#ExOps18 is in the books and by all indications, it was a rousing success. Huge thanks goes out to Brad Wurthman, Ryan Peck, Chris Ferris and Daniel Veale for traveling to Norman, spending a couple days with us and contributing great information to the discussion. Thanks also goes out to everyone who joined remotely. We were excited to see that people from the industry were tuning in, asking questions and participating in the discussion. We had a great time, learned a lot and have a lot of notes on ways to make #ExOps19 even more engaging and valuable for everyone.
We covered a number of topics during our day-and-a-half of discussions. You can watch it all for yourself on the Old Hat Facebook page or you can simply read my recap below.
An Unconventional Look at How to Drive Attendance We kicked things off on Thursday morning with a private presentation I've developed that addresses what I see as a new way looking at collegiate athletics marketing. The group in the room served as my test audience. I do a number of speaking engagements in the spring, and this will be a topic I cover when visiting with athletics marketing groups. In my opinion, we should take a much different approach if we want to fill our stadiums and arenas. In this presentation, I outline what I believe is that approach. Be on the lookout for a webinar of this presentation coming soon.
Major in the Majors Next up, we had Brad Wurthman of Virginia Tech walk us through a presentation called "Major in the Majors" where he outlined steps he feels we should be taking to focus on the things that truly matter. Brad pointed out that it's difficult to not get bogged down in the minutia and lose sight of the majors, or the big things we actually should be paying attention to. Brad asked questions like, "What's your why?" and "What are we chasing?" and also laid down some golden wisdom with comments like, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it," and my personal favorite, "We don't want our staff to do more, we want them to do different." Check out his presentation slides here, but I also highly recommend you follow along by listening to the Facebook video feed for a more valuable experience hearing it directly from Brad.
Roundtable Discussion After Brad's presentation, Chris Ferris of Colorado State led a discussion on various external operations topics. One strong area of focus was that of student attendance. Everyone felt strongly that despite student attendance being a non-factor in direct revenue generation, there are ancillary benefits that cause indirect increases in revenue. The most obvious of those is the effect students have on the overall gameday experience. Games are more exciting and more fun if the students are there. That, paired with the idea that students are your future season ticket holders and donors, brought us to the conclusion that when the old fans are complaining about the loud music and song selection, but your students love it, you err on the side of pleasing the students. Those die-hard older fans aren't going to stop coming because of the music, but your students won't turn into die-hard fans if you don't give them a great experience.
Effects of the New Tax Code on Fundraising After a lunch break, we came back to another roundtable discussion led by Ryan Peck of North Texas. We went through what the old code states about tax-deductible gifts and what the new code says. We also talked through a number of things different athletic departments have done to try to prepare for the unknown, but "the unknown" was really where we landed on this topic. The fact is, no one really knows how, or if, the new tax code is going to affect the industry. After some initial panic toward the end of 2017, most of the people at the table agreed that it might not be a major issue. Toward the end of this discussion, we also touched on the topic of data analytics, predictive analysis, look-alike modeling and marketing automation.
Virginia Tech Ticket Sales Strategic Planning Session Having spent the past few hours in discussion, we turned the live-stream off to get our hands dirty with a little strategic planning for Hokies football and men's basketball. Due to the proprietary nature of both the client information being shared, along with wanting to keep our process for making strategic marketing recommendations under wraps, we didn't broadcast this part to the masses. However, I can tell you that ahead of time, Brad Wurthman gave us a goal he's hoping to achieve: increase non-season ticket sales for football and men's basketball. We dug through the data gathered from surveys we'd conducted, talked through some of the issues Va Tech is facing, and looked at census data and historical sales information before calling it a day. This part of the process was all about information gathering. We haven't completed our strategic plan yet, but we will be doing so in the coming weeks and delivering that to Va Tech with a full list of recommendations to help them achieve that goal in a targeted and strategic manner.
