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.
There is a common critique/observation when people walk into the Old Hat office for the first time: "It's like a library in here. I'm afraid to speak." It's one of those things that can happen with the creatives and open-plan offices. It's crazy quiet and most of us have our earbuds in to help control the cacophonous din while we get all creative and stuff. I think it probably comes across as us being anti-social nerds. Well, there probably is some truth to that statement. What you don't see or hear is that all of the traditional office chatter has moved online. I think it's widely accepted truth that Geoff and I can be pretty quiet, but we are also the biggest GIF users in the office. Now, there's a good rule of thumb here at the Hat: If there's something that the staff is enjoying and spending a lot of time doing or talking about, then Kelby is going to make you blog about it. It makes sense- if we're digging it, that's a pretty good indication that it will be of interest to our readers, too. She's a wise lady.
When I asked Geoff how to start this blog his suggestion was a GIF. I took it under consideration and recommended he reword that sentiment. "A GIF isn't just a repeating video clip that infinitely loops on the internet," Geoff said. "NO. It's a visual representation of ones heart and soul at any given moment." SEE, GUYS. The dude is deep. He added, "GIF is pronounced GIF, not JIFF. Geoff however is pronounced Jeff, not Geff." Listen, we're not going to argue about the pronunciation. Just accept it as fact. Like Michael Jordan being better than Lebron.
Geoff is an old pro at GIF-making. Which shouldn't be a surprise since he is a Photoshop wizard. His style ranges from the absurd, to the absurd, but practical, to silliness and oftentimes genius.
Absurd, but practical.
My GIF style is a mix of silliness, wit, absurdity and practicality.
A lot of our OH TV videos are pretty absurd to begin with. Exhibit A.
Exhibit B. Adding the proper text is the easy part.
I was sort of, but not really, surprised at the sheer number of Dustin Eating GIFs we could create.
Most of my inspiration comes from movies and TV that I find funny and/or entertaining.
Another good source is the cutting room floor, so to speak. Schools send us a lot of footage and there are so many clips that don't make the Intro Video cut.
GIFS might seem simple, annoying, immature and out of place to the average GIF noob, but we live in a multimedia world and they are everywhere. It's a part of our internet culture. A couple of weeks ago Twitter joined the social media cool kids with their new searchable GIF library. In fact, Tricia and I had quite the heated GIF exchange this week via Twitter.
Is this just the latest trend in internet communication? Perhaps.
First we had emoticons ;)
Then there were emojis
And now we have looping, animated graphics:
There's something about GIFs that can help express a tone or clear emotional reaction that IM and emails just can't. Of course nothing can replace just getting up and winking at Geoff face-to-face, but that's not the world most of us live in from 9-to-5. Our casual conversations happen via screens.
From a professional perspective a lot of conversation with our fans or customers happens via social media. Several collegiate and professional sports teams, leagues and organizations have some serious social media GIF game (2-points for the sports pun!). The NWSL (National Women's Soccer League, c'mon guys...) social media gurus are all over the GIFs. I'm a soccer fan and I enjoy seeing the different teams interact with each other on the Twitter. When you use a GIF you're letting the Millennials know you're in on their super cool language. GIFs are easy and they are attention-grabbing - two things the kids love.
For the first time in our 12 years of existence, Old Hat entered a few things in the 2016 Oklahoma Addy Awards. I was under a tight deadline to get things entered and ended up failing our print division by not entering anything that required a hard copy (i.e. anything print related). I only entered 5 videos and our SMU environmental graphics project and they all won awards.
So on Saturday night, we got all dolled up and went downtown to the awards banquet. Here's a pic of me and my wife looking all perty before the show:
And now, without further ado... The projects for which we won Addy Awards:
Baseball and softball seasons are about to be in full swing. We've been gearing up for opening day in the print department for a couple of months now. We all had our one favorite poster this season-Florida State Softball!
We were sent a photo of the team walking through a field, and some action shots to put all together to make one awesome poster.
Here are some of the comments from our design team!
