Last Monday I posted an article about the death of the schedule poster as we know it and talked about the need to breathe life back into it through treating it more like an advertisement than an informational tool. Simply informing people of when the games will be played and scattering athlete photos around an 18 x 24" space doesn't do much to actually drive attendance anymore. It needs to be a part of a grander marketing campaign.
So that begs the question: How do we do that?
Answer: Through a research & discovery, internal & external surveys, target audience indentification, strategic messaging, media audits and brilliant creative.
Sounds difficult and daunting, doesn't it? Well, it's not. It's time-consuming and requires expertise in all of these fields. It involves large groups of people working together to provide feedback and input. It requires everyone in an organization buying in to a common goal. But fortunately, Old Hat has the tools and processes in place to facilitate all of it. It's called the Sports180° Process and is our proven, research-based process that gets to the heart of your unique position. Through this approach, we help you clarify objectives, analyze your playing field, and develop a winning strategy.
We just completed the initial phases of the Sports180° with SMU and are entering implementation phase where we will launch an internal and external marketing campaign, a ticket sales website and multiple gameday experience pieces that are united under a common message and goal.
Phase 1: Scouting
The first step in the process is research and discovery. Understanding your internal culture and inspiring your staff can prevent disconnects between your brand promise and what your fans experience. Their weigh-in will produce buy-in.We talk to Senior Athletic Department Staff,Individual Department Team Members, Development, Marketing, Ticket Sales, Sponsorship andSupport Staff as Directed (Team Operations, Coaches, Game Operations, Designers, Interns, Game Day Contractors, Facility Staff, Merchandise, etc.)
There are other key groups that play a role in the success of your brand, so we meet with a few representatives or request their participation in your survey. This may include groups like Fundraising Club Members, Alumni, Students,Community Influencers,Individual Game Buyers,Premium Customers, etc.
By the end of this phase we’ll understand both your market and your uniquely compelling story, as told straight from the horse’s mouth.
Discovery process on campus at SMU
Phase 2: Playbook
In phase two we analyze the research and develop a playbook to achieve your objectives. This phase involves refining your leadership vision, identifying sales and marketing opportunities, aligning your target audiences with your brand differentiators, and assessing how you can win against your competitors.
Leadership Vision: Review and discussion of the vision shared by your organization’s key leaders.
Research Findings: Presentation of comprehensive research findings and analysis, including key takeaways and opportunities.
Audience Alignment: Development and presentation of profile personas for key current and desired target audiences.
Marketing Opportunities: Identification of opportunities that support your vision, engage your key audiences, and position you for greater success.
Examples of Findings:
Phase 3: Game Day
Incorporating your feedback and our research findings, this is where we execute our recommendations and begin to engage with your fans, alumni and donors. We will present a set of campaign platforms that demonstrate how you will connect with your key stakeholders. You’ll also receive comprehensive reports with our research findings and strategic recommendations plus a detailed brand launch marketing plan.
Strategic Recommendations: Summary of insights and recommended actions.
Brand Platform: Presentation of final creative look, feel, and messaging as a springboard for future tactical elements.
Marketing Communications Plan: Marketing campaign launch plan, including recommended tactics, message channels, delivery, and timing.
Brand Style Guide: Written brand style guide detailing fonts, colors, photo types, brand language and more for internal use in execution. Provided following final approval of brand platform.
The SMU Sports180° is complete and the creative elements will begin to see the light of day in the coming weeks. Through our research, we were able to identify what their most important needs were and how to properly address those needs. Portions of the Sports180° process were also used in the Raise Up Carolina project where we conducted research to identify what was unique about football game days in Chapel Hill and built a site around that position that was targeted at the proper audience.
A brilliant marketing campaign targeted at the wrong audience will produce no better results than a terrible campaign targeted at the right audience. Old Hat has the proper experience, tools and processes that allow us to both identify and target the proper audience and build the creative that will reach them.
The mission of most collegiate athletic departments surround the idea of developing the student-athlete. And we know that's impossible without the financial support that comes from having fans in the stands. Old Hat's mission is to increase attendance at sporting events. Plain and simple. Together, and using this process, Old Hat can achieve our mission while helping you achieve yours.
Here’s an example of one of hundreds of conversations I’ve had over the past 15 years with people I meet:
Person: What do you do for a living?
