I can't say for certain, but I truly don't think I've ever shaved on the day of a Sooner Football game. It had to have started back in college when I rarely shaved at all and certainly wasn't going to go through the trouble on a Saturday before a football game. Then, when I started my career and had to shave on a regular basis, I took Saturdays off and justified it with a superstitious rule: No Shaving on Gamedays!
It just so happens that the year I started my professional career was also the same year OU won it's first football National Championship since 1985. And without a doubt, my not shaving on gamedays was a big factor in that championship. Sure, we had the Heisman runner-up in the QB position. We had Roy Williams, one of the best defensive backs in history, anchoring our defense. And they deserve some credit, I guess. But let's be honest. A lot of their success was due to my not shaving on the days they had to compete.
I am not a superstitious person. I'll walk under a ladder, scoff at breaking a mirror (I did that a couple months ago) and even invite a black cat to cross my path. I think supersition is downright silly. But when it comes to sport, I'll embrace anything that might help my team to victory. If we seem to be doing better when I watch from the kitchen, I stay in the kitchen. If we score when I leave the room, I will try that again when we need another score. Hat on backwards, sideways or on the floor... Sitting on the couch, the ottoman or standing up... Cheering your team to victory includes finding that balance of exactly what one must do to please the gods of sports so they will bless your team with a win.
Believe it or not, the company I founded 13 years ago was even named after a sports superstition. My freshman year of college in 1995, I purchased a brand new OU ballcap. From that point on, I wore that hat to every HOME game I attended in Norman from then until we lost to Oklahoma State in 2001. I took that hat off that day (the luck had run out of it) and never wore it to a game again. In fact, I wouldn't put it back on my head until we beat Oklahoma State again. But the hat sat on a shelf in my home office for years. It was tattered and torn, dirty and faded. It has never been washed. So when I was trying to come up with a name for the company I was starting, it just made sense to call it Old Hat. It seems like all sports fans have that "old hat" they wear to all the games. The hat contains luck and without it, the team won't have the edge they need to win.
Superstition is in the Fabric of Sports
Superstition is an integral part of sports. Most of us know it doesn't affect the outcome of the game, but it just makes it more fun. As an industry, we should be embracing superstition. Encouraging it.
Matt Roberts, Director of Athletics at the College of Charleston, says, "Superstition is in the fabric of sports. It's just a part of it. And even though it's proven over a long time that what you wear, what you eat, the routines and everything that you do on the day of a game or day before the game have been as much ineffective as they have been effective, I still do it."
And it's not just Matt. I conducted a quick-and-dirty survey recently and asked people if they are superstitious when it comes to sports. Most of the respondents were staff with athletic organizations (so, not the typical fan) and yet the response was overwhelmingly weighted toward superstition. 62% of people stated that they are superstitious when it comes to sports.
Here are a few examples that were sent to me:
@AdamSchemm: yes. Need the same type of pen, same folder of scripts, same driving route to the game & same clothes every game for football.
@MsDesireeAnne My friend Tommy will even change shirts midway through a game if her team is losing to change their luck
@MekaleJackson If I spill food on my red tie before the game, and St. John's wins, I wear the same dirty red tie every game until we lose
@TUSportsIS Not superstitious unless someone says: overtime, extra innings, perfect game, rain delay... so yes, superstitious lol
What can we do to embrace superstition more?
I've worked in collegiate athletics for 16 years. I've seen universities play the same song at every 3rd quarter break, do the same pregame rituals and incite the same chants. Until recently, it never really occurred to me fully embrace the idea of superstition, but I think we're missing out on a golden opportunity to engage with fans on a more personal level.
We work in an irrational industry. Fans pay absurd sums of money for 6 days (or 20 or 62 or whatever) of entertainment per year. They donate money to the athletic department just for the right to buy those tickets. They dress in a single color, sit in the rain and scream chants at the top of their lungs. Their moods for days, weeks, and months can be affected by the actions of a bunch of 20-year-old kids. On top of all of that, these people (often adult, professional men and women) do things like making sure they wear the same unwashed socks to every game.
As an industry, we embrace so much of that irrationality and we benefit from it to a large degree. Why not take it a step farther and embrace the superstition as well? Athletic events are about the experience and about having fun! What would be more fun than being at an event where the team took part in the superstition of their fans?