• An easy pick of my favorite softball or baseball poster is the Florida State softball poster. I'm a longtime FSU fan and this screams Florida State and softball. I love the color and look of it. It's a great example of giving the client what they asked for plus a whole lot more.
• This is my favorite poster from the baseball/softball season this year. Not because it’s a great client or cool design, but because I always wanted a siege of seminoles running in slow motion through a field to meet me half way for a dogpile and plenty of aggressive yet encouraging butt taps as if I just hit a Women’s College World Series walk off grand slam. This may be the closest I’ll ever get. Only in my dreams. My wonderful field of dreams. I just keep whispering to myself, “If you design it, they will come.” And this year it happened to be in the form of the 2016 Florida State Softball poster.
• I really liked how the action shots of the players look like they are in a fence, much like the softball dugout that I remember growing up.
Another one of our fav's was the Charlotte Baseball Poster.
Be looking out for more of our softball and baseball posters as we release them in the next couple of weeks!
On Jan 26th, the Norman print crew got to spend a day out of the office judging a competition at a local school. The graphic design program at Moore Norman Technology Center teaches high school and adult students the principals of design, along with how to use the Adobe Creative Suite.
Each year, the school holds a Red Carpet Film Festival where the students in the video program create short films, and then the graphic design students produce the movie posters, DVD cases, and other marketing materials for the film festival. I recently was put in contact with the director of the Graphic Design Program and she mentioned that they needed judges to help critique and pick the movie posters for each movie. I volunteered our staff because it’s always good to have a day out of the office helping the young kids in the world, right? Right.
We started off the day by watching the rough cuts of the films so we were familiar with what the movies were about. Then, the students presented their posters and DVD cases. The four of us got to sit at the front of the room, at the judges table. We felt like we were the judges for The Voice or American Idol or something (at least I did).
After each student explained their concept and design, we were able to ask questions, critique and provide feedback. The designers were mostly juniors and seniors in high school, with very limited experience. Some of them have only used photoshop for one week!There were four designs for each movie, and we picked the top two. From there, the director of the film will pick the winner.
It was really cool to see the creativity and skills the students had. They took elements of the movie and incorporated into the posters. Even with the limited experience, the posters looked well put together and professional. The students were very receptive to our feedback and encouraged by our comments. The four of us were very impressed at the whole process and enjoyed being able to help the students make their designs even better.
It was a really fun day helping show the students a little bit of what goes on in the design industry and answering questions about what we do day-to-day. We look forward to seeing how the students took our feedback and tweaked their posters before presenting them to the directors.
Well, it's official. Today marks the date that the merger we've been talking about for the past few months finally takes effect. Truth be told, Old Hat Creative and Third Degree Advertising have been working together for many months now in preparation for combining into a single company. But today is the day that we no longer exist as separate entities. Old Hat and Third Degree are one.
What does that mean, exactly? Well, on one hand, not much. And on the other hand, it means a lot.
What is NOT changing?
Primarily, Old Hat will continue to be the company you know and love...
2. You'll continue to be the life of the party by being able to quote random facts that you found by viewing our email signatures.
• When hippos are upset, their sweat turns red.
• Banging your head against the wall burns 150 calories per hour.
• Billy goats urinate on their own heads to smell more attractive to females (female goats, I assume).
3. You'll continue getting the most amazing creative to help you engage your fans, improve the gameday experience, sell tickets and increase fundraising.
4. Our dedication to ridiculously good customer service will never fade. We'll continue to always be available, always be responsive and never miss deadlines.
What IS changing?
Well, we're getting bigger...
1. Old Hat is currently headquartered in Norman, Oklahoma with remote employees in North Carolina and Utah. Starting today, we will have talented employees working from offices in Oklahoma City; Durham, NC; Greensboro, NC; Salt Lake City, UT; Charlottesville, VA and Frederick, MD.
This is me outside the OKC office with the downtown skyline in the background:
And, we're getting better...
