The wait is finally over! For a few weeks now, we've been teasing about the release of a new podcast. Yesterday, we published Episode 1 of Stop the Clock, featuring an interview with Matt Roberts, Director of Athletics at the College of Charleston.
Stop the Clock is a podcast about the most amazing moments in sports history when you just wanted to stop time and live in that moment forever, or, those not-so-amazing moments when you would have done anything to have another shot at it. The idea for the podcast was actually born out of the book I'm writing, also called Stop the Clock. I've been conducting a lot of interviews with the nation's top collegiate athletics administrators and I'm recording those interviews to then turn into content for the book. What I'm discovering though, is that many of the people I'm speaking with are great storytellers. Some of these stories are too amazing not to let the world hear. So, I decided to turn the best stories with the best audio quality into a killer new podcast.
Some people call it "Advertising Prom." Others call it the "Academy Awards for local advertising." Here at Old Hat, we call it "The night we hang out together in our fancy clothes." OH recently attended the Oklahoma City ADDY Awards- the advertising industry's largest competition which recognizes the creative spirit of excellence in the art of advertising. It was a lot of fun to get dressed up and see some of the fantastic work being created in the OKC area.
We submitted a large variety of projects that were completed in 2016 and were fortunate to get awards for 10 of our submissions!
1. Bronze - Collateral Material - Special Event - Card, Invitation, Announcement Campaign - Texas AM Football Tickets/Box
2. Bronze - Non-broadcast video - Wisconsin Men's Basketball
3. Bronze - Still Photography - Black & White, Single - Illinois Football Photos
4. Bronze - Cinematography - Illinois Football lntro
5. Bronze - Video Editing - Wisconsin Football
6. Silver - Social Media Campaign - Duke Social Media
7. Silver - Out of Home/Ambient Media - Large Venue - Single - Army Helicopter
8. Silver - Website - SMU Get Here For Gameday
9. Silver - Still Photography - Campaign - Utah Football Campaign
10. Gold - Effects or Motion Graphics - Duke Men's Basketball Projection
It was exciting to see that our awards were not limited to one area, but were representative of each of Old Hat's various divisions. Since the Duke Men's Basketball Projection project won gold, that project will now go on to compete at the Regional Level and then hopefully make it all the way to the National ADDY Awards.
We've already completed some fantastic projects in 2017, so I have no doubt that Old Hat will have another successful time at next year's ADDYs!
Mark "Hot Rod" Riordan: He has a few nicknames, "Godfather," "White Rhino," and a horribly-awesome rugby nickname that we cannot remember, nor should we probably write for people to read. Mark is an OH OG. Full disclosure, we heart this guy. If we were a celebrity couple we'd be OldMark or MarkHat.
So OldMark goes back all the way to 2005 when he was with the University of Michigan. It would be an understatement to say this relationship helped put Old Hat on the map. Mark is probably 100% the reason why Zac needed to create the position of video project manager and why I'm living in Norman, Oklahoma. Mark is the man. Which makes perfect sense since he's working for the 12th Man Foundation at Texas A&M. Partnering with Mark and his crew on KyleField.com is arguably one of OH Interactive's proudest moments. The site broke the mold for most stadium development sites you see today.
Ladies and gentlemen, buckle up. It's time for 20 Questions with Mark Riordan.
1. NAME: Mark Riordan
2. OCCUPATION/TITLE: Vice President – Marketing & Communications
3. HOMETOWN: Olean, NY
4. PREGAME RITUAL: I used to like to get to the office before everyone else and crank the music up to 11 while I put the finishing touches on the script. Now that I’m in the development world things are a little different. I’m not in the office 6 hours before kick…more like two before kick and visit a few tailgates before starting my responsibilities.
5. FAVORITE THING TO SNACK: Bison French Onion Dip with potato chips. Anyone from Western New York will know what I’m talking about.
6. FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: I like connecting with the donors. Also, I like being part of the process that gives student-athletes a world-class education.
7. LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: Fan message boards. TexAgs, I’m looking at you!
8. HIDDEN TALENTS/HOBBIES: I have a Harley. I like riding but don’t seem to have the time to ride as much as I would like.
9. ADVICE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF: Appreciate your education and think more critically.
10. YOUR GO-TO KARAOKE SONG: Not much of a karaoke kind of guy. The last time I did it, I went with Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise at Old Hat’s 10-year Anniversary party. Actually, I think I have ever “karaoke’d” in public like three times in my life and two of those were at Old Hat parties. What’s with you guys and karaoke?!?!
11. FAVORITE MOVIE: Dumb & Dumber / Caddyshack
12. FAVORITE TV SHOW: All-time: Seinfeld Current: The Walking Dead
13. IF YOU WERE IN A BOY BAND WHAT WOULD IT BE CALLED: White Rhino (nickname from my lunch league basketball days at Michigan).
14. FAVORITE PLACE TO EAT: Wings ‘n More here in College Station.
15. WHAT DO YOU ORDER THERE: They have the best wings that I’ve found outside of Western New York…and that’s saying a lot. Notice I didn’t call them “Buffalo Wings”? If you are from WNY, they are wings. Also, it’s pop, not soda.
16. FAVORITE DISNEY PRINCESS: First off, I didn’t know there were only eleven princesses. I thought there were many more than that. Gun to my head, Belle.
17. WHAT’S YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL: I like wolves…let’s go with that.
18. WHAT’S THE STUPIDEST THING YOU’VE EVER DONE: So many things to choose from! I guess one of the big ones is when I worked at a full-service gas station and thought it would be a good idea to start dipping to pass the time. I quit over 16 years ago but I spent almost 9 years rotting my mouth. All out of boredom.
19. WHAT’S THE LAST SHOW THAT YOU BINGE-WATCHED: I have three kids from 10-15 years old. Each one is in multiple sports (school, club, travel and rec leagues). Who has time to binge-watch anything?!?!?
20. IF YOU WEREN’T DOING THIS JOB WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING: Teaching high school and coaching football.
Old Hat and the University of Utah Athletics Marketing Department go way back. We're talking almost eight years. It's a special relationship that has grown from designing Football and Basketball tickets to having an On-Campus Designer and creating court projection videos. Grant Robertson, Associate Director of Athletics Marketing, has been the force behind some of the Utes coolest marketing projects, including the Men's Basketball Projection video the last couple of years.
Grant had some issues answering the Spirit Animal question so Hannah and I took a quiz for him. Turns out, Grant's Spirit Animal is The Bear which apparently is emblematic of grounding forces and strength. Do what you will with that information, Grant. Actually, if we're talking Stock Market (see answers to Q.8 and Q.20) we recommend you sell, sell, sell!
1. NAME: Grant Robertson
2. OCCUPATION/TITLE: Associate Director of Athletics Marketing
3. HOMETOWN: Bartlett, IL
4. PREGAME RITUAL: I wouldn’t say I have a ritual as every game/meet/event is unique in its own perspective. More or less, I try to walk our staff through every game day element and promotion we touch. Otherwise, I love gum! It helps me stay talking for an extended period of time.
5. FAVORITE THING TO SNACK: Besides gum, probably nothing. I don’t snack often.
6. FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: The Process! I love the grind of the week and all the little details that get you to the end product, i.e. the game production. Furthermore, when you work in a team environment, the process becomes more enjoyable and you get to share the successes with your team. No better feeling!
7. LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: Probably the 10-15 emails you get each week from “perceived” fans around the country asking for a schedule card or poster. Most of the time these fans send mass emails to every Athletics Department in the continental US. I don’t mind it at first, but once you’re 6 months in and have sent hundreds, it's not as fun.
8. HIDDEN TALENTS/HOBBIES: Talents - None that I can think of that set me apart from the 99%. Hobbies – Basketball, Snowboarding, Buying & Selling Stocks, Reading.