2018 Digital Marketing Trends We kicked things off on Day 2 with a live-streamed presentation from Old Hat's Director of Web/Digital, Kevin Kelly, on the topic of web and digital trends for 2018. Kevin shared some great statistics on the impact of video engagement vs. the traditional means of communicating on social media. Some of those stats:
- 4 times as many consumers would rather watch a video vs reading - 1 in 4 consumers lose interest in product if there's no video about that product - 4 in 5 consumers say video of how a product works is important in decision to buy - 95% of a message is retained when watched in video vs. 10% when reading
One idea that was thrown out as a result of this is that maybe instead of having our internal video production crews focus so heavily on high-impact, emotionally driven videos, we should ask them to produce more informational videos that actually communicate a message about our product.
Other topics that were covered are too many to name, but I'll be asking Kevin to develop this into a webinar in the spring - so stay tuned for that. There's some great information that can help us better engage with our fans.
Responding to a Changing Industry For the final segment of #ExOps18, we turned off the live stream and talked through ways Old Hat can better serve the industry. When I started Old Hat 14 years ago, we were a traditional creative production shop, and we were selling a service the industry was already buying and knew it needed. Old Hat just offered a better version of it at a competitive price. However, as I've seen the industry shift, I've realized the need for our marketing to be much more strategic. Therefore, we developed a wide range of strategic marketing services that include data collection, analysis and strategic recommendations that can help an athletics organization identify who specifically to target, where to find them, how to message to them and how to measure the results. Unlike posters, videos and schedule cards, this list of services is not one the industry already knows it needs. During this discussion, we talked through ways of shifting the industry's perception on what marketing should look like and how to convince athletic departments to look at the product they're selling the same way other industries view their own products and services. That is through doing research, developing insight into who to reach and how to reach them and then rolling out a strategic marketing message in the right ways to the right people.
Overall, it was one of the most fun and most valuable day-and-a-halves in my entire career. Outside the walls of that conference room, we ate a lot of great food, learned a lot about each other and enjoyed the company of some very progressive and forward-thinking minds in collegiate athletics. There were so many people that came together behind-the-scenes to make this a reality, and my sincere gratitude goes out to all of them. We can't wait to do it again next year.
After months of planning, we are excited to announce the first ever Collegiate Athletics External Operations Symposium, or as we like to call it, #ExOps18. What is #ExOps18, you ask? Great question!
#ExOps18 is an opportunity for anyone working in collegiate athletics to learn about and discuss the topics at the forefront of the minds of those charged with ticket sales, increasing attendance, game experience and fundraising - the "external operations" of collegiate athletics. We're starting small and because of the luxuries the web provides us, year one will primarily be an event you can attend remotely. No need to worry about getting approved to spend money to attend. That's assuming, of course, that your university isn't on AOL's pay-per-minute internet service. If so, maybe you can collect some "free trial" disks in the mail and attend next year.
Fortunately for you though, not everyone is attending remotely. Old Hat has invited four of the top minds from collegiate athletics marketing and fundraising to be on-site to present, discuss and field questions. Those minds belong to:
Chris Ferris Senior Associate AD for Sales, Marketing and Communications Colorado State University
Ryan Peck Executive Senior Associate AD for External Affairs University of North Texas
Daniel Veale Director of Marketing SMU
Brad Wurthman Senior Associate AD for External Affairs Virginia Tech
On January 25 and 26, these four people will gather at Old Hat world headquarters for a day-and-a-half to discuss the topics that are weighing most heavily on their minds. Portions of those discussions will be live streamed via Facebook Live (link: ExOps.live), and we're inviting you to listen in and be a part of the conversation. You will be able to send in questions ahead of time, ask questions live via Twitter using the #ExOps18 hashtag or submit questions in the comments on the Facebook Live video stream. Below is an agenda for the event and a list of topics we will be discussing, so mark your calendars and get ready to plop down in front of your computer next Thursday and Friday for some great conversation.
Please note: Portions of the days' events will not be live streamed due to proprietary and confidential information being shared. The segments that will be live streamed are indicated below.