Here are a few ideas of ways we can do that, though I'm confident that with some thought, there are a lot more things that could be done along these lines:
1. Superstitions Video: A simple video showing various fans and players talking about what they do each week to make sure they contribute to their team's chance at victory. Fans love being included with student-athletes and appearing on videoboards!
2.The Superstition of the Game: Feature a fan each game and talk about their superstition during a break. Pick something that everyone else in the crowd can take part in as well. For instance, if they always have to wear their rally hat sideways in the ninth inning, try to get the rest of the fans to do so as well.
3. Victory Lunch: If one of your athletes always eats a certain meal the day before the game, publicize it and get your fans to participate as well and share it on social media.
4. No Shaving on Gamedays: I've heard of athletes that don't shave because of their own superstition about it. Hockey beards are one of the best things about hockey. Publicize it and tell your fans that anyone that shows up with facial hair (or leg hair) gets a discount at the concession stand. You could even give away stick-on mustaches to the kids.
5. Superstitions on Twitter: Encourage fans to submit photos or videos of their game day superstitions. They can hashtag the post so that the university can track the posts. The team can then share their favorite posts. Have a game day prize for the winner.
6. Superstitions on Facebook: Have fans submit the photos and videos to the Facebook admin. Then post the photos/videos to the team account have your followers vote on their favorite. The top 10 fans can share the best and encourage their friends to like the page and like the post. This will garner more followers.
7. Superstition Giveaways: Find out if anyone on the team or coaching staff has game day superstitions like wearing red socks on gameday. Then purchase branded red socks and give them out at the game for fans to wear. This can get pricey but you can then control a number of fans participating in the superstition. Bigger scale.
The possibilities are endless with what you could do to embrace superstition because the possibilities of superstitions are endless. There are so many opportunities to bring in sponsors, philanthropies, etc. with this idea and not only increase attendance and fan engagement but also to use our events to create a positive impact on the community.
Old Hat and Jason Dennard, Florida State Associate AD for Marketing and New Revenue, have been in a pretty, pretty, pretty serious relationship for nearly 13 years. During that time we've had the tremendous opportunity to work with Jason and his crew on some very cool work. Jason is an easy-going, trusting guy who gives us a creative license on a lot of important projects. Designing a poster for the Noles is sort of a rite of passage here at OH. When Jason asks us to come up with something cool he means it. It's a quality we really value. Now, we don't have the very first OH-Noles basketball poster designed by ZAC, yes Zac, but he remembers the shiny UV coating on it fondly.
Here's the latest basketball poster we designed for Florida State:
Not everybody at OH has met Jason in real life, but after reading his answers to our 20 Questions several folks here are confident they'd be best friends with the pride of Perry, Georgia: Jason Dennard.
1. NAME: Jason Dennard
2. OCCUPATION/TITLE: Associate AD for Marketing and New Revenue
3. HOMETOWN: Perry, Georgia
4. PREGAME RITUAL: I always go to the gym and workout the morning of football games. It sets the tone for the day (pun intended).
5. FAVORITE THING TO SNACK ON: Big fan of yogurt and granola but my weakness is chocolate in all forms.
6. FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: Breaking barriers and accomplishing things when critics say it can’t be done.
7. LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: Too many meetings too little time. If I could clone myself that would be great!
8. HIDDEN TALENTS/HOBBIES: I have a slight obsession with grilling and being a weekend pit master in my spare time.
9. ADVICE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF: Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Stop along the way and make sure to enjoy the journey.
10. YOUR GO-TO KARAOKE SONG: I’ve got two……The Humpty Dance by Digital Underground and being from the south you have to sing some Skynyrd, Sweet Home Alabama.
11. FAVORITE MOVIE: Planes, Trains & Automobiles.
12. FAVORITE TV SHOW: Seinfeld.
13. IF YOU WERE IN A BOY BAND WHAT WOULD IT BE CALLED: The Dad Bods.
14. FAVORITE PLACE TO EAT: I am a serial visitor at Newks a couple of times per week.
15. WHAT DO YOU ORDER THERE: Cobb Salad no tomatoes and Splenda Sweet Tea.
16. FAVORITE DISNEY PRINCESS: Princess Leia *RIP (Disney owns Star Wars right?)
17. WHAT’S YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL: I’d say my dog Molly (King Charles Cavalier). That dog has never had a bad day!
