Once every four years, the world turns its attention to the Summer Olympic Games. The hype begins even before the start of competition...have you had your fill of incomplete construction updates, been scared by the Zika virus, and are waiting to hear more news on the Russian doping scandal? And in more positive news, are you following any of your favorite athletes on their road to Rio and looking forward to seeing Team USA's final medal count?
Beginning on August 5, and for the next 16 days, our attention is placed on a variety of sports. So many people get first-time exposure to competitions they've never seen.Many of us will become USA swimming, wrestling, track & field, beach volleyball and gymnastics superfans, as these events and athletes enter our world through primetime television and are all over social media. But why let our fandom remain just temporary? Can you use the piqued interest during the 2016 Olympic Games to build a bigger fan base for your sports OTHER than football and basketball? Can you take advantage of the attention the Olympics brings to get fans to more of your volleyball, field hockey and soccer games? Here are some ideas that may help get you started. We know all programs are different, but perhaps one or more of these would work for you or spark another thought.
If you have a 2016 Olympian on your campus, make sure you're promoting them heavily on social media and your athletics website. Not only now, before the games begin, but after, as they can offer a recap and inside look at experiences that so few get the chance to have.
Consider hosting Olympic watch parties and give fans a chance to get to know your facilities and mingle with your athletes. Develop relationships with potential fans now so they'll support you during your competition season.
As childhood inactivity/obesity continues to pose a great concern, why not host offseason youth sports clinics and camps to increase youth interest in your sport and promote activity and good health at the same time? Face time with athletes they can look up to could lead to increased interest in your sport and attendance at your events. Believe me, you want those kids begging their parents to take them to one of your tennis matches or swim meets.
Do you have any former or current Olympians in your program? Or even that live in your area? If so, can you schedule them for an appearance and autograph session at one of your games? Consider honoring or retiring their number and making a promotional night that could bring in new and different fans.
Make sure to cross-promote your events. Take advantage of full houses at football and basketball to give your other sports a chance to shine - maybe gymnastics could perform at halftime or your field hockey team could be introduced between quarters to promote next week's game?
Consider offering and promoting season ticket packages for your Olympic sports earlier than usual to take advantage of peak fan interest at Olympic time.
Could you offer an Olympic-sports mini plan for people who wish to attend several events each across multiple sports? Maybe with two general admission tickets each to a volleyball game, soccer game, tennis match, a track meet and more? A plan like this may entice fans to attend more games in the future if they enjoy their experience.
Enjoy the Olympics and good luck promoting all of your teams this year!
You already know that video lets you reach your fans in a way that’s exciting and memorable. But did you know that video play on smartphones and tablets has grown 116% every year since 2011? Current statistics show that about 70% of Americans watch short-form videos daily on their smartphone, with the youngest group of viewers (your current and future students) watching twice as many videos on mobile as any other group.
And it’s not like people are just out there watching cat videos (well, some are… but you can’t help those people, so don’t even try). In the sports world, we naturally have the kind of content that people of all ages want to watch. According to YouTube data, a whole lot of people are watching sports-related videos before, during, and after sports events. As in: 57% of YouTube sports viewers said they watch related video content before a sports event and 60% say YouTube is one of the first places they go after major sports events or news.
What are they watching? A fair amount of it is how-to, demo, and product videos - but not all of it.
They’re also watching insider content they can’t get anywhere else, game highlights and replays, and videos that help them connect to their favorite teams and players in unique ways. You just happen to have about a gazillion micro-moments that fit this description, so why not make good use of them?
If you want to get fans excited about coming to your games or make them feel like they’re missing out if they aren’t there in person, it’s time to develop a deliberate video strategy. Identify your goals, do some research and ask your fans what makes them tick, and make a plan to consistently capture and share videos that scratch that itch. For some of it, you’ll want professional quality shooting and production (by the way, we do that really well). For other parts of your video plan, you’ll want to take a more casual, as-it-happens approach. And it’s not a bad idea to consider building in opportunities for fans and players to submit their own videos as part of a deliberate collection and sharing effort.
Video is one of the most powerful and shareable tactics in your marketing playbook. So use it. We can help.
Last week, Old Hat made it's 12th consecutive trip to the NACDA/NACMA Conference in Dallas. We were fortunate enough this year to have been invited to present on the subject of marketing automation. The title of the presentation was, "Increasing Revenue while Decreasing Workload: Using Marketing Automation to Drive Ticket Sales and Fundraising Revenue." The whole idea behind marketing automation is that it increases revenue automatically. We set up a system at the outset of the campaign for segmenting audiences, lead scoring and communication and then let it do its magic. We partnered with the University of North Carolina on their Raise Up Carolina football ticket sales website and used marketing automation with great success. And it was this project that we presented on at NACMA.
At Old Hat, we believe that marketing automation can only be successful if it is utilized with two other components though. Automation is a very powerful tool but like any tool, it can't carry the load by itself. So our presentation focused heavily on the 3 ingredients necessary to make a ticket sales or fundraising effort successful. Before I get into that though, let me review the success we had with RaiseUpCarolina.com.