Thursday, January 25 - All times Central
9:00 a.m. (LIVE) - Welcome, Introductions and Icebreaker
9:30 a.m. (PRIVATE)- An Unconventional Look at How to Drive Attendance: An internal discussion on fan behavior - Zac Logsdon, CEO, Old Hat
10:15 a.m. (LIVE) - Major in the Majors: Filtering out the unimportant and concentrating on valuable metrics - Brad Wurthman, Virginia Tech
10:45 a.m. (LIVE) - Q&A session Brad Wurthman
11:15 a.m. (LIVE) - Marketing/Ticket Sales Roundtable discussion, led by Chris Ferris, Colorado State - Topics to include: Increasing Student Attendance, Growth Metrics that Matter, Data Analytics and How do you measure engagement?
Noon - Break for Lunch
1:30 p.m. (LIVE) - Fundraising/Development Roundtable discussion, led by Ryan Peck, North Texas - Impact of the new tax code on fundraising
2:30 p.m. (PRIVATE) - Strategic Planning Session for Virginia Tech Ticket Sales
5:00 p.m. - Break for the day
Friday, January 26 - All times Central
9:00 a.m. (LIVE) - Digital Marketing Marketing Trends for 2018 Presentation/Discussion - Kevin Kelly, Director of Digital/Web, Old Hat
9:45 a.m. (LIVE) - Q&A - Last opportunity to ask our guests questions
10:15 a.m. (PRIVATE) - Internal Discussion on new products/services, positioning and adapting to the changing market
Have you ever thought to yourself, "What was the artist thinking when they created this design?" Depending on your tone you either LOVED or HATED the design. If we happened to collaborate with your team on a project we always hope you love it. Cool looking designs are always the goal.
As we kick off 2018 we're going to take a look back at some of our favorite projects from the previous year and pick the brains of our very talented artists. You might be surprised to learn there is a rhyme and reason to even the simplest of designs.
Here is our chat with Art Director Caitlin Murphy about her work on the Florida International University Swimming and Diving poster.
What was the inspiration behind this design concept? FIU mentioned that they wanted the swimmers to look like they are coming out of the water and have the 3 championship trophies behind them. I wanted to make the athletes looks like they were in the water but also have the trophies stand out and glow in the background. My inspiration was sort of a fire/water element together.
What was your main goal / what were you trying to accomplish with this design? My main goal was to make it look like the athletes were actually in the water. The pictures of the athletes we received from FIU were of them standing by a backdrop so trying to make water images/elements look realistic around them was what I was hoping to accomplish.
What is your favorite design element of this project? The reflection of the athletes in the water and the water coming off their torsos. It was fun to play with the perspective of the swimmers and ripple effects to make it look more watery realistic instead of just their straight reflection.
What was the biggest challenge of this design? My biggest challenge was trying to make the water/splashes look realistic. I have never worked with water elements before so it was more of a trial/error thing to see what worked/didn’t work as I went along. I went through many different splash elements that didn’t work until I finally found 2-3 that looked like they blended and worked well together.
If you could change one thing about this project what would it be? I would have liked to incorporate the “ALL IN” header into the design a little more. The ALL IN header was a late addition so I had already envisioned the poster a certain way and laid out the design with all of the elements. So although I had thoughts of how I could have incorporated the ALL IN header more with the water/fire effects, it would have meant changing around the poster as a whole.
Growing up in Texas, snow days were rare. Even just a little ice or a little snow typically resulted in everything shutting down. My friends and I would spend the day running, sliding, and eventually falling on the ice. It may have only happened once or twice in my entire childhood, which made it all the more memorable.
This last week it snowed in South Central Texas. Since I was in Oklahoma (where it did not snow), I received many photos, calls, and texts about the “crazy snow” that was happening in and around Austin: my nephews playing in it and building a snowman; my mom having to get a kitchen spatula to clean off her car windows to go to work; my friends telling me how hard it was to drive through all that snow.
From what I can tell, there wasn’t more than an inch. Making a snowman was way more work than it should be since snow had to be gathered from four different yards.Windshield wipers probably would have cleaned off the windows just fine, but that doesn’t matter to any of the people who experienced this event. The “blizzard of 2017” will be marked forever in their memories. I know my brother will be telling stories to his son about how much he hated snow the first time he was in it, that time it snowed in south Texas. Even a quick look at my “trends for you” section on Twitter shows what a big deal that little bit of snow was to the people watching it happen.