Me: Sports Marketing.
Person: What does that mean, exactly?
Me: I own a creative agency that works with athletics organizations.
Person: (looks at me blankly) So you like, print t-shirts or something?
Me: No. We partner with universities to help them with their marketing efforts.
Me: Okay, so you know how when you walk down Main Street in your nearest college town and there’s a poster in the local bar window advertising the State U. volleyball team? We design those!
Person: Ahhhhh! That’s cool.
The conversation usually then turns into all the other stuff we do. But it all begins with the schedule poster. Everyone knows what a schedule poster is. And Old Hat was built on the schedule poster. We don’t know exactly how many we’ve designed over the years but conservative estimates put us at more than 4,000.
Four. THOUSAND. Schedule posters.
The Dying Art of the Schedule Poster
Used to be, schedule posters were something people actually looked at in order to find out their favorite team’s schedule. I remember seeing an OU Sooners Football schedule poster from 1985 hanging in a restaurant in Norman. No photos, no crazy photoshop effects, no cheesy tagline. Just the schedule. And the thing about it is, that poster probably did more to get people to the games than most of what is produced these days. People don’t have to walk over to the poster on the wall anymore to see what the schedule is. In fact, there have been times when I’ve had the OU football poster on my wall behind me and I’ve still pulled out my phone to see when the next game is. Because when I do that, I can then tell Google to put it in my calendar automatically and set it to send me a reminder to buy tickets to the specific away games I want to go to. Last time I checked, the poster on the wall couldn’t do that.
Schedule posters are going the way of the dodo bird as a promotional tool. They have some value in recruiting but let’s be honest, 18-year-old student-athletes are probably way more interested in the multi-million dollar weight room and the 64-foot wall graphic than the idea that when they’re a senior, they might get to be on a poster.
Once upon a time, just putting your schedule on a poster was enough to get people to the game. The art of the schedule poster has come a long way since then. Some of the posters we produce here are truly works of art. But these days, they have to be so much more than that if you want them to actually result in a fan taking action.
I’ve talked a lot about how we are fighting for people’s attention unlike ever before. The world has changed more in the past decade than it did in the 50 years preceding it and that has resulted in people having a lot more options in entertainment. And that’s not changing. In fact, it’s going to get worse for those of us whose job it is to get people to the stadium. Stadiums aren’t doing multi-million dollar renovations to create more premium seating areas just for the fun of it. They’re doing it to compete with people’s couches. Because more and more people are finding it hard to convince themselves to go sit on a hard bench crammed in with thousands of other people in the September heat when they can watch from the comfort of their recliner.
Stadiums are upgrading to appeal to fans more. It’s time schedule posters do too.
Breathing Life into the Schedule Poster
Your schedule posters can be one of three things: 1) A valuable sales tool. 2) An ancillary recruiting tool. 3) A waste of time. You’re going to have to decide which you want yours to be.
If you want your schedule posters to be a valuable sales tool, what can you do to make them have more of an effect on driving game attendance? For one, you can remove the schedule.
The biggest mistake we can make is assuming that putting the schedule on a schedule poster has any relevance anymore. I’m not saying you have to remove it. I’m just saying that its presence is pretty irrelevant. If you make people want to come to your games, they’ll find the schedule. And probably not by looking at a poster.
So that’s the key, right? Making them want to come?
What we have to start doing is treating a poster more like an advertisement than a schedule poster. The poster, like an ad, has to be positioned properly. It has to target the right audience. It has to deliver a message. It has to inspire action.
You have a built-in passionate fan base already. You have fans that wear their school colors every Friday before the game and then watch it from their living room the next day. The passion is there. You just have to reignite it. You have fans that want to be reminded about what they’re missing out on by not being there.
Advertising works. That’s a fact. But it doesn’t work without being based in research and strategy. The most amazing looking schedule poster that delivers the wrong message to the wrong group isn’t as valuable as a very basic poster that delivers the right message to the right group.
We are currently working with a number of universities to help figure out what that message is and to whom it should be delivered. And the research we’re doing to base our strategy on is truly fascinating. Who are the decision makers in your market? What are their other choices for entertainment? What are they doing instead of coming to your games? Why? What drives them? Dig deep enough and you’ll find the answers. And you’ll find your message. And you’ll find your fans. And they’ll find the stadium.