9. ADVICE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF: Work hard at every little detail. People do notice, it takes time but your efforts will eventually be rewarded. Also, live in the moment! There’s a reason George Shaw quoted “Youth is wasted on the Young”.
10. YOUR GO-TO KARAOKE SONG: Hotel California
11. FAVORITE MOVIE: Jurassic World
12. FAVORITE TV SHOW: This is tough, it changes every year. I don’t watch a lot of TV but I would say all time favorite is Archer.
13. IF YOU WERE IN A BOY BAND WHAT WOULD IT BE CALLED: I wouldn’t be in a boy band, I literarily have zero musical talent.
14. FAVORITE PLACE TO EAT: Depends on where I am in the country. I live in Park City, Utah so I would say High West Distillery & Saloon
15. WHAT DO YOU ORDER THERE: An Old Fashioned & Salmon.
16. FAVORITE DISNEY PRINCESS: Elsa. Primarily because I have 3 nieces who love her and want to be her when they grow up. Easy choice.
17. WHAT’S YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL: I’ll be honest, I have no idea what a Spirit Animal is or what it does. I am not the most spiritual guy, so I may have to plead the fifth on this.
18. WHAT’S THE STUPIDEST THING YOU’VE EVER DONE: Drive to St. Louis at 3 am when I was in undergrad with 3 buddies at SIUC. There wasn’t a clear reason to why we did this, but it was an eventful trip, to say the least. I believe spontaneity will drive you to do and try things you never thought were possible. It also humbles you.
19. WHAT’S THE LAST SHOW THAT YOU BINGE-WATCHED: My fiancé binged watched “Elementary.” I was in the room so I guess that counts.
20. IF YOU WEREN’T DOING THIS JOB WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING: Stock Broker. I love analytics and the stock market fascinates me.
When somebody visits your website, you have to grab their attention right away if you want them to stick around and consume the content you are offering.
In the past, we have always told our clients they have between 30 and 60 seconds to get a site visitor’s attention. If you don’t give somebody a reason to stay before that first minute is up, they’re gone (and they probably aren’t coming back).
That’s a short period of time in which to win somebody over. But guess what? It’s about to get even shorter.
Recent reports indicate that Millennials only have an eight-second attention span. Eight seconds? Really? How does one go through life with only an eight-second attention span?
I am usually classified as a Millennial. I may be at the very top of the age range, but I am a Millennial by most accounts. It has taken me more than eight seconds to write this much, so I am confident in saying my attention span is at least double that of the average Millennial! YES!!!
Jokes and time keeping aside, how do you capture somebody’s attention in such a brief amount of time? For that matter, how do you keep their attention through an entire game?
The NBA is thinking about cutting back the number of timeouts to shorten game length and keep the attention of those eight-second Millennials. If even the NBA struggles keep somebody’s attention, how can you possibly succeed? It is a challenge, but one that can be accomplished.
First, you have to know your audience. The NBA meticulously studies their fans and their games. That helped them identify the issue of attention-loss and provided insights on how to make adjustments that will keep people more engaged.
Data is key, and when it comes to your website, analytics are a great place to start. What content is garnering the most attention on your website? What pages do visitors tend spend the most time on? Studying this information will help you make strategic decisions.
The same goes for game day. You may have won the fight against the couch and the HD TV to get people to the game, but once they’re there you have to make sure you engage them enough that they want to come back. Each fan base is unique, so it’s important to study your fans and understand their habits and preferences. Research will help you take the guesswork out of your decisions.
Second, you have to be open to change. After looking at what’s working for them and what’s not, the NBA might change their rules to shorten games. I am sure basketball purists will cringe at the thought of changing the game, but like other businesses, the NBA has a brand to protect and a bottom line that they want in the black. There are plenty of examples of leagues or businesses that alienate people by trying to change things, and that’s why doing your homework is so important. When you have data to analyze, your decisions will be more informed and the change you make will be more likely to be successful.
