Breakfast With Bernie

How Georgia Tech Turned Their International Students Into American Football Fans

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January 31, 2016

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When you consider the number of students from other countries on your campus ask yourself, “Do we really want to ignore these highly-motivated, intellectually-curious people in our community?”

Georgia Tech does not ignore them. The Sales & Fan Experience arm of the Tech Athletic Association, a marketing partner of the Aspire Group, has held a football clinic for international students the last three years in April.

Georgia Tech’s undergraduate enrollment in 2014-15 was 11 percent international students. When you include graduate students, that enrollment swells to 18 percent. This is not an insignificant number.

The first year of the clinic the attendance was 80. In 2014, as more students found out about it, the number climbed to 100. This past April (2015), the clinic sold out at 150 international students and that’s only because the football team’s meeting room would hold no more. 
Why the terrific response? 

Georgia Tech made it personal. Rick Thorpe, Associate Athletic Director – Sales & Fan Experience, said head football coach Paul Johnson was engaged from the start, and so were his players. They clapped, coached, and created a fun atmosphere at the clinics on “The Flats” at Bobby Dodd Stadium where students ran pass patterns, practiced their end zone touchdown dance, hit tackling dummies, and attempted field goals.

“A lot of our international students are fans of sport to begin with back in their home countries,” Thorpe said. “Whether they stay here after they graduate or go back to their home country, hopefully they become fans of American football, and certainly become Georgia Tech fans. We reached our all-time high in student tickets this year at nearly 9,000 a game and international students were part of that growth.”

Here are some key ingredients to a successful clinic, Thorpe said:

  • Engage your Student Government Association, as well as other organizations and clubs connected with international students to help develop the concept from inception through to execution. Communication and collaboration are key.
  • Open up your football facilities to the international students for the clinic. Let them see behind the curtain: the locker room, the equipment room, the weight room, the inner sanctum of your football program.
  • Make sure your coach and his players are engaged in the effort on and off the field. The authenticity of their effort is important. Johnson, the Head Football Coach, gives a funny, witty power point presentation on customs and rules of the game.
  • Georgia Tech’s football team has a barbecue on the concourse of the stadium after the clinic with the international students. Thorpe emphasized that the meal enriched the clinic even more.

“We came to realize that while they were rabid fans of soccer, cricket, rugby, and other sports, they didn’t know much about American football outside of the Super Bowl,” Thorpe said. “We talked with international student organizations and educated them about what this game is all about and why it is so beloved here.”

Georgia Tech touched these students from other countries by engaging them. It did not just try and sell them, and the extra effort created fans for life.

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