2. Old Hat has a long history of producing amazingly awesome creative. This merger puts us in the position to make that creative even more awesome by adding research, media planning/buying, digital strategy and implementation, content creation, repositioning, media audits, copywriting, marketing automation and much more. We're taking our creative and making it smarter.
The UNC Ticket Sales site is a perfect example of taking our current offerings (web design and development, video production, on-site video shoots) and combining that with the expertise of our new partners (research, strategy and marketing automation).
So to summarize, nothing that you like is going away. We're just going from ridiculously-awesome to far-more-ridiculously-awesome. And just for fun, here's a photo tour of our OKC office.
This is a map with doorknobs showing all of the locations of Third Degree's clients from all over the United States. It's rad.
This is a cool yellow couch. The wall behind me says, "Elevate."
This is a really big pencil we use write all of our really big ideas down with. It's bolted to the wall so no one will steal it.
This is the room where we keep a guy named Richard.
Just kidding. The men's room says, "Dick" and the ladies' room says, "Jane." How clever is that?
This is a cool red refrigerator where I get to keep my Diet Dr Pepper.
Our 2016 New Year’s resolution: share more of what we know.
In the past 12 years, we’ve learned a lot about sports marketing and fundraising. In fact, we’re not going to be shy about saying this: we’re experts. And we’ve realized that our clients, friends, and fans would benefit from our expertise – so we’re going to start sharing more of it.
Over the upcoming year, you can expect to see more articles on our blog about sports marketing best practices, achieving fundraising goals, advice for common sports marketing challenges, marketing trends, and more. If you’ve got a sports marketing question or challenge that’s keeping you up at night, send it to us! We’d be happy to tackle it in our blog and give you some free advice. After all, our staff has a combined 482 years of experience in sports marketing and development. I know what you're thinking. 482 years? Seriously? No, not seriously. But it's a lot.
But don’t worry, if you like hearing about our antics and personal escapades you’ll still be able to read about them on all our various social media outlets. Robert will still run shirtless through the snow. Zac will still do uncomfortable interviews with the OH staff. And Geoff might write a haiku again sometime.
So buckle in. Twenty-sixteen is poised to be the greatest year in the history of years. And your best resource for making it the best for you is right here at the Old Hat blog.
As a sports marketer, what do you sell? The simple and obvious answer is, of course, tickets. Those game ticket sales in turn fuel other revenue streams: concessions, merchandise, and indirectly other types of program support.
But in reality, you’re selling much more than tickets. You’re selling an experience of your school’s brand and what it means to be a fan of your particular sports program. That experience means different things to different people.
Your entire target audience has one important thing in common: they’re all fans of your program to some degree or another. That means all of them are likely to respond to certain visual cues like your logo, colors, and images of your team, campus, or game venue. However, if you really want to market yourself strategically and effectively, you need to segment your audience further and get to know what drives them.
There are several ways to segment your fans: alumni, donor level, development group member, fan club member, season ticket holder, single game ticket purchaser, whether they’re die-hards or jump-on-a-winning-bandwagon fans, and of course the usual demographic indicators such as age, gender, and geographic location. One of the best ways to segment your current target audience is through market research surveys that enable you to understand their motivations for being a fan and what the game experience means to them.
Here are a few simple examples of what this might look like and how you could use it to drive tailored communication strategies:
·Students might value the fan experience because it reinforces their connection with the school and contributes to their sense of personal identity at this stage of their lives. What makes the student experience unique at your school? Think about how you can tap into traditions like these.
Alumni might be motivated by the opportunity to relive the fun and excitement of their college days, reconnecting with the brand through a combination of sense of tradition, nostalgia, and present day pride. Why not take advantage of opportunities like social media’s #TBT (Throwback Thursday) to help you reinforce that connection and encourage greater engagement?
Parents of students might see the experience as a way to strengthen their connection with their child and may feel a sense of ownership and pride based on their financial contributions to the school. Consider how you can encourage mom or dad’s commitment to the team.
Parents of younger children (whether they’re alumni or not) may value the fan experience as a means of creating memories, passing down a love the game, or teaching kids about teamwork. How is the game experience different for them, and what can you do to showcase the family-friendly side of your brand?