Think about your website. Is there a different type of article you have been considering, but never published? Is there more information you can provide so you are positioned as a trusted resource for your visitors? What content do you have access to that no one else does? Those are the items that get people to come back. Your goal should be to be a part of your fans’ daily habit. What content will do that for you?
Making large-scale changes to game day comes with greater risk than making changes to your website, so it’s even more crucial to have a solid understanding of what’s going to resonate best with your fans.
Finally, you have to plan. The NBA isn’t just changing things on the fly. They have collected data, they’ve explored possible changes, and they have a long-term plan that will help them reach their goals. You should, too.
If attention spans are down to eight seconds now, where will they be in five or ten years? The data you gather today not only allows you to make informed decisions for the near-term, it should also help you recognize trends that you can incorporate into your long-term plans. If you spend a month working to engage visitors and become a part of their habit, but run out of content, you will drop out of their daily habits in less than eight seconds. Think about your goals for the year. Think about what has been successful in the past. Analyze your data and come up with a plan for how you can deliver engaging content throughout the season, the year, and the life of your website. Then continue to gather data so you can refine and improve your plan over time.
January has already come and gone! Can you believe it? As we finish up materials for spring sports it means that football season is RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER! The past couple of weeks conferences have released their schedules and I can already feel the excitement for the 2017 season. If you start planning ahead there might be some special things you can do to create even cooler materials for your fans!
Haven’t set the budget for 2017 season yet? Put some extra money in your budget for your football poster and we can do some special printing techniques. You can do a cool die cut, make your poster shine, or even give it a funky texture. Not sure if your printer can handle any of that—contact one of our client reps and we can get you a quote from a TRUSTED printer!
Now that Instagram has stories and Snapchat is one of the leading apps for the kids, you can promote your games, schedules, athletes and fans in a multitude of creative ways. Start thinking about different utilizations of those features to get information in front of your fans.
Tickets are often the first project we do for football season, but maybe it's early and you don’t have a concept or direction you want to go? Don’t worry! We can help! Think about using past athletes on tickets if you don’t know who is going to be a star yet. Or just let us feature your brand and opponents and we’ll come up with something stellar. Tickets are another great piece you can use specialty printing on.
If you have a spring game coming up and the temperature is hot in your city think of a different type of item to use to promote the upcoming season. Maybe a fan? Anything YOU can think of WE can design.
Billboards can be used very creatively. They can have extensions or holes in them to create a larger-than-life message. Think about a crazy way to get drivers' attentions and promote your brand!
Start planning and budgeting for football now and let us help you create some incredible materials for 2017! Email us if you need anything!
There are a handful of people who make your job never feel like a job. They challenge you to do your best work and they trust you to accomplish that feat. It is truly a pleasure working with them. I can say without a doubt that Brad Wurthman, Associate Director of Athletics, Marketing/Fan Development at the University of Illinois, is one of those people. He started working with Old Hat in 2011 while at the University of Cincinnati. Brad's very first project was this Bearcats Football Black Out game poster.
Everybody loved The Dark Knight theme in 2011!
His first video with us happened in 2012 and we've been fortunate to work with "America's Favorite Canadian Ginger" ever since. Some of my absolute favorite projects have been Wurthman's.
So what's the real story with this guy? We asked him 20 Questions to find out. Feel free to add your own Canadian accent when reading this.
1. NAME: Brad Wurthman
2. OCCUPATION/TITLE: Associate Director of Athletics, Marketing/Fan Development
3. HOMETOWN: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
4. PREGAME RITUAL: Gum. Lots of gum. Specifically bubble gum. Plus trash talking. Other than that, I normally try to find about a 2 minute window where I’m completely on my own to just take a look at all of the work that has gone into preparing for our game and the people who worked on it to enjoy that feeling of accomplishment.
5. FAVORITE THING TO SNACK ON: Cookies. Is that a snack? If not, it would still win. I’d still pick cookies even if I wasn’t allowed to.
6. FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: Having the opportunity to be part of a team that can make an immediate impact on something that people are emotionally invested in. There’s a reason I want to sell sports and not something else.
7. LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: Since everyone can be involved in everything at times, progress can be slowed for certain projects – just have to keep your wits about you and commit to finding the best solution possible.
9. ADVICE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF: Breathe. Take a moment to do the things that are important to you for personal reasons and not just for professional reasons. Set boundaries and stick to them – without compromising your ambition. Focus on learning, not only on progressing. Most importantly, always leave the blackjack table when you have more money than you arrived with.
10. YOUR GO-TO KARAOKE SONG: I think everyone has to have a three song rotation, unless you’re talented enough to audition for The Voice. Karaoke is not about my voice – it’s about crowd interaction. So, in very specific order…Don’t Stop Believing by Journey, Friends in Low Places by Garth Brooks, Hero by Enrique Iglesias.
11. FAVORITE MOVIE: Jurassic Park
12. FAVORITE TV SHOW: House of Cards
13. IF YOU WERE IN A BOY BAND WHAT WOULD IT BE CALLED: Who says I wasn’t? The Eh Team.
14. FAVORITE PLACE TO EAT: Smoke’s Poutinerie
15. WHAT DO YOU ORDER THERE: Montreal style smoked meat poutine
16. FAVORITE DISNEY PRINCESS: No contest. Ariel. Gingers have to stick together.
17. WHAT’S YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL: I took two quizzes to answer this question. One said lion, one said llama. So, take that for what it’s worth.
18. WHAT’S THE STUPIDEST THING YOU’VE EVER DONE: All in a matter of about 2 weeks, I committed to go on a 3 week trip to China after graduating college. Though it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life, I had no actual idea what I was signing up for at the time and it didn’t actually hit me until I was staring down at the center of the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes, not thinking about the end result leads to you to make the best decisions!
19. WHAT’S THE LAST SHOW THAT YOU BINGE-WATCHED: Narcos.
20. IF YOU WEREN’T DOING THIS JOB WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING: I grew up in a family of teachers and really believe in the power of education – but was not blessed with the same patience gene for rooms of 30 children so that was never going to work. However, I’d love to teach snowboarding and live in Western Canada at one of the resorts – it’s so much fun to watch someone experience their first linked turn because it’s a very individual sport – either you commit to it and fight through it or you don’t. I’m a sucker for a good story about overcoming challenges.
I've never been to London on the underground transit system, commonly referred to as the Tube, but I've heard the phrase mind the gap. And apparently so has every Londoner, as that phrase repeats at every underground stop. The purpose of the recording (and signs plastered along the platform and train) is to remind commuters as they're getting on and off the Tube to be aware of the gap that exists between the platform and the train, so they can safely enter/exit.
That would be a great sign to have in my own home and office, and maybe even have my own recording wake me up each day telling me to mind the gap. Why? Because a gap exists.
In every aspect of your life and my life, a gap exists. It's an abyss that separates perception from reality, intentions from actions, what is said from what is heard, and so on. It exists in both our personal lives and our professional lives. Personally, it might be the difference in where you are and where you want to be. In the workplace, it can be the reason strategies don't get executed or plans don't get implemented. It's likely the cause for senior level expectations not being met by frontline employees.
If it didn't come across already, let me be clear: the gap is bad. And the bigger the gap, the worse off people/plans on both sides of the gap will be.
Unlike London commuters, no one can avoid this gap to some degree (not even when you're aware of it), but there are certainly steps that can be taken to bridge or even shrink the gap, preferably the latter. Bridging the gap is a quick fix for problems that have slowly eroded both sides, increasing the expanse of the gap. Shrinking the gap is the long-term solution, but requires effort with every decision and every action.
After all that, you might still be asking, "What is this gap you're talking about?" The gap I'm referring to is that theoretical area that contains all information in its purest form. That information might be in the form of communication, intentions, actions, commands, data or even emotions.
Read here if you want it explained with mathematical logic: If you think about it in a geometrical sense, it's the difference between Point A and Point B. A straight line exists between the two, but even the shortest line contains some information, otherwise it would be one point. Think of that line as the loss of information from Point A to Point B. The longer the line (the bigger the gap), the more information lost.