A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine decided he was going to start a sports apparel company. Like most new businesses, he was starting with nothing. He had no facility, he had no customers, he had no product. He just had an idea.
Oh, and he had one more thing. He applied to a program through the SBA that provided him with a steady stream of potential customers with built in brand loyalty to his new company. He didn't have to do a single thing to create that brand loyalty. This program was revolutionary. The government would take large groups of young people and spend four years slowly building an affinity within them for this guy's brand. They'd give these kids free product, they'd surround them with this company's logo and they'd teach these impressionable young minds songs that furthered a love for this guy's company. And every year, after spending four years instilling passion within these potential customers, the program would release thousands of them into the world where they would make more money than nearly half of the population.
Needless to say, my friend's company was set up to be a smashing success. Every year from the start of his company until the end of time, he had 5,000+ people who automatically loved his brand. All he had to do was supply them with a good product. Some of these people were more passionate than others, of course. And he couldn't retain them all. But what he found was that for the rest of these people's lives, they had at least some affinity for his product. On top of that, their ability to afford his product was better than average. So of course he was incredibly successful…how could he not be?
What was the name of this company? It doesn't matter because I made it all up. That is, I made up the idea that this was someone's company that couldn’t help but succeed. The rest of it happens every year at hundreds of organizations.
On average, about 1.8 million people receive bachelor's degrees from colleges and universities in the United States. The vast majority spent about four years being surrounded by that university's brand every single day. They walked past hundreds of signs, pole banners and trash cans all bearing that institution's logo. They sat next to thousands of other students wearing t-shirts with that university's brand across the front. They were taught the history of their school, songs they will never forget, and traditions that reinforced their love for their school. And then, after four years of this indoctrination, they are released into the world with the ability to earn an average of $18,000 more per year than those who did not attend college.
Can you imagine what Nike would do for that kind of exposure? What do you think Nike would pay to have their logo on every banner, trash can, building and sign on a college campus? The value of that level of exposure to a brand is incalculable. As a business owner I can tell you that I would have killed to have been able to start my business with a group of customers that already loved my company.
Those of us who work in collegiate athletics are spoiled. We’re playing with a stacked deck and we’re still losing. We have something Nike would pay millions of dollars for and that businesses everywhere dream about. I've used the number 5,000 in talking about the number of graduates that come out of a university each year. Some are less, obviously. But some have double or triple that number. The point is that collegiate athletics departments have four years of free marketing opportunities handed to them on a silver platter, and there are thousands of people graduating from universities every year who have will have some level of affinity for their alma mater for the rest of their lives.
No other industry in the world has this advantage. No one ever says, "Well, I wear Adidas because my grandpa wore Adidas and my dad wore Adidas." Even professional sports teams have less of an automatic fan base and less built-in loyalty than collegiate athletics.
If you have empty seats at your stadium or arena, you have no excuse. Or at least you don't have nearly the excuse that organizations in every other industry has if they're failing to bring in customers. If alumni aren’t coming back to support your athletic program, it’s because the product you’re asking them to support isn't good enough.
Winning Isn't Everything
The argument can be made that fans would come if the team would win and that as marketers, we can't control the product on the field. But the decrease in attendance among collegiate athletics isn't isolated to losing programs. Winning teams are losing fans too. The product on the field is great but fans are still choosing to stay home.
At home, the beer is cheaper, the couch is more comfy and the temperature is always a nice 72 degrees. That’s hard to compete with, but not impossible. Because we do have an advantage: they already love us. They spent four years seeing our logo, wearing our clothes and singing our songs.
We might not be able to control the product on the field, but there’s a lot more to the home-or-stadium decision than that. We can control ticket prices. We can control advertising. We can control strategically targeting the fans most likely to attend and understanding what makes them tick. And we can control the gameday experience.
So what about my theoretical friend and his theoretical business? Was success really that easy for him? Of course not. He had to work at it. He had to realize that he couldn’t rely on the same old tricks to get fans to the stadium. He had to stop taking his steady stream of brand loyalists and their disposable income for granted, and start doing more to give them a product that is better than staying home. That was when he started succeeding. And if he didn’t do those things and ended up failing even when the deck was stacked in his favor, then he had nobody to blame but himself.