To date, here are the results:
3,000+ new season tickets sold
UNC had seen a 5-year decline in season ticket sales. With the help of RaiseUpCarolina.com, they have more than 3,000 new season ticket holders. If each of those purchasers only bought the lowest level available, this would equate to more than $300,000 in revenue on season tickets alone. This doesn't include mini-packs or single game tickets which only went on sale recently.
Premium Seating is SOLD OUT
In past years, UNC has always had a surplus of premium seating but for the first time ever, they are sold out for the season.
Increase in Group Ticket Sales Requests
Because of the excitement built by the ticket sales site and ease of finding information about group sales options, UNC has seen a drastic increase in group sales requests throughout the spring and summer.
32,000 Unique Visitors who spent a total of 95,000 minutes on the site
Selling tickets is one thing. But building excitement around a program is another. Not only is RaiseUpCarolina.com selling tickets. Because of the user experience, it's keeping people engaged on the site for far longer than the average website keeps a visitor. We are building excitement for UNC Football which will not just result in selling more tickets but it will increase attendance among current ticket holders as well. Just because a ticket is sold does not mean that person will attend the game.
So what are the three ingredients to ticket sales and fundraising success?
1. Dedicated Web Presence 2. Unique Positioning 3. Marketing Automation
Dedicated Web Presence
Many companies offer marketing automation for ticket sales. In fact, I think they all do. And I've talked to many people in collegiate athletics that are utilizing marketing automation through their ticketing system (Spectra, Paciolan, Ticketmaster, etc.). The problem is that the ticket portal that a fan accesses through the primary athletic website (Click Here for an Example) is boring and unengaging. It doesn't make a person excited to buy a ticket. Using marketing automation on a page like this is like putting a racecar engine in a Yugo. It might go really fast but no one will ever get inside to find out.
The best comparison I can use is the movie industry. When Avengers, or X-Men Apocalypse or even the Peanuts Movie came out, they built sites specifically to build excitement for those movies. They had movie trailers, games, custom emojis, etc. specific to that movie so people would actually get excited about going to THAT movie. Imagine if every big budget movie that came out just relied on MovieTickets.com to do their promotion for them. If you go to MovieTickets.com, you see information about every movie that's playing. Seems like a ridiculous notion, right? But that's exactly what most collegiate athletic departments are doing with their ticket sales. Fans are expected to go to the primary athletics website where 27 different sports are being represented, dig through to find the ticket page and then they arrive at a boring and unengaging page that is severely lacking information about the program they're interested in.
Do me a quick favor and click this link to see the Captain America website. Now compare that to the page on movietickets.com where you can actually purchase tickets by clicking here. I'd do screenshots but you can't get the full effect that way. One site is about building excitement and one is about a transaction.
Now click on RaiseUpCarolina.com and compare it to the ticket portal on GoHeels.com by clicking here. We're making the mistake in collegiate athletics of assuming that people are already excited so we just have to invite them to the transaction. But they aren't excited. And they aren't buying tickets.
A dedicated website that is focused solely on reminding people what they're missing out on by not coming to the stadium/arena is integral to the process.
Another key piece of the puzzle is making sure you are focusing on the unique positioning of the program you're promoting. We built RaiseUpCarolina.com to appeal to a specific fan base. Our focus there is UNC Alumni and former season ticket holders. People that have an affinity for UNC and Chapel Hill already. However, we're building a ticket sales website for SMU right now that focuses on an entirely different market. Due to a smaller group of existing alumni and fans in the area, we're focusing our efforts on people with no existing ties to SMU football. And to do that, we have to position the messaging on this site differently than did the UNC site.
The comparison to the movie industry holds true here as well. The Avengers website didn't utilize the same template, look and graphic style as the Peanuts Movie website. Why? Because the audience they're appealing to is entirely different. We can't treat all sports fans the same just like we can't treat all movie fans the same. Potential ticket purchasers for Avengers: Age of Ultron aren't the same as potential ticket purchasers for Finding Dory. Potential ticket purchasers for SMU football aren't the same as potential ticket purchasers for Duke basketball.
We have to stop assuming that people already want to come to our games. And we have to stop thinking we can appeal to all fans the same way.
Marketing automation is all about getting the right message to the right person at the right time. It's about communicating with your fans based on their interests and converting fans into ticket purchasers. It's about following up with them after the purchase to drive additional revenue through apparel sales and gameday opportunities. And it's about making all of this happen automatically without having to lift a finger.
The details about how marketing automation works and everything it's capable of are too complex to outline here. But we'd be happy to walk you through an online presentation if you'd like. Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll set something up.