Read here if you want it explained in a cute story, based on actual events: Two guys were hiking through the Andes Mountains and happened to get separated. We'll call them Zac and Robert to keep it simple. After days of wandering and searching, they finally found each other, but were on opposite sides of a deep, wide canyon. Fortunately, Zac had a very long rope in his backpack, whereas Robert chose to find his resources in nature. In this case, it made sense for Robert to yell out to Zac "Throw me a rope!" across the great divide. However, Zac misunderstood what Robert had said (it was also very windy that day) and thought Robert had said "Throw me a bone!", which didn't seem to make a lot of sense considering the circumstances, but Zac complied and threw the jawbone of a nearby dead mountain goat to Robert, then went on his way. Not being as resourceful as he had earlier thought, Robert later died of starvation in the Andes Mountains, just a few hundred yards from a Burger King. The gap in this story is the literal gap that existed between Zac and Robert, which caused the miscommunication, and the eventual death of Robert.
Discover the Gaps
As I mentioned, there are many different kinds of gaps. The first step is uncovering where those gaps exist. That's something that we've been working on with our own clients, as part of our Sports180 process. It's hard to tailor a campaign, strategy or even a message if it's unclear what is expected by those receiving your message. Do they feel the same way about your brand, athletics programs, or mission as you do? And they does not necessarily mean fans. It starts internally. How does your own athletics organization see itself? Is everyone on the same page from the top down, and across all departments? With the revolving door of employees that often make up an athletics department, it's important to be clear about long-term goals and how that relates to everyday activity by all employees. Is everyone pulling the rope the same direction?
Get to the Root
If you've determined what those gaps are internally or externally, it's not enough just to acknowledge it, build a quick-fix bridge, and move on. Get to the heart of the matter. You've probably heard it said that if you ask "Why?" five times, you're likely to get to the real problem. Don't stop short, you've got to keep digging to figure out why the gaps exist in all areas before you can address them.
It Starts with Communication
D1.Ticker/Athletic Director U. had a great article that discussed the gap between leadership and employees, and why strategies often start off strong but fail to get executed properly, or not at all. In most cases, it starts with communication. In the world of athletics, communication silos are often a problem, as departments don't have daily interaction with each other to make sure all parties are heading toward the same goal.
It's Every Day
It's not enough to sit down with your entire staff once or twice a year and talk about your annual goals. Sure, it's important to do this, but if you're not making it a point to reach those goals each and every day with every employee, you'll never have success in hitting them. It's a challenge to keep everyone heading the same direction every day, but by doing a few things you can make the long-term goals more manageable.
• Give everyone a voice and hold them accountable: There are times when a top-down approach will be needed in communicating overall department goals. But there should be more instances where middle management and frontline employees are involved in formulating those goals. Employees want to be a part of the process, especially if their daily activities are centered around these long-term goals. It's also much easier to hold employees accountable when their voices have helped to shape goals, strategies and objectives.
• Form teams and assign tasks: Too many cooks spoil the broth. Limit the amount of big meetings you have, they're generally a waste of your resources. Once you have your long-term goals and assignments for which departments will handle certain aspects of those goals, break it down into smaller objectives, smaller groups, and shorter meetings. Make sure everyone in a meeting is involved in some way, and has a task assigned. Otherwise, you're just wasting their time.
• Hold team members accountable: Or even better, make the smaller teams hold each other accountable. Short check-up meetings are helpful, but don't overdo it. Employees don't need a babysitter watching over them, and they'll feel more responsible for the results if they've done it on their own.
Let's be honest, in athletics, there's a ton of information that needs to be communicated to your fans and a multitude of platforms to do it. We're talking hundreds of games, events, and student athletes each year. And you need to cover your social media bases with Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Gryzzl, etc, etc. That's an overwhelming and time-consuming amount of work. In addition to that, most schools don't have the luxury of having one person responsible for all of their many accounts. So, in order to make sure you have a cohesive brand look across multiple accounts, it's best to have some assistance. If only there was some sort of tool to help you out?