Locals who aren’t alumni and don’t have children attending your school may relate more to a sense of local pride or deep-rooted geographic rivalries. Think about what you can do or say that will recognize and encourage their continued support as honorary members of your organization.
When you understand what motivates your different fan groups to be part of the game experience, it’s easier to identify the right marketing themes. Some motivations or feelings will span segmented groups and resonate with the majority of your fans. Those are the themes you should consider for your overall marketing message. Other motivations will be specific to certain segments, and you should use those to tailor your engagement with each group.
Every ticket or season tickets package you sell represents a wide range of emotions and motivations that are felt by your fans as part of the game experience. So don’t just sell tickets: sell can’t-hold-us-down commitment. Sell remember-when-we nostalgia. Sell ours-is-better-than-yours rivalry. Sell this-is-our-house pride. Your fans will love you for it.
Football season is winding to a close and basketball season is heating up. No matter which sport you work with, these four tips will help you take your marketing efforts from having an average season to dominating your goals.
1. Talk smack.
As a sports marketer, you basically get paid to talk smack. How glorious is that? It’s a beautiful thing – as long as you get it right. Good smack-talk galvanizes your fans and increases ticket sales. Just remember that when you talk smack for your program, there are two groups who have to deliver on it: the team (of course) and the operations guys whose efforts ensure a good game-day experience for fans. Make sure you’re working closely with both. The other thing about talking smack is that in order for it to resonate, you have to talk the right smack to the right group. That can be tough if you’re new to a particular program, because every school and every sport is unique. When your messages are on point, you’re near the eye of the hurricane helping chart its path. If your messages aren’t on point, you’re going to be the guy getting crushed by the hurricane. To make sure you’re not that guy, follow the lead of your coaches and players: watch some tape.
2. Watch tape (a.k.a. do your research).
Do you know any college or professional football team that doesn’t watch tape? Yeah, us neither. There’s a reason for that. Watching game film gives players and teams insight into what went well (or didn’t go well) and what to expect from their next opponent. That type of research and analysis provides an important edge. Why not do the same thing with your marketing? Just like reviewing game film, there are two key areas you need to analyze: your brand and your target audience. When was the last time you thoroughly reviewed what your brand stands for, where it can improve on delivering the customer experience, and how strong your marketing strategy is? You also periodically analyze your customers: who they are, what they value most about the game day experience, how well their needs are being met, and what their satisfaction level is. The good news is that you can get away with investing in this type of in-depth analysis periodically (once per season) instead of having to do it for every game.
3. Develop your plays.
On the field or off, analysis is useless if it doesn’t translate into strategy. Use your brand and market research to develop your overall marketing strategy for the year, select the themes and media that are most likely to help you achieve your goals, prioritize your budget, and develop campaigns. Your marketing year can probably be divided pretty easily into its own set of seasons, and you need to have a solid campaign plan for each. Once you find something that works, there’s no shame in recycling it for the next year as long as you don’t get complacent. Complacency kills. You don’t want fans to be able to predict your next poster, email, etc. any more than your team wants the opposing players to predict their next move. So figure out what worked last season, make some adjustments to keep it interesting, and take the next year on like you own it.
4. Monitor the stats.
Ticket sales, game attendance, season ticket renewals, alumni contributions – these are all statistics you should be benchmarking and comparing to prior data. But don’t stop there: there’s more to measure if you really want to know how effective your marketing efforts are. While it can be difficult to measure the success rate of traditional marketing tactics (posters, print ads, billboards, radio, etc.), digital marketing offers a goldmine of statistics. Go beyond looking at basics like number of new and returning website visitors, and start measuring responses to calls to action and actual conversion. Incorporate a marketing automation tool so you can target your messages to different groups, move them along the conversion path, and measure the response you get to each email you send. Make your emails more personal and more interactive with videos that are customizable to each recipient – it’s more affordable than you think, and it helps seriously drive engagement and ultimately ticket sales.