Up until a few weeks ago, the last time I had bought a physical music CD was probably five or six years ago. So what happened? What made me spend my money? Taylor Swift happened. I am not a huge TSwift fan by any means, but when her new album, 1989, dropped, I felt like I needed to go buy it. Everyone was talking about it, and her brand was everywhere—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TV, radio, everywhere.
Now how does this apply to increasing attendance at athletic events? Well, I think that this example just goes to show that college-age students are easily influenced by good marketing and advertising. Student attendance at games has been on the decline for the past few years, affecting large and small colleges alike. Last year, the Wall Street Journal gathered student football attendance numbers from colleges across the country. It showed that the Big 5 conferences, including the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-12, and the SEC, collectively had a declining student attendance of 5.6 percent from 2009 to 2013. Even some of the top college football programs are dealing with decreasing student attendance. From 2009-2013, Ohio State University had a decline of 2.4 percent, Michigan State University had an 11 percent decrease, and Florida had a decrease of 22.4 percent for student attendance.
In the following examples, I’ll discuss how to get college students in the door at university athletic events, from a student’s perspective. Combining these ideas with a great marketing plan, I believe, will lead to increased attendance with students without having to worry about if the team is winning or not. You don’t have to be a winning team to create a great student-fan experience.
Offer Discounted Food Specials for Students
Students are always on a tight budget, so any sort of food incentive would definitely attract them to a game. Dollar hot dog and $1 brat nights are popular staples at the Springfield Cardinals, especially for the college-age crowd. Why? Because we can go to a game, socialize, be entertained, and eat a meal (that isn’t from a dining hall) for a few bucks.
Create a student concessions package, for example: a hot dog, a bottle of soda, and a bag of chips for around $4 or $5. Or turn the $5 tub of popcorn into $5 All-You-Can-Eat Popcorn for a night. These are all good ways to attract students to a game, while still making a profit on concessions.
Work With Student Organizations
Many times, you’ll probably hear college students say, “I’m just too busy to go to the games.” With school, fraternities and sororities, work, volunteering, and everything in between, the life of the college student can get quite hectic. I believe that the solution is to work with student organizations, instead of competing with their schedules.
For example, there could be an attendance contest between the organizations. Have the organization that has the highest percentage of its roster attending the most games throughout the season declared the winner, and then award them the use of a luxury suite for a game at the end of the season.
Missouri State University has recently been honoring and featuring organizations at each home basketball game. The organization of the night has the opportunity to run onto the court with the players, and the organization is announced to the crowd. This has been quite successful, since one single organization may have up to 100 members to 200 members.
Work With Faculty
In one of my previous classes, my professor offered us five extra-credit points if we attended the first football game. It was a small number of points, but nearly every student attended that game. Working with faculty to give students small incentives like this will help motivate students to go to games.
Students love free stuff. T-shirts, hats, bookstore coupons (especially if we could use them for textbooks), will certainly bring out a crowd, too.
Increasing attendance with students has a lot of great benefits and should be a concern of any university venue. Greater support for the team from the student body can help their energy and encourage them on the court. At the