We partnered with several schools to create social media template packages tailored to each of their needs. This gives each school a cohesive library of templates created specifically for them. A few examples include:
Final Score Graphics
Player of the Game/Week
Player / Coach / Team Awards
These templates enable each school's marketing and sports information departments to update text, photos, logos, and other elements within each template so that they can post information quickly across many sports. They can also be sized to work across multiple platforms so that the messaging looks the same on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the official athletic website and more. Additionally, all of the templates are created to complement each other, so the information being posted across the athletic department looks clean, polished, consistent, and most of all - ON BRAND.
Check out how some of our partners at Duke, Pitt, Marist and FIU are all using the custom templates that we created for each of them....
Give us a call to learn more about how we can help bring your brand together online and create tailored graphic templates for you!
Does Major League Soccer have the secret recipe for driving attendance? For the third consecutive season fans have attended matches in record numbers. When a league is young, this type of headline is an every season occurrence, however MLS has been around since 1996 (1993 if you want to get really technical). They are still growing their supporter base after 20 years. MLS has added quite a few teams since its inception, and even a few more in the last five years, but teams that have been around since the early years are still growing those attendance numbers.
Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet for increasing attendance. Yes, all fans share some similarities, but when trying to increase the number of people attending a sport that usually does not rank in the top three (and sometimes four) of favorite sports in the United States, you are going to have to work for it.
Let’s take a look at some of the things MLS has done to help increase those numbers.
Investment -This is an obvious requirement for sports organizations. MLS had to invest in a few different areas. Most importantly, they are starting to build more and more soccer-specific stadiums. Personally, this is one of the reasons I was not attracted to MLS when it first started getting games on TV. Trying to watch a soccer game with the yard lines from football in the background made for a terrible experience.
Farm System - MLS has worked with United Soccer League (USL) to setup lower leagues and build their support as well. This may not seem like it has a direct correlation with the increase in attendance in the MLS, but it helps. There are USL teams in places like Austin and Laredo, Texas where it is unlikely an MLS team will actually set up, but having these teams in the area helps the sport grow and helping the sport grow helps increase attendance.
Designated Players - Another aspect that should be mentioned and is often discussed when considering the growth in the fan base of the MLS is the designated players. The league has a salary cap, but teams are allowed to have “designated players” where only a portion of their salary goes against the cap. Probably the most famous example of this policy is David Beckham. He definitely brought attention to the league as he played out the twilight years of his career in Los Angeles. Now, most teams have at least one designated player. More often than not, they are similar to Beckham in the fact that they had a successful career at the top of the game in European leagues and then moved to the MLS once they were past their prime. Hard core soccer fans bemoan the fact that the league only gets the old guys who can not play at the top levels any more, but to the everyday fan getting to see players like Beckham, Frank Lampard, David Villa or Didier Drogba is a huge draw and gets people to buy tickets. In a perfect world, you would want those players when they are in their prime, but at this point in the league, butts in seats trumps just about everything.
Embrace Your Fanbase - Fans of this league are different from most and the MLS has learned to capitalize on that uniqueness. They do not try to fit their fans into the model that works for the NFL. They have embraced the differences. Most stadiums have sections for the hard core fans that are going to chant, scream, and yell during the matches. Teams have also realized that a lot of their following will come from the younger generation that is playing soccer on Saturday mornings. Most teams have youth areas before games and involve their players in local leagues or more grassroots marketing efforts to reach those kids. Some teams have gone even further to work with their city to make sure transportation in and out of the stadium is a pleasant experience for fans.
Major League Soccer provides an interesting case study due to its relative youth. They worked hard early to utilize what was available to maximize their impact. As they have grown, they made the improvements necessary to keep their fans engaged. Now the league is entering its third decade and experiencing quite the renaissance. I think the founders of the league would be quite happy to see what the league has become and where it is headed.