Why is this relevant to us as marketers? Events like these are rare, and while they may seem minuscule to some, the people who experience them will keep those memories for the rest of their lives. There’s a natural opportunity for you to connect with people in these moments and to become part of an indelible memory.
Whether the event that happens is a game, a freak weather event, or even just a spur of the moment gathering of people, there will be opportunities that you and your team can capitalize on. Here are a few things to think about if you ever find yourself experiencing a “snow in south Texas” type event.
1. Capture the moment. It seems obvious, but make sure you record it. Document the event as much as you can. Whether it’s snapping a few photos of the snow to use for holiday materials next year or making sure you capture the stories of people who experienced it, capture the moment and look for opportunities to share it again later on down the road.
2. Be timely. Timing can be everything. Just look at the impact Oreo made during the Super Bowl Blackout a few years ago. When unique moments happen, your ability to respond quickly can make or break your ability to connect with people. If you aren’t ready as the event is happening, don’t try to force it. Jumping on the bandwagon too late makes you seem less relevant .
3. Be genuine. This is a phrase that gets repeated in marketing conversations quite often, but with something like this you have to be genuine. A large part of that comes with being true to your brand. If the event does not fit or fall in line with who you are as a brand, let it pass. It is better to sit on the sidelines and watch things unfold than to put something out there simply because you felt it was required.
4. Tie your brand to the event. During the recent snow, a lot of the Twitter activity I saw related to snow at Kyle Field. Opportunities for photos of an Aggie helmet covered in snow on the 50 yard line are few and far between, but by capturing the moment in that manner, fans will forever remember the time it snowed during Aggie football season.
5. Embrace the moment. Often this type of event is unexpected and brings out a little bit of craziness. Embrace it. This is not something that is going to happen often and it might not ever happen again. As long as you’re reacting in a way that’s consistent with your brand, don’t be afraid to do something different to take advantage of a unique opportunity.
Winning streaks. How do they always seem to come around when needed the most? A game in which every call goes your way and every ball on the line is fair instead of foul. A miraculous postseason run. A championship.
When you’re feeling the high that comes with a winning streak, you’ll do almost anything to keep it going. And if you think you’re superstitious, imagine how players react to a winning streak. When somebody on the team has a “hot hand,” they'll eat the same meals, wear the same socks, follow the same routine for as long as they can to keep that streak alive. As soon as it's snapped, they'll never touch those socks again.
But what if I told you the "hot hand" was just a myth?
Apparently, winning a few games in a row doesn’t affect future wins like we think it does. According to Dr. John Eliot, Clinical Associate Professor at Texas A&M, winning streaks don’t define momentum. The factors that truly determine success are elements of a team’s culture. Things like trust between teammates, having a higher rate of physical interaction (high fives, pats on the back), and high levels of confidence in yourself and your teammates are what really make a difference in how well a team performs.
But wait a minute, you’re thinking, don’t those things naturally happen more if a team is winning? For many teams, they do – but teams without a strong cultural foundation will lose their momentum and go back to their old ways as soon as the going gets tough again.
Sustainable winning patterns emerge from teammates who are more invested in each other than individually invested in winning. Almost sounds counterintuitive doesn't it?
Think of it this way. Did you ever have a coach or teacher who pretty much scared you into performing your best? You were motivated by the fear of disappointing Coach or losing your place in the line-up if you weren't producing. That's not the best way to reach the full potential of the team. When players know their spot is at risk, they play with less confidence and are less likely to support each other. It's tough to win a championship when players are focused on competing amongst themselves rather than on competing against another team.
On the other hand, have you ever noticed that the teams that are winning are the ones that look like they’re having the most fun? Some might say they are having fun because they are winning, but based on these recent findings, I'd bet they are winning because they are having fun. They are soaking up every moment, genuinely happy to see their teammates succeed, and everything else just falls into place from there. Every championship speech from the Coach includes how "great the team fit together...like family" and "how much fun" they had that year. Doesn't sound like a coincidence to me...