Marketing automation will help increase ticket sales. A dedicated website will help increase ticket sales. A uniquely positioned marketing campaign will help increase ticket sales. But none of them are as effective on their own as they are combined. Old Hat takes these three very effective marketing tools and combine them into a revenue producing machine. The results for UNC speak for themselves and we anticipate having similar results on the other ticket sales sites we're currently working on. If you have empty seats, call us. We'll fill them.
For the last 12 years, Old Hat has made the NACMA conference our biggest single focus of the year. Planning starts early in the year and takes quite a bit of our time in the spring leading up to the conference. We devote hours and hours to formulating our strategy, creating marketing pieces and configuring our booth so everything is exactly the way we want. Each year we revisit our NACMA strategy and assess what it is that should be our focus, not unlike what our clients do with their sports programs each season. But why do we place so much importance on one conference? The short answer: it works.
When I say "it works", I mean that in every sense of the phrase. Yes, we see revenue growth that can be attributed to the conference, which is as important for our company as it is for your athletics department. But there's much more to it than that, so I want to share some other benefits we get from attending the NACMA conference.
1. We see immediate results - people come to our booth. The NACMA staff understands how to drive attendance to the trade show hall, and surprisingly there are plenty of conferences that don't do this well. Here are a few things off the top of my head that probably help get people to the hall. If you can institute these at your next home sporting event, I'd almost guarantee higher attendance.
free food and drinks, and giveaways at every turn
short time commitment
captive audience - there's nothing else going on at the time
2. We get to share with like minds in the world of sports. It's not all about selling a product or service for us. This is the place to hear about the trends and challenges that everyone in sports is facing. And every year there are new problems and opportunities to discover, most of which can be found by glancing over the breakout sessions in the agenda.
3. It's important to be seen. I don't think this can be overstated. It would be unheard of for Old Hat to miss out on a NACMA conference, it's where our clients and prospective clients have been accustomed to seeing us each year. Yet we couldn't fully grasp the impact that our presence has unless we decided to skip the conference one year. We don't plan to do this, so let's just agree that it's important to be seen.
4. It's also important to see. Yeah, we want to be seen. But we want to see you too. It's no fun looking in a mirror all day, unless it's one of those that makes you look like you have a really tall torso and short legs. Those are pretty cool, but that's beside the point. We like to see our clients and get to know what's going on with them beyond the workplace. NACMA is a great place to get to know people and form lifelong friendships.
5. We come back energized. I would venture to say everyone attending NACMA comes back with more energy. We all have this new knowledge we want to take back and share with others in our department or company. It's probably no accident that NACMA happens right before the busy season hits, while that knowledge is fresh and backed by some newfound energy.
6. We enjoy the experience. What's not to enjoy? It's basically a learning vacation that takes place with people you [generally] enjoy being around. And when you get tired of socializing and sharing good ideas, go sit out by the pool.
If I haven't convinced you that NACMA is the place to be every June, read my blog again. Or read one of these other NACMA-related blogs. And when you finally do decide to attend, be sure to stop by the Old Hat booth and tell me I was right.
Whew! What a whirlwind past five days its been! Zac, Robert, Kevin, Joel, and I adventured alllllll the way down to Dallas for #NACMA16. As much as I love our annual roadtrips to Orlando, I do have to say, it was very nice only having a three hour drive this year. As I recap our trip, I've included some photos and SNAPCHATS! We just got an Old Hat Snapchat account (user: oldhatcreative), so we had some fun with it.
About 20 minutes into the trip, Robert discovered he left his wallet behind in Norman. We could have made him suffer without it, but we were nice and turned around to go get it.
We made it to Texas! We stopped at the rest stop and of course had to take some photos.
We stopped for a quick lunch at Jimmy John's before unloading and setting up our booth. #SNACKchat
Then, we arrived at the hotel and surprisingly quickly set up our booth. It came together very nicely.
My favorite part of NACMA is being able to see Old Hat clients in person. It's so fun getting to catch up and discuss upcoming projects for the next season. I got to see the team from Utah and Brad from Illinois to name a couple during the trade show. I'll be seeing both of them again soon, as we already have on campus video shoots scheduled this summer.
Me with Michael, Ann, and Grant from the U!
Me with Brad and my friend Shawn Johnson (not the gymnast) who I went to grad school with at ISU.
Per tradition, Katie Caliendo (Menlo College) came by the booth for some handstands. #retiredgymnasts
After two days of trade showing, it was time for Kevin and Zac to present on raiseupcarolina.com and marketing automation with the team from North Carolina. They had three sessions, and each time, the room was filled to capacity...actually over capacity! People were standing in the back! I think the presentation was very beneficial in introducing marketing automation to a lot of athletic department staff, and I think we will be talking about it more and more in the future.
Before we knew it, the booth was all packed up, and we were on our way back to Oklahoma. Overall, I would say we had a successful trip. I can't wait to see what new projects we do with current clients this year and what new clients may join our family in 2016. Until next time!
Here's a few more photos from our trip:
And saving the best for last, Zac and I faceswapped on Snapchat. Oh my.
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.