*Appeared on GlovesOffSports.com*
Marketing in college athletics is not a cookie cutter approach for filling seats at stadiums. If this was the case Ohio University would be able to apply the same mold from The Ohio State University to fill seats, it just doesn’t work that way. Each collegiate athletic department faces a unique set of internal and external dynamics that define the obstacles to reach your audience and have a packed house.
The current economic status of the country makes it even more difficult to sell tickets to a family of four. Also, with budget cuts most athletic departments are facing, many marketing departments are feeling the pinch to get their message out in an economical and efficient manner. Social media is the current trend in marketing that will likely be around a long time. Applications such as Facebook and Twitter are widely used as a cheap source of marketing that can even be tailored to reach a specific demographic. Student attendance around the country has decreased. One element that is certain to reach students is social media as the younger generations use social media more than any other. Athletic departments that use social media to promote their events to students will see a significant increase in attendance. However, it is imperative to not overuse social media to promote every event because the message loses its effect and becomes more like junk mail that is disregarded. Once you lose this form of communication, due to overuse, with an individual student it is very difficult to get it back. Instead marketing departments should look to focus on certain games, such as 2 to 4 games per month. These probably shouldn’t be marquee games, as students will generally show up to these regardless, but middle of the road in terms of desirability for a fan deciding on what games to attend.
Student fan clubs are also becoming more prevalent as another means of getting students to the game and offering them incentives based on how many events a year they attend. Some schools use a points program such as Illinois State’s Spread the Red and North Carolina State’s Wolfpack Unlimited. Incentives range from shirts to TV’s and points are weighted based on the sport and their opponent. For example attending a gymnastics meet would be worth more points than attending a basketball game. Also, the more points a student earns grants them priority in getting tickets to marquee games such as when Duke might come to town.
Reaching out to alumni and the local community is a whole different challenge but sometimes easier than having a packed student section. The usual means of communication for radio, TV and print advertisement is tried and true but expensive. Being active in community events such as festivals is a great way to keep you brand active and noticed. Something as simple as setting up a booth and having interns work it with the mascot can have a positive impact. Having creative and interactive promotions for fans at the booth can make sure you are not forgotten.
In-game promotions also need to also be creative and interactive. The goal is to have something exciting but isn’t distracting from the game. For example I was at a NCAA Division I basketball game the other day for a college who totally blew an opportunity to have an excellent fan promotion of a basketball shootout. The prize was a car, an excellent prize but too subjective and the school did not utilize their resources at hand. The advantage college athletics have over pro sports is this home grown invested interest that comes from being a fan in amateur sports such as collegiate athletics. Cheerleaders and the band should be utilized in promotions whenever possible because they provide a unique aspect that is not found in other sports. The promotion I saw had a fan use one basketball while out on the court by himself and shooting a layup, free throw, three pointer, and half-court shot in succession. If the fan made all the baskets in the allotted time they would win a free car. Most of the people around me had a mild interest in the event, and ultimately it was forgettable to just about everyone. Now, if the event had some type of escalating prize for all fans at the game and cheerleaders and the band had been involved it would have made the event more memorable. Imagine a fan lined up to start the competition flanked by cheerleaders under the basket and at the three point line to cheer and help rebound the ball. Then imagine the stadium DJ starts in with some low upbeat music while the announcer notifies the crowd that for every basket the fan makes it will mean more people out in the crowd will win free wings from Buffalo Wild Wings. For the layup, a row wins free wings, free throw – a section, three pointer – the upper bowl, half court – the whole stadium wins free wings and the fan wins the car. For every shot made the band chimes in with something quick that crescendos with each made shot. Fans are more apt to cheer and pay attention if it means they can win something free, especially when it is food. Now this is only one promotion but even game presentation can make a lasting impact on a fan to help validate spending the money buying a ticket to a game versus buying a ticket to some other form of entertainment.
Ultimately it is important to have a clearly defined set of goals to reach your targeted demographics. The goals need to be clear and measurable to determine how effective your techniques are.