Raising the Bar for Millennial and Student Attendance

January 31, 2016

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This Saturday leave your coat and tie in the closet before the basketball game, or hockey game.  Wear some jeans and a hoodie.  Walk to the game…with students.

Pay attention to every cragged step, every pot hole, and every traffic nuisance along the way.  If it’s raining, or snowing, or icy, even better.

If you want to find out why students are not coming to games, get intimate with their experience.  Do NOT treat them like customers.  Treat them like they are the sole reason you have a job in the first place.

Do not make it about the money.  Make it about school spirit and passion because it is about school spirit and passion. We all need more believers. 

I regularly sat with customers while CEO of the NBA Atlanta Hawks.  Your eyes will open as wide as a satellite dish when you are sitting with the faithful – the believers.  If you listen to what the students are talking about, what you hear will really blow your mind.

Here is what else you need to do. Track each student’s attendance and their behaviors.  These students are our future donors and ticket buyers.  You’ve got to woo them now; don’t think you are going to flip a switch when they are 28 years old and you will suddenly capture their imaginations as Millennials.

Here are some other suggestions:

  • Have a plain talk with each head coach and tell them to command their players to sit in the front of the classroom, and interact with other students, act like a student first, and athlete second.  Students will support student-athletes they identify with.
  • Capture student’s attendance information for marketing you can use after graduation.  Do NOT open the doors to your venue and allow current students to simply flash their ID and walk in. You need that data.
  • Create a student priority point system to incentivize them to attend while they’re in school and build their account prior to graduation.  Reward attendance by utilizing current sponsor relationships or gift them with money-can’t-buy experiences.
  • Recruit the upperclassmen and student leaders of school’s organizations (Greek Life, SGA, Student Ambassadors, etc.) as influencers.  Freshmen are followers.  They need to see the “cool” kids going to the games and follow along.
  • Fans are generally born when they are 8, 9, or 10 years old.  When they come into your venue, recognize them. Some of you do this well already, but make sure your mascot is turned loose like a politician looking for votes.  Involve these kids in on-field, on-court or on-ice promotions.

Just remember, no one likes to drink in an empty bar…nor sit in a gym with no buzz.

This is where we are in the sport landscape. By 2018, media rights fees ($19.9 billion) will outpace the turnstile ($19.7 billion) for the first time ever in the North American sports marketplace ($71.5 billion total), according to a PwC report. Tickets are losing ground. We have a lot work to do. 

Empty seats don’t make for good reality TV and that’s what we’re selling to the media: the best reality TV. A sold out, rocking crowd is the experience we are selling to our fans.

More important, we need high student attendance because they are what makes college athletics unique.  Make sure they have great space in the venue that encompasses a “party” atmosphere as opposed to giving them assigned seats.

If students do not create a buzz with their passion, it can be like sitting in an empty bar. What fun is that?

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