This mentality should apply to other areas as well. Work. Family. All of it.
According to Dr. Eliot, when you don’t have that same type of strong cultural foundation in your workplace, you’re going to be at a competitive disadvantage. Having the right type of environment isn’t just about what the leaders in an organization do. Like a good coach, the senior people in the organization set the tone but it’s up to the entire team to work together to build momentum. It’s about peer-to-peer support, strong relationships, and genuinely caring about the people you work with. In our office, we have a philosophy of not letting your teammates fail. We are here for each other. We work together, within and between our positions, to find the best possible solutions for our clients, and no doubt, we have fun while doing it.
Have you ever been emotionally hijacked? You're confronted with harm, either physical or emotional, and all of a sudden you're in fight or flight mode. Your blood starts pumping and you cease to think clearly. Your mind gets blurry and you lose all ability to make rational decisions. Sound familiar?
We all experience it but how we react differs from person to person. Some people lash out in anger and can't control what they say or do in those moments. Some people shut down completely and flee the scene physically or psychologically (or both). But the one thing that remains true in all cases is that the brain is reacting on emotion and it is scientifically incapable of making completely logical and rational decisions.
There's a science to this, of course, and it all has to do with how humans have evolved to protect themselves from harm. What's happening in our brains when we get hijacked? What causes us to lose the ability to think rationally in times of crisis? Well, I'm no rocket surgeon but according to the internet, it all has to do with the amygdala. That’s the area of the brain that processes emotion. When faced with a threat, or any situation really, the amygdala immediately kicks in to assess the situation. It asks itself, Can this hurt me? Should I fear this? If the answer is yes, it immediately sends a message to the rest of the brain which triggers the hormones that tell us to either flee or fight. When we face potential danger, the amygdala takes over nearly the entire brain, including the part that allows us to make rational decisions. Think of it as human evolution's security system. When danger is present, our brain goes into super-protection mode and it simply turns off all the parts of the brain that normally regulate our emotions.
What does this have to do with sales and marketing? Well, emotions don't just prevent us from making rational decisions when faced with fear. They can also take over in other situations, resulting in us making irrational buying decisions. And don't think for one second that companies don't take advantage of this on a regular basis. Raise your hand if you've never made a buying decision based on emotion. You see product X and you suddenly start thinking about how much pleasure it's going to bring you. You picture yourself wearing it, eating it, or driving it and you can't stop thinking about how badly you want that thing. All logic and rationality leave your brain as the emotional side shuts down your ability to think about things like I can't afford this, or I'm going to feel like crap if I eat this entire cake. So just like when you’re hijacked out of fear, you make decisions that aren’t fully rational. When you eventually start thinking rationally again, regret sinks in. You apologize to your partner for screaming unintelligible expletives at them for 45 minutes straight. Or you return the gold-plated Winnebago you thought you couldn't live without.
Industries all over the planet do their best to take advantage of your emotional buying decisions. From product placement at check-out stands to test-drives at the car dealership, they look for ways to play on your emotions. Have you ever been to a state fair and gone into one of those buildings where there are hundreds of products being sold and each one is being demonstrated by a charistmatic salesperson with a microphone strapped to their face? Believe it or not, those people spend years honing their craft to figure out how to get you to making emotional buying decisions. That's why it's so effective. They demonstrate their product and paint a picture for you of how much your life will improve if you just buy this one product. You visualize yourself with that amazing potato peeler preparing the best spiral cut homemade french fries your neighbors have ever seen. You think about the praise you'll receive for having the most attractive side dish at the church picnic. And you buy whatever it is they’re hawking. On the drive home, of course, you begin thinking rationally again. You get home, put your potato peeler in the drawer and never quite figure out how it works.
As those state fair salespeople will tell you, emotional buying decisions are a short-play. If you don't hook them quickly, they’re gone. If somebody says they're going to think about it, you've lost the sale. Because when they think about it, they start thinking rationally. And these sales strategies aren't based on rationality.