My father cried on November 16, 1957. He was 12 years old and he wept on my grandfather’s lap as he had just experienced something he had no recollection of ever experiencing before. His beloved Oklahoma Sooners lost a football game for the first time in more than 4 years. When OU began their 47-game winning streak, he was only 8 years old. So there he sat, tears flowing down his cheeks, while his father held him and assured him that everything would be okay.
On Saturday afternoons in the early 1980s, my father and I would get in the car and leave our farmhouse in Guthrie, Oklahoma for the hour drive to Norman. Going to OU football games was not guaranteed but often I would have begged enough that my dad would give in and take me. Sometimes the whole family. Sometimes just me. We’d stop by the tailgate of James and Maryanna Martin for fried chicken. We’d go watch The Pride of Oklahoma (OU’s marching band) warm up. We’d throw a football around on the South Oval. And I would bring every dollar I had saved so I could buy a new OU jersey at the stadium. But the best part was sitting next to my dad while he explained the finer points of the game of football to me.
I remember where I was when the Denver Broncos won their first Super Bowl. I know who I was with, what I was wearing and most importantly, I remember the emotions I felt. I remember driving to Kansas City to see the Broncos play the Chiefs. I remember night after night at the Lloyd Noble Center with my brother and dad watching Wayman, Mookie, Tim and Stacey play basketball. I remember the flyover at the old Mile High Stadium before the game started and how loud and overwhelming it was. I remember meeting Ozzie Smith in the parking garage outside Busch Stadium and getting him to sign a ball for me before we took in an afternoon Cardinals game. I remember standing next to my best friend in Oklahoma Memorial Stadium as the clock wound down after OU beat #1 Nebraska 31-14 after spending years in that same stadium watching OU lose game after game after game with him.
I remember, because those moments are important. I remember, because now that I am older and my brother has moved a thousand miles away, my best friend and I rarely make time for each other and I don’t see my father nearly as much as I should, those moments are what I hold as my most prized possessions. No one can take them from me and I’ll take those memories to my grave.
These are the moments that sports create. Sports brings people together and creates moments shared by fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, and friends. I’ve never met anyone, regardless of how much of a sports fan they are, who doesn’t have at least one great memory surrounding a sporting event. They remember where they were, who they were with and what happened at that event that made it so special. Chances are, they get emotional when they think about these experiences. I get emotional just talking about it. Some people have one. Some people have many. I’m lucky… I have hundreds.
Sports are important, plain and simple. Sporting events provide an avenue for people to have experiences that shape their lives. Sports gives people memories that stay with them til the day they die. More often than not, even when their team lost, the memory is held as a fond one.
Sporting events are in a battle with convenience. And the statistics show that we are losing. Kids are upstairs in their rooms playing Minecraft or texting their friends while dad is downstairs in his man cave binge-watching Netflix. When that child is 80 years old, they aren’t going to be telling their grandchildren about the Saturday afternoon they spent playing video games. But being outside on a Saturday afternoon with thousands of other people screaming for the same cause, a ballpark hot dog in their hands and their hero… their father… sitting next to them? That creates a moment that will live on forever.
Old Hat exists for the sole purpose of helping create those moments for people. Whether through driving attendance to sporting events, improving the gameday experience once inside the stadium or arena, aiding in fundraising efforts for athletic departments and their capital campaigns, or any one of the many other things that a sports organization must do to put teams on the field, Old Hat is here to help.
Old Hat believes that there’s nothing greater than sharing a sports experience with someone you care about. We also believe that the purity of these moments is being lost to technology and convenience. Too often families opt to stay at home, everyone in separate rooms of the house staring at their own devices and not connecting with one another. My son will have no memory of the Saturday afternoon he spent playing Minecraft while I watched Breaking Bad on Netflix. However, he still remembers going to the OU vs. Texas football game when he was only 8 years old. He doesn’t remember it because OU won or lost. He remembers it because he was with his brother and his dad. He will always remember it. Because of the experience.
Every year, one of your key variables for season ticket sales is churn: how many fans repurchase a package and how many defect? Once you know that, you’re faced with another decision: how much do you spend to regain those lost fans? Will it be easier and more cost-efficient to try to win them back, or should you invest more in replacing them with new purchasers?