18. WHAT’S THE STUPIDEST THING YOU’VE EVER DONE: Entered a bodybuilding contest on a dare and actually went through with it to the shock of my parents, friends…..pretty much anyone that ever knew me. Turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done and eliminated "fear" from my vocabulary.
19. WHAT’S THE LAST SHOW THAT YOU BINGE-WATCHED: Hmm….I would say Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry David is awesome.
20. IF YOU WEREN’T DOING THIS JOB WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING: I love music and have discovered a passion for putting on concerts. This is something I do on the side currently.
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.
You're going to learn about the greatest emotion that can be used in marketing. Now stop for a minute. No really, stop reading for just a second.
Do you feel that?
Even if you don't read the rest of this blog, it's likely you've read at least this far (if you haven't, you can ignore this). The reason is that you're expecting a payoff. I implied some sort of promise to you in my opening sentence, and now I must deliver. It was the anticipation that kept you reading. Sure, this isn't an earth-shattering revelation, and you probably didn't expect it to be, but there was just enough build-up that you decided to read on.
The point is that anticipation is such a powerful emotion for marketers to utilize, but there are very few people or organizations using it.
I had a conversation with Zac a few weeks ago, discussing how people and companies have lost their mystique, and it fits hand-in-hand with creating anticipation. Companies and celebrities are so accessible via multiple media channels and means, that it's nearly impossible to develop anticipation for a new product, a sporting event or a music performance. The days of Elvis, Sinatra and Beatlemania are long gone. One reason behind the pandemonium surrounding these celebrities was the fact that they weren't easily accessible. Even press coverage was limited to a few photos and the written word, so there wasn't a lot of information floating around for fans to latch on to.
But the greatest attribute of anticipation is that it's forward-looking. A customer or fan of a highly anticipated product has already imagined in their own mind how and what the product (or person, event, team, etc.) will be, regardless of how it might actually turn out. Generally, that's a good thing for an organization, if they're doing a good job of building it up.
The challenge comes in navigating our digital age, where all the world's information is available in the palm of your hand. If you're not constantly talking about something, anything, then you're forgotten. Yesterday's news was replaced, well, yesterday. And today's news just got updated, again. So as marketers, we're struggling to continually provide relevant information and make sure fans are up-to-the-second on everything going on. Is this really the best method?
Keep the Mystique
As I mentioned, keeping an air of mystery surrounding a big event, new product release, or the next blockbuster is the main ingredient to forming anticipation. Look at any good movie trailer, and even for movies that don't turn out so great, the trailer still has you saying "I've gotta go see that!". The key is not over-informing your fans. Sell the sizzle, not the steak, and leave your fans wanting more.
I can think of two excellent examples that are keeping the mystique, despite the constant attention they receive from mainstream media.
The first is Bill Murray. The guy is a cult icon and shrouded in mystery. Bill Murray sightings show up in the twittersphere much like sightings of the Loch Ness monster or Bigfoot. Yet, it seems paradoxical because he's also a huge celebrity. There should be a Bill Murray course taught as part of the marketing curriculum in universities everywhere (I'd call it Murrketing 101, just for the record). Murray, who's never had an agent, has become an expert marketer of himself by simply being himself. Shying away from mainstream media and making the occasional random appearance for wedding photos or a surprise appearance at the White House is Murray's grassroot marketing tactic of choice, and it keeps people wanting more.
Apple is another perfect example of a company that is able to keep their mystique and create anticipation for their next product. I think if you put truth syrum in diehard Apple lovers, most would tell you that Apple products are not significantly better than their competitors' products. It may be that Apple creates the feeling of having an exclusive membership to a luxury product, but unlike a luxury product, they create products that the general public can afford - and for most Apple fans, products that their fans can't afford not to have. Every couple of months, Apple builds up their product releases with their keynote presentations that have fans worldwide waiting in anticipation.
So how does this translate to the everyday marketer who has a product or event to promote? Or for college sports, with multiple events going on throughout the year?