Emotional Buying in Collegiate Athletics
Athletics is an emotional thing for most people. Fans live and die by their sports teams, and there is no better example of irrational decision-making than that of sports fans and the things they do to show their passion for their teams. But here's the problem with playing on emotion when trying to drive fans to purchase tickets to your events: it doesn't work. Yep, I said it. Using emotional messaging to drive attendance to sporting events DOES NOT WORK. But what's worse is that it's the number one strategy employed by almost every athletics organization out there. High-impact photography of student-athletes looking larger than life on posters. Commercials that show your favorite players knocking the snot out of your biggest rival. Don't get me wrong. I love that stuff! I love those posters and I love seeing those commercials. But again, when it comes to motivating people to purchase tickets and attend events, it doesn't work.
Emotion-based sports marketing appeals to two types of fans. The first type is die-hard fans. They're the ones who watch every video you post on social media and share it with their friends. They tailgate before the games and they sit in the same seats their family has had for as long as they can remember. Their kids have your posters on their walls and they get really excited when the commercials come on TV because they get to see that big hit and one-handed TD catch that never get old. But here's the thing. They're coming to the stadium next Saturday no matter what. They'll be there whether they see that commercial or get that poster. They'll be there whether you spend $100,000 on outdoor advertising or $0 on outdoor advertising. Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't market to them. I'm just saying that if you want to drive attendance, don't spend your time marketing to people that are coming no matter what your poster looks like.
The other group of fans that emotion-based marketing appeals to is the casual fan. These are people that may have grown up a fan of your program or perhaps even went to school there. They go to a game or two per year, they have some existing affinity for your teams, and if they don't attend the game they're probably going to be watching it on TV. So it makes sense to play to their emotions, right? It makes sense to show them the passion and hard-hitting action and activate that affinity within them, right?
Playing to the emotions of a casual fan works. The problem is, it doesn't work for long enough to convert them into a ticket purchaser. Or even if it does, it doesn't always result in them actually attending once they've purchased. And it doesn't keep them coming back. As I stated before, emotion-based marketing is a short play. You're at the check-out line and see something you want, you buy it right then and you use it right then. You're at the state fair and you picture how much better your life will be when you're finally able to cut your child's hair using this amazing vacuum attachment. So you buy it right then. The state fair salesperson doesn't care if you actually use the thing once you've bought it, they just want you to buy it.
Athletics doesn't work that way. We play on casual fans' emotions with those hard-hitting commercials, billboards featuring taglines that fuel their passion and posters with die-cuts and high-impact photography, all in an attempt to activate their affinity for the alma mater. And it works, temporarily. But we're not selling a bag of M&M's at the check-out counter. We're not selling an impulse buy. What we're selling requires that they "think about it." The exact thing that emotion-based marketers don't want to give their buyers time to do. These casual fans see the commercials and billboards and think, "Oh, man. I gotta go!" Then their amygdala allows them to start thinking with logic and rationality. They start thinking about how comfortable their couch is, how expensive the beer is at games, and how much warmer/cooler it is in their climate controlled home. And home is exactly where they are on Saturday afternoon. Because if they didn't care about all of those things, you wouldn't need to be marketing to them.
If you have empty seats, new fans with no existing affinity for your program cannot be ignored. Professional teams fight to win over people that relocate to their market and colleges shouldn't be any different. If you're a sports fan and you move to the Raleigh-Durham area, you're surrounded by 3 major universities with storied athletics programs. Whose events are you going to attend? Whichever one markets to you in the way that's most effective to fans with no existing affinity. And as you can probably surmise, appealing to their emotions won't work.
Okay, so if emotion-based marketing doesn't work for athletics, what does?
Rational and logical messaging.
Athletics makes the mistake of thinking that what we're selling is any different than any other product or service. It's not. We want people to buy a ticket and attend an event. That's what we're selling. We need people to connect with that purchase the same way they connect with buying a pack of gum, a car, or a chicken sandwich. We have to show them why what we're selling is better than whatever else is competing for their time. And how do we do that? The same way Dentyne, Ford and Chick-fil-a do it: by researching their market, developing a strategy to appeal to the most likely buyers in that market, and executing that strategy through creative implementation.