Business studies have shown that in general it’s more cost effective to retain customers (and employees, for that matter) than to recruit new ones. Yet most businesses tend to write off lost customers pretty quickly. Is that a mistake? In a word: yes. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article companies with high churn rates might be better off trying to win lost customers back than trying to replace them. But that doesn’t mean every lost customer is worth pursuing: “Simply identifying those who are most likely to sign up again, rather than appealing to every defector, can increase win-back rates eightfold.”
Sure, the article was written based on analysis of a telecom company’s customers defection and win-back rather than about sports marketing, but the principles are the same:
· - People who have purchased something from you before have demonstrated a specific interest in what you offer.
· - People who are familiar with you are more likely to be responsive than those who have no history with you or no brand awareness.
· - Not every lost customer is worth winning back, and data analysis can help you understand which lost customers hold the most potential.
· - Tailoring your win-back offers based on the reason for defection is more likely to help you regain the customers you lost than simply offering everyone the same thing.
· - Learning from the customers you’ve lost can help you improve retention of current customers.
To apply these principles to your marketing efforts, follow these 3 steps:
1. Survey. If somebody chooses not to repurchase a season ticket package from you, find out why. Online surveys are a great way to do this efficiently and to aggregate your results, while follow-up phone calls may help you get deeper information. No matter who you approach, understanding why people left is essential to improving both current sales and future retention. You’ll want to make sure your survey tool includes questions related to different aspects of the game and season ticket experience so you can pinpoint what drive their decision to leave and what might win them back.
2. Segment. Divide your lost fans into segments based on their reason for leaving and likelihood to reconsider. Doing this allows you to decide who’s worth pursuing and what your potential recapture volume looks like. Realistically, you’ll have a least 3 segments: one that’s unlikely to return, one that you may be able to convert to periodic ticket sales, and one that you may be able to win back as season ticket holders. Ideally, you’ll want to segment on fairly specific reasons for leaving (i.e. affordability, in-venue experience, number of games attended, etc.). If you have one or more segments that are very unlikely to return, don’t waste time and money trying to sell them another season ticket package. Instead, look at whether you can fix any of their reasons for leaving to improve retention of your current season ticket holders.
3. Strategize. Once you’ve segmented your lost customer base, develop a marketing strategy for each segment you choose to re-engage. Tailor your offers or incentives as much as possible to each segment. If you have a segment that left because they felt season tickets weren’t affordable, consider offering a discount. If you have a segment that left because they were only able to attend half of the games, consider creating a special ticket bundle that serves the needs to those who want to attend multiple games but don’t plan to attend the full season. Similarly, consider how you can convert people into periodic ticket purchasers even if you can’t win them back as season ticket holders. For fans who were dissatisfied with some aspect of the game experience, look for ways to address those needs (VIP packing bundles, meet-the-team experiences, etc.).
If you’re looking for ways to improve season ticket holder retention and regain lost ticket sales, we can help! Ask us about the options we offer for market research, strategy development, and fan engagement.
Yesterday, I took some time to read this article, which gave great insight on how Nike lost Stephen Curry to Under Armour. It's a bit lengthy, but well worth the read. In a nutshell, before Stephen Curry was Stephen Curry, NBA MVP, he wore NIke. And Nike has a chance to keep him under their umbrella, by re-upping his contract. But a meeting in the 2013 off-season, in which Nike didn't recognize the signs of Steph Curry's potential, has led to great things for Under Armour. Their bet on Curry is paying off tremendously: not only did they get a steal considering how Curry has turned out, but his potential value to Under Armour now is $14 billion. AND Under Armour's U.S. basketball shoe sales THIS YEAR are already up more than 350% as compared to last year.
In this fateful meeting, Stephen Curry likely felt unprioritized (Nike's biggest players were not in attendance), disrespected (they couldn't pronounce his name correctly, a presentation slide with Kevin Durant's name wasn't updated) and undervalued (they offered him less than $2.5 million). To be fair to Nike, at that time, Stephen Curry was dealing with injury issues and NIke already had a lot of big stars in their arsenal (including LeBron James, who is locked into a $500 million lifetime contract with them). At that time, it wasn't necessarily a BAD business decision, but I'm guessing they are kicking themselves now.