One of my favorite video editing inspirations on the web is Burger Fiction (also here). Burger Fiction was started by two dudes "as a one year project, to make a video once a week. We wanted to challenge ourselves to make something creative (outside of our full-time jobs) every week and put it out there for people to watch." I LOVE these videos. They're highly entertaining and incredibly creative editing. One particular video I recently came across was the 40 Greatest Jump Scares. I started watching it full screen, ear buds in, your normal office setting (lights on, people around). I only made it 1:39 of the nearly 9-minute video. I paused the video, violently threw my ear buds on my desk, and had Kevin wondering what my problem was.
I don't particularily enjoy scary movies. I blame the movie Paranormal Activity. We saw it in the theater and it still freaked the crap out of me days later. It is the reason I prefer to not have surveillance cameras inside my house to see the cute things my bulldogs do during the day. I don't want to see my dogs staring at nothing or watch my dining room chairs move around. So that probably explains my unimpressive time score.
This video gave me the idea to record my co-workers watching it and see how long they could last before completely losing it.
I was talking with a close friend the other day that was telling me about the woman he's dating. She just received her Ph.D. and is moving to Washington, D.C. to work for an organization whose mission is to get clean drinking water to the 800 million people on the planet that don't have access to it. As he told me that, all I could think about was how worthless I feel when I hear about people like that. I know people that run into burning buildings to save people. I know people that went to school for twice as long as I did so they can work toward eradicating diseases.
What do I do? I try to get people to spend their money on going to sporting events.
An over-simplification, maybe. Old Hat partners with athletic organizations to create marketing initiatives aimed at increasing attendance and improving the gameday experience (so fans will continue to attend) with the ultimate goal of increasing revenue for that organization. So in essence, I try to get people to spend their money on going to sporting events.
So when I hear about people that risk their lives to save others' or spend their careers trying to help people stay alive, it's easy to feel a little insecure about my contributions to humanity. But then, I spend a little bit of time at a place like Cameron Indoor Stadium, and I'm reminded that what I do matters too.
The Greatest Moment in Sports History
When I was little and we'd make the drive from Guthrie, Oklahoma, to Norman for a football game, I'd sit next to my dad and watch the Sooners hang half-a-hundred on whoever they were playing that day. One-on-one time with my father was a hot commodity, so getting to spend that time with him as he explained the finer points of college football to me was the absolute best thing in the world. Each Saturday afternoon at Owen Field was the greatest moment in sports history for me. Only to be outdone by the next Saturday. Or the weeknight trip to Stillwater to watch OU take on Oklahoma State as we sat wearing crimson in a sea of orange. Win or lose, that moment was the greatest moment in sports history for me.
See, that's what we do. We, as collegiate athletics marketers, give those moments to thousands of people every day.
I had the opportunity to check off a bucket list item this past November. I was lucky enough to be in Durham, NC, when Duke was playing a home game. It wasn't Duke vs. UNC or anything like that, but simply getting to witness a basketball game in one of the top 2-3 arenas in the country is something I've always dreamed of doing. My wife and I took our seats (thanks, Nicole and Kelly) and settled in, and as I looked around, I was reminded of why I do what I do for a living.
To our left, a man who appeared to be in his thirties, sat next to his elderly father and cheered on their beloved Blue Devils. I didn't speak to them much, but it appeared as if they were sitting in the seats they always sit in, game after game, and these two men were connecting over college basketball. In front of us, a woman and her two daughters watched together. The girls were wearing their Duke basketball jerseys and seemed to be having the time of their lives. To our right, a 4-year-old asked question after question to his young father about what was happening on the court.
All of these people were enjoying their greatest moment in sports history that day. Only to be outdone by the next time they came to Cameron Indoor and connected with the people they loved over a sporting event.
As collegiate athletics marketers, what we do is important. And we're lucky. We have the opportunity every day to silently be a part of thousands of people's greatest moments in their lives. When those little girls from the Duke game are old and gray, they will still remember all those times spent with their mom at Cameron Indoor. They'll remember the sights, the smells, and how it felt to enjoy that time with their mother. And you'll know that you were a part of it. You helped make that moment special because you sold them the tickets, you produced the videoboard graphics, you did the game script or you simply turned on the lights and swept up after. No matter what your role, you were a part of The Greatest Moment in Sports History.
We don't save lives, but we sure help make them.