Another great tactic is utilizing ticket sales teams. Ticket salespeople are athletics' version of state fair salespeople. And that's not an insult in any way, shape or form. They're trained to do they exact same thing only they're selling tickets instead of potato peelers. But they use the same tactics. They get you on the phone, play to your emotions, paint the picture of how much better your life will be if you're at the game and they get you to buy. If you say, "I'll think about it," they know they've lost you. For the record, I love ticket sales teams. I think they're great and every athletics program should have one. The problem is, just because a fan is convinced to purchase a ticket does not mean they're going to attend. Just like that potato peeler, there is a high-likelihood that they'll stick those tickets in a drawer and never quite figure out how they work.
For that reason, ticket sales and marketing have to go hand-in-hand. Both work. But both are more effective if they can lean on each other for support. If you market to fans and build affinity, they're more likely to buy when that ticket salesperson calls them. When they buy a ticket, they're more likely to attend if you're marketing to them. But your marketing cannot be based strictly on emotion or you're throwing money away.
So do some research to figure out who your casual and new fans might be. Then create a strategy for reaching them. Figure out what media is most likely to reach that group. Then build a campaign that targets them specifically. You can't be all things to all people. The good news is, you don't need to be.
When you’re selling tickets, one of the main groups you need to appeal to is the millennial generation: the 18-34(ish) year old group of current students, recent grads, and local sports fanatics.
And guess what?
Not just college-student-eating-ramen broke or first-job-small-salary broke, but seriously broke.
In 2016, there were more households in poverty headed by a Millennial than by a member of an older generation. Massive student loan is partially to blame: borrowers under the age of 39 are on the hook for 2/3 of the nation’s $1 trillion in student loan debt. Older generations often talk smack about lack of millennial responsibility and how they’re waiting longer to get married, buy a home, etc. but part of the reason this generation is lagging behind is because they simply can’t afford those “grown up” expenses.
Even though this group doesn’t have much money today and probably only makes up 25%-30% of your current revenue base, you shouldn’t write them off. Millennials are the biggest generation this country has ever spawned and they aren’t going to be broke forever. Just about the time Baby Boomers are dying off, Millennials will be hitting more solid financial ground and will represent the majority of your target audience.
So how do you get this strapped-for-cash group to spend money on tickets today?
Focus on the experience.
According to an Eventbrite report, Millennials are more likely to spend money on attending events than on material goods. They’re all about having experiences and creating memories. More than ¾ of Millennials credit an event or live experience with creating their best memories, and they’re eager to make more. When they come to a game, they’re there for more than just the game itself – they view it as an opportunity to hang out with friends or family and feel like they’re part of the action. They’re also driven by FOMO, so if you make your game the place to be they’ll want to be the one showing up and sharing it on social media.
Make it affordable.
Millennials love discounts and getting a good deal. What are you doing to put tickets within reach for this group? Think beyond simply offering discounted tickets for students and get creative. Have you tried a buy-one-get-one promotion to encourage greater attendance? Extended payment options for ticket packages? Geo-targeted digital ads that include a special offer in the days leading up to the game? According to a NACDA report, just over half of Millennials say they’d share their location in return for a relevant coupon or promotional deal, especially if it means better access at events. What about special discounts on game day? TodayTix (think Uber for ticket sales) did some research, and they found that men are 30% more likely than women to take advantage of last-minute sales. That’s an another insight worth keeping in mind as you design day-of-game discount promotions targeted at this group.
Even though the bad news is that Millennials don’t have much money to spend on tickets, the good news is that they’re more likely to spend their limited dough on experiences and events. Your challenge is to make your games both affordable and engaging. While this might not be your core fan base today, the more of a relationship you can form with Millennials, the more likely they’ll be to continue to support your program in the future when they’ve got some money to burn.