So, what? Why should you care? What can you take from this article which can apply to you and your team?
Don't be afraid to try something new. Look for potential and opportunities everywhere and be willing to take a risk. It may pay off tremendously. Both Under Armour AND Steph Curry took a risk. And it's paying off. Forge your own path, do what the others are NOT doing and see if it pays off.
Recognize the value of the "everyman". And how they could speak to your fans. You may need to look past the "stars" in your program to find those that may not shine as noticeably bright. Do you have an undersized walk-on point guard from an in-state school who may not get accolades and minutes but is someone who works hard, is well-liked and inspires fans of all-ages? Don't you think most fans may relate to that person? Rethink your promotions and try putting that kid front and center.
You never know who will be your champion. Kent Bazemore was undrafted rookie who Under Armour signed to a shoe deal....but he turned into Under Armour's greatest pitchman when he pushed Steph Curry their way. Look for your champions and see if they can help you reach your goals.
Being overlooked can inspire a leap to greatness. Curry had been overlooked most of his life. Denied by larger schools (including the Alma Mater of his NBA player father), only drafted 7th in 2009 (still..pretty respectable), and riddled with injuries early in his NBA career, I'd say all of that has motivated him to be what he is now - already considered by many as the best shooter in NBA history. Think twice before you overlook someone who doesn't seem like a perfect fit on paper. Maybe consider taking a chance on that intern or GA who doesn't have a lot of experience but is straight willing to outwork anyone who comes their way.
Treat everyone like gold. You never know, a $100 donor could turn into a million-dollar donor, a fan in the nose-bleed section may purchase a stadium suite or a fan of one sport only could someday hold season tickets to all of your sporting events.
And make sure to proofread your PowerPoint presentations.
Are you wearing green today? I bet if you're living in Denton, TX your chances of wearing green today are much higher than the general population. Not just today, but any day.
Why? Because that's the home of one of our fantastic clients - The University of North Texas (aka the Mean Green).
It's pretty likely you've heard about North Texas, or some reference to the Mean Green. Or maybe the only thing you know about them is that "Mean" Joe Greene (yes, the last "e" is silent) gets credited for giving them their Mean Green moniker, which actually isn't quite how it happened.
There's a lot going on at North Texas Athletics right now, and it's an exciting time to be working with the marketing team on their upcoming football season. They recently hired Coach Seth Littrell (I'm already a fan because he played fullback for OU during their 2000 National Championship season) and some other Texas natives like Graham Harrell. It should be a fun season to watch some Mean Green football.
Old Hat will be working with North Texas once again to develop the campaign for football. This year we're bringing to the table a process that's new for us, but has been used and perfected for many years by our newly merged partner.
The process is what we call the Sports180. It's an in-depth discovery we use to unveil the thoughts and attitudes of those inside and outside the department tied to the sports programs, and even some that may have no association with the programs. We take that information to determine where there are gaps and overlaps in the way a program is perceived, and bridge those gaps/reinforce the overlaps through our recommended marketing tactics. It's not rocket science, but it's effective, and I'd venture to say it's something very few athletics programs are doing on their own. It requires time, cooperation and organization throughout the department.
Here's a brief look at the process:
• Step One: Scouting
Any good coach or recruiter has to do some research to determine the true potential of an athlete because there's much more to an athlete than meets the eye. It's the same in any athletics department or sports program. Things can look one way on the outside, but does that line up with what's on the inside? If not, this could eventually hurt the program, usually from the inside out.
• Step Two: The Playbook
After gathering all the notes, research and findings, what happens next? That's where we recommend the playbook- think of it as a prescription from your doctor. The best way to a winning season is to have a playbook in hand well before your first game.
• Step Three: The Game Plan
Based on the playbook, the game plan includes the specific X's and O's for each game. It's great to have a playbook, but some decisions have to be made at gametime. This step involves the shaping of your brand to match the recommended prescription.
• Step Four: Execution
It all comes down to execution, and by this step in the process we're ready to put some legs behind all the strategy. This is where all the hard work pays off and fans get to meet the new you.
I'm looking forward to seeing this process through on a smaller scale with the North Texas football campaign, and many other clients in the future.