Stop the Clock
I'm writing a book, and I'm calling it Stop the Clock. The book is about those moments in sports history when all you wanted to do was stop time so you could either live in that moment forever or have another chance to do it over again. I am collecting stories from athletics administrators; those behind-the-scenes people who help make those moments possible for millions of people every year. Everyone knows what the coaches and athletes do to make those moments happen for sports fans. What I want to do is highlight the unsung heroes of collegiate athletics. I am collecting stories from as many Directors of Athletics and Senior Staff members as possible about times in their lives when they witnessed the power and impact of sports. Few are willing to label it as their "Greatest Moment in Sports History," but they all have many examples of times when they were in awe of what they'd just experienced.
After I collect these stories, I will look for themes to emerge and then write about what we can learn from these experiences so that we can do our jobs better and help provide those great moments for future fans. If nothing else, it will serve as an inspirational reminder of what we do and why we do it. And hopefully, it is a motivational tool to do more to drive attendance and improve the game experience for fans because no child will ever remember the day they spent in their rooms playing minecraft while their dad watched the game downstairs. The greatest moments in sports history can only happen if you're at the event, so we have to do everything we can to get people there.
So far, this experience has been the most fun thing I've ever done in my career. I've interviewed about 20 ADs and senior staff. I've heard stories of overcoming adversity, building character and embracing superstition. I just got off the phone with the legendary Tom Osborne and heard a story that almost had me in tears.
I've always thought that what we do is important. I've always known that giving the greatest moment in sports history to fans is what I was meant to do with my career. If I ever had any doubts, writing this book has laid those to rest. Sure, I don't run into burning buildings or help eradicate disease. I'm not saying that what we do as an industry is on that level. What we do has a positive impact though. We must continue to strive to do it better.
Note: I hope to have the book out in the middle of 2017. But in the meantime, we'll be taking some of the interviews and turning them into podcasts. The podcast will be called Stop the Clock as well and will be available on iTunes starting in early 2017.
When you’re trying to market your program and sell tickets, some audiences are easier to reach than others. Alumni? You know who they are and how to reach them. The same goes for students and people who have purchased season tickets or other ticket packages from you before. But things get a little trickier when you’re trying to market yourself more broadly to your community.
With a large area to cover, a crowded media environment, and a myriad of competing entertainment options, how can you maximize the impact of your limited marketing budget? You don’t have the big bucks that professional sports teams have, nor do you have the funding to be able to afford a lot of mass media placement. The good news is that there are digital tools and tactics that can help you get your message to the people who are most likely to be interested in what you have to offer.
One of the digital tactics you should consider for your program is location-based mobile advertising, more commonly known as geofencing. Geofencing allows you to define a small geographic area (like a mall or the county fair), serve your ads up to smartphone users in that area during a designated period of time, and retarget those same individuals by showing them your ads across different mobile platforms during the following weeks. This means you can get your message in front of people who are likely to have an interest in your sport right when they’re most likely to be thinking about your sport, based on their behavior and location. Retargeting them in the following weeks helps you stay top of mind and potentially reach them at a time when they’re ready to take action.
So what would that look like for your program? Maybe it means geofencing alumni events and reunions to help you get your message in front of alumni when they’re feeling a particularly strong sense of connection to the school. Or it could mean geofencing high school games or tournaments in your area, which would allow you to advertise your games to people who already have an affinity for the sport. Perhaps there are a few local watering holes or barhopping areas where you know a lot of people go to watch games. You could set up geofencing to reach them when they’re already thinking about your sport (and maybe even cheering for your team) to nudge them toward experiencing live game action. The name of the game is to identify what types of people are most likely to be interested in purchasing tickets, figure out where large numbers of those people are likely to be, and get the right message to them at a time when they’re likely to be interested in what you’re offering.
Geofencing isn’t the only digital tool out there, but it’s definitely one your program should consider. To use it effectively, you should develop profiles of the groups you are trying to reach and develop a placement strategy that’s designed with the activities and interests of your target audiences in mind.
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.
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.
At the 2016 NACMA Conference, Old Hat lead a presentation on marketing automation. We highlighted the success of RaiseUpCarolina.com, a ticket sales website built for UNC that has helped increase ticket sales revenue by more than $500,000 and aided in selling out their premium seating areas for the first time ever. Marketing automation is one of the tools we used as a part of that project. We took a uniquely positioned website with a great user experience that built excitement for a specific program and turned it into a ridiculously effective sales tool.
A lot of people think of marketing automation as a ticket sales tool, in and of itself. I disagree. I don't think of marketing automation as a tool any more than I think of the handle of a hammer as a tool. The handle of a hammer is only effective if it has the head and/or claw of the hammer. Without one or both of those, it's completely ineffective in achieving its goal. Marketing automation is no different. Without combining marketing automation with other elements to drive results, you're stuck with something as ineffective as the handle of a hammer would be in driving nails.
Some ticketing companies are starting to offer marketing automation as a part of their platform. First, fans visit a school's primary athletic website, navigate to the ticket portal and then their activity is logged and put into the automation system. That information is segmented into audiences and communicated based on their interest on the site. However, there's one major problem with this approach: It's predicated on the idea that people are already interested in coming to those events. If they already want to come, attendance wouldn't be an issue in the first place.
Think about it this way: using marketing automation on a ticket portal through a primary athletic website (goheels.com, for instance) is like putting a ticket sales phone number on a blank, white piece of paper and posting it on a telephone pole on a street corner. It's boring, uninviting, really hard to find and once you do find it, it does nothing to actually make you want to attend the event.
Marketing automation is an amazing way to help increase ticket sales and attendance, but tracking fans' activity on a ticket portal that no one is coming to doesn't take advantage of the power of marketing automation. If no one is coming to your ticket purchasing pages, you're not going to have anyone to track.
Marketing automation is simply a piece of a ticket sales tool. And here are the three things that render it completely ineffective.
1. Dedicated Ticket Sales Site
Again, the problem isn't that people don't know when/where the games are. The problem is that they don't want to come. Simply providing information is not enough. You have to create an interface that builds excitement. Look at your primary website real quick, select any sport, click to purchase tickets and determine if there's anything about that page that actually makes you excited about that sport. If the answer is yes, you're a step ahead, but you're still faced with the issue of forcing people to have to navigate through information about 25 other sports before they find the one they want to buy tickets for. There's a reason the producers of The Avengers built a website just to build excitement about that movie rather than just making it one of many options to look at on the production company's website. And there's a reason that every other major movie does the same thing. Using your primary athletic site to drive ticket sales is a mistake.
2. Off-Season Marketing Campaign
Most of the time, the marketing that takes place for a specific sport happens in the weeks leading up to the start of the season. It will typically continue through the season, but once the season ends, the marketing ends. Sure we send out ticket renewal letters and other information, but most of the time we cease to continue to make them excited about that sport. What we should be doing is actually ramping up our marketing efforts as the season comes to a close and keeping those marketing efforts going the entire off-season. One of the reasons RaiseUpCarolina.com was so successful is because it launched right at the end of the football season. Then, throughout the winter and spring, we were consistently pushing people to that site through a comprehensive marketing campaign. Because we were continually driving traffic to the site, marketing automation was able to do what marketing automation does. If you're not continually driving traffic to your site, you're not getting the most bang for your buck in what you're spending on marketing automation.
3. Digital Marketing Strategy
As discussed, marketing automation is only one part of a much larger puzzle. It is a force multiplier, much like the handle of a hammer. A hammer's head will drive a nail if you hit it hard enough. Add a handle to that head and it amplifies the force exponentially and makes driving that nail a lot easier. Marketing automation is the piece of the tool that makes your efforts exponentially more effective in driving ticket sales. What can make marketing automation even more effective? Other digital strategies that augment marketing automation. One example is geofencing. We can identify an area where you have a potential base of ticket purchasers and target them by geofencing that area and serving them digital advertising through whatever site or app they spend most of their time on. For instance, let's say you have a loyal and passionate fanbase at your basketball games, but those fans aren't coming to your football games. We geofence your basketball arena and all your fans have to do is use their phone to access the web in any way during that event. Once they do, we can then serve them ads on Facebook, Google, etc. to drive them to purchase. These ads will push them to your website where they then enter your marketing automation platform and now you're hitting them from all angles.
There's no question that marketing automation is powerful. A $500,000 increase in ticket sales at UNC is enough to prove that point, but it took a lot more than marketing automation to make that happen: A good program, a great marketing staff, a ticket sales team, a dedicated ticket sales website, an off-season marketing campaign and marketing automation. This season we'll be implementing a comprehensive digital marketing strategy including geofencing and hope to add yet another force multiplier to the ticket sales effort.