Take a second and think about the things you absolutely love to do. Whether it's your job, a hobby, a food...just think about how much you love it.
Could you do or eat that exact same thing starting today and continue until you are 95 years old? For me, that would be 67 years, one month, and 23 days.
I ask these questions because recently, while we were on campus at SMU for our basketball video/photo shoot, Dustin and I had the opportunity to meet someone special.
Meet Brad Bradley - sports photographer and legend. He has been taking photos at SMU and around Dallas for the last 70 years! He is 95 years old and still working. Why? Because he absolutely loves it.
We had a few moments to talk with Brad and his son Jimmy, and the stories of what they've done over the last seven decades are amazing. Doak Walker. Larry Brown. Michael Jordan. Brad took photos of them all. He was the photographer for the Southwest Conference, SEC, and ACC. He would drive around the country and hit every school in those conferences in one trip over the course of a few weeks. As we continued talking, he very humbly told us he pretty much pioneered the sports "action" photo. Instead of having guys posing and hold the ball or helmet, he had them act out some moves/positions from their sport. It hit us that we were talking to the inventor of what we were there doing. He compared our lights/camera set up to how he used to do it, and Dustin and he talked through technology advancements and techniques. It was so cool.
It made me step back and think about how much Brad truly enjoys his work. He could have retired 30 years ago, but he didn't. I hope we all have something in our lives we love so much that we want to do it for 70+ years.
To read more about Brad and his career, take a look at this article from a few years ago.
And of course, here are a few photos with Brad from our shoot:
What can we say about the newest addition to the Old Hat design squad? Caitlin Murphy has made QUITE the impression whether it's stories about her giant dog, her office microwaving misadventures or her attempts at playing Spikeball. This former collegiate libero turned stud designer has some serious skills that we think you'll DIG.
Here are 20 Questions with Caitlin!
1. NAME: Caitlin Murphy
2. OCCUPATION/TITLE: Art Director
3. HOMETOWN: Amarillo, TX
4. YOUR GO-TO WORK MUSIC: Whatever Spotify recommends to me for that day. Today is Throw-Back-Thursday
5. HOW DID YOU END UP AT OLD HAT: One of my references knows the company so he reached out to me and asked if I would be interested.
6. FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: Getting to play and design on the computer all day.
7. WHAT’S THE HARDEST PART ABOUT YOUR JOB: Sitting down all day.
8. HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR FREE TIME WHEN YOU’RE NOT AT WORK: Anything that involves with being outside.
9. ADVICE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF: LISTEN TO MY PARENTS. They’re actually right about everything.
10. EXPLAIN YOUR DESIGN PHILOSOPHY OR HOW YOU FIND INSPIRATION FOR YOUR WORK/OUTSIDE PROJECTS: Most of my designs happen by accident, I’ll be working and accidentally hit a button and sometimes it looks great so I go with it.
11. IF YOU COULD ONLY WATCH ONE MOVIE FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE WHAT WOULD IT BE: Pretty Woman. Hands down. No question.
12. FAVORITE TV SHOW: Drunk History
13. WHAT’S BEEN YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT AT OLD HAT: Getting hired was a great moment.
14. IF YOU COULD TRADE LIVES WITH ONE OF YOUR COWORKERS WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHY: James, so I could play instruments without hurting peoples ears.
15. WHAT’S YOUR GO-TO WORK DISTRACTION: Coloring, I have a box of sharpies and colored pencils at my desk that I doodle when I need to.
16. FAVORITE SUPERHERO: Iron Man, only because I’d like to marry him.
17. IF YOU WERE AN SNL CHARACTER WHO WOULD YOU BE: the Kristen Wiig character where she gets so excited about literally everything.
18. WHAT’S THE STUPIDEST THING YOU’VE EVER DONE: Superglued my shoe to the floor.. horrible idea.
19. WHAT’S THE LAST SHOW THAT YOU BINGE-WATCHED: The Crown
20. IF YOU WEREN’T DOING THIS JOB WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING: trying to figure out how I can be a history storyteller on Drunk History.
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?
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.