulted in people having a lot more options in entertainment. And that’s not changing. In fact, it’s going to get worse for those of us whose job it is to get people to the stadium. Stadiums aren’t doing multi-million dollar renovations to create more premium seating areas just for the fun of it. They’re doing it to compete with people’s couches. Because more and more people are finding it hard to convince themselves to go sit on a hard bench crammed in with thousands of other people in the September heat when they can watch from the comfort of their recliner.

Stadiums are upgrading to appeal to fans more. It’s time schedule posters do too.

 

Breathing Life into the Schedule Poster

Your schedule posters can be one of three things: 1) A valuable sales tool. 2) An ancillary recruiting tool. 3) A waste of time. You’re going to have to decide which you want yours to be.

If you want your schedule posters to be a valuable sales tool, what can you do to make them have more of an effect on driving game attendance? For one, you can remove the schedule.

The biggest mistake we can make is assuming that putting the schedule on a schedule poster has any relevance anymore. I’m not saying you have to remove it. I’m just saying that its presence is pretty irrelevant. If you make people want to come to your games, they’ll find the schedule. And probably not by looking at a poster.

So that’s the key, right? Making them want to come? 

What we have to start doing is treating a poster more like an advertisement than a schedule poster. The poster, like an ad, has to be positioned properly. It has to target the right audience. It has to deliver a message. It has to inspire action. 

You have a built-in passionate fan base already. You have fans that wear their school colors every Friday before the game and then watch it from their living room the next day. The passion is there. You just have to reignite it. You have fans that want to be reminded about what they’re missing out on by not being there.

Advertising works. That’s a fact. But it doesn’t work without being based in research and strategy. The most amazing looking schedule poster that delivers the wrong message to the wrong group isn’t as valuable as a very basic poster that delivers the right message to the right group. 

We are currently working with a number of universities to help figure out what that message is and to whom it should be delivered. And the research we’re doing to base our strategy on is truly fascinating. Who are the decision makers in your market? What are their other choices for entertainment? What are they doing instead of coming to your games? Why? What drives them? Dig deep enough and you’ll find the answers. And you’ll find your message. And you’ll find your fans. And they’ll find the stadium.

A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine decided he was going to start a sports apparel company. Like most new businesses, he was starting with nothing. He had no facility, he had no customers, he had no product. He just had an idea. 

Oh, and he had one more thing. He applied to a program through the SBA that provided him with a steady stream of potential customers with built in brand loyalty to his new company. He didn't have to do a single thing to create that brand loyalty. This program was revolutionary. The government would take large groups of young people and spend four years slowly building an affinity within them for this guy's brand. They'd give these kids free product, they'd surround them with this company's logo and they'd teach these impressionable young minds songs that furthered a love for this guy's company. And every year, after spending four years instilling passion within these potential customers, the program would release thousands of them into the world where they would make more money than nearly half of the population.

Needless to say, my friend's company was set up to be a smashing success. Every year from the start of his company until the end of time, he had 5,000+ people who automatically loved his brand. All he had to do was supply them with a good product. Some of these people were more passionate than others, of course. And he couldn't retain them all. But what he found was that for the rest of these people's lives, they had at least some affinity for his product. On top of that, their ability to afford his product was better than average. So of course he was incredibly successful…how could he not be?

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What was the name of this company? It doesn't matter because I made it all up. That is, I made up the idea that this was someone's company that couldn’t help but succeed. The rest of it happens every year at hundreds of organizations.

On average, about 1.8 million people receive bachelor's degrees from colleges and universities in the United States. The vast majority spent about four years being surrounded by that university's brand every single day. They walked past hundreds of signs, pole banners and trash cans all bearing that institution's logo. They sat next to thousands of other students wearing t-shirts with that university's brand across the front. They were taught the history of their school, songs they will never forget, and traditions that reinforced their love for their school. And then, after four years of this indoctrination, they are released into the world with the ability to earn an average of $18,000 more per year than those who did not attend college.

Can you imagine what Nike would do for that kind of exposure? What do you think Nike would pay to have their logo on every banner, trash can, building and sign on a college campus? The value of that level of exposure to a brand is incalculable. As a business owner I can tell you that I would have killed to have been able to start my business with a group of customers that already loved my company.

Spoiled Sports

Those of us who work in collegiate athletics are spoiled. We’re playing with a stacked deck and we’re still losing. We have something Nike would pay millions of dollars for and that businesses everywhere dream about. I've used the number 5,000 in talking about the number of graduates that come out of a university each year. Some are less, obviously. But some have double or triple that number. The point is that collegiate athletics departments have four years of free marketing opportunities handed to them on a silver platter, and there are thousands of people graduating from universities every year who have will have some level of affinity for their alma mater for the rest of their lives.

No other industry in the world has this advantage. No one ever says, "Well, I wear Adidas because my grandpa wore Adidas and my dad wore Adidas." Even professional sports teams have less of an automatic fan base and less built-in loyalty than collegiate athletics. 

If you have empty seats at your stadium or arena, you have no excuse. Or at least you don't have nearly the excuse that organizations in every other industry has if they're failing to bring in customers. If alumni aren’t coming back to support your athletic program, it’s because the product you’re asking them to support isn't good enough.

Winning Isn't Everything

The argument can be made that fans would come if the team would win and that as marketers, we can't control the product on the field. But the decrease in attendance among collegiate athletics isn't isolated to losing programs. Winning teams are losing fans too. The product on the field is great but fans are still choosing to stay home.

At home, the beer is cheaper, the couch is more comfy and the temperature is always a nice 72 degrees. That’s hard to compete with, but not impossible. Because we do have an advantage: they already love us. They spent four years seeing our logo, wearing our clothes and singing our songs. 

We might not be able to control the product on the field, but there’s a lot more to the home-or-stadium decision than that. We can control ticket prices. We can control advertising. We can control strategically targeting the fans most likely to attend and understanding what makes them tick. And we can control the gameday experience. 

So what about my theoretical friend and his theoretical business? Was success really that easy for him? Of course not. He had to work at it. He had to realize that he couldn’t rely on the same old tricks to get fans to the stadium. He had to stop taking his steady stream of brand loyalists and their disposable income for granted, and start doing more to give them a product that is better than staying home. That was when he started succeeding. And if he didn’t do those things and ended up failing even when the deck was stacked in his favor, then he had nobody to blame but himself.

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