Coach Harbaugh has been in the news a lot lately. Whether you agree with his techniques or not, one thing is undeniable: he’s making the off season something worth watching. And from a marketing perspective, that’s powerful stuff.
Sports marketers are challenged to find ways to draw a crowd and keep them coming back. That’s getting harder and harder to do, because there are more alternatives than ever to game day attendance. At a time when collegiate sports programs are struggling with declining attendance, you can’t afford to let your marketing initiatives simmer on the back of the stove in between seasons. You have to find ways to keep fans engaged and maintain your momentum year round.
Even if your program doesn’t have Michigan’s resources, here are a few lessons you can apply in your own way.
Shake things up. Spring break practice in Florida? Friday night games? What?? Breaking away from the status quo draws attention and gives people something to talk about. Whether you go big or go small, do something different. Better yet, do it in a way that offers some sort of advantage for your team or your fans. Don’t just do it as a copycat, because your fans will call you out on it.
Get people excited about your new line-up. Signing day is a big deal, so make it a big deal. You don’t have to make it a circus to make it count. Look for ways to hype up your new recruits and the strength of your upcoming season. Social media (especially YouTube) is an incredible tool for this, and it doesn’t take a massive budget to make a memorable impact.
Decide what you want to be. Then be it. A football program is a football program is a football program…except that it’s not. It’s a lot more. It’s a collective identity and a shared consciousness. Own it. Does your team have a reputation you’re proud of? Find ways to amp it up. Want to have a different reputation than you currently do? Come up with a plan for how to reposition yourselves, then go after it full force.
Controversy = conversation. Being controversial isn’t for everybody, and you certainly don’t want to be on the hot seat in terms of violating rules. But it’s a proven way to generate media attention, and it can be a mobilizing force for your fan base. Just choose your controversies wisely, if you’re going to go there. And make sure you have the right people on board.
Sure, it helps to have a big budget and powerful connections when you want to stand out. But you don’t need those things to do more in the off season. All you really need is a thorough understanding of your target audience, strong collaboration within your program, a few creative ideas, and the will to win.
It always surprises me to see a development office pigeonholed to the back pages of an athletics website. It happens all the time. Development is an after thought on the website. It sends such a confusing message. Our development raises money for facilities and to serve our student athletes. It is incredibly important to what we do as an athletic department, yet we do not care enough to make them a focal point on our largest touch point with our fan base.
I work in web and have for most of my career. It will not come as a surprise for anyone to hear me talk about how important a good website is or your website will be the most frequent interaction you have with your fan base or donor group. More people interested in your group, that are looking for information, and would be willing to donate, will interact with your brand online than anywhere else. You may have 100,000 people at your football game, but they are not looking to learn about your brand or see what they can do to help on Saturdays, they are looking for a good time and a win. When they are online, they are evaluating what you do, learning about what they can do, and are inching their way to helping your brand. This is where you need to be interacting with them, or at a minimum, have a presence.
There is an argument to be made that separate development websites will not get the traffic of the main athletic site and that is true. The games and athletes are still the most important things to fans, this is not going to change. BUT, having worked on campus and handled websites for many major athletic brands, I know the developer or webmaster or intern (or whatever you want to call the person who holds the keys to the site) feels the same way and will focus on making sure those areas of the site rise to the top. This is what I mean about being pigeonholed. Development offices are shunted to two or three sub nav pages that are never updated and have little interaction with the visitors on the site. More importantly, there is no engagement of those evaluators surfing the web. You need a website you can update, edit, and change to keep your office in the forefront of their minds.
We recently launched ACU Wildcat Club’s new website. It is a site dedicated to helping the development team push their message. They control the content through an easy to use content management system. They make the decisions on what the website will focus on and what promotions they want to push. The development office is in control. On top of all of that, they are still part of the main athletics site. They are in the navigation; it links off to their standalone site. They are a part of the promotions; several ads on the home page link to specific sections of the development website. They can control their presence online while still being able to piggyback on the traffic the main athletics site gets.
Development offices are integral to the modern colliegiate athletics department. They raise funds for scholarships, student athletes, and new facilities. With a stand alone website and a good CMS your development office can control the message it is sending and engage your fanbase, without being at the whims of a website responsible for promoting 17 sports, teams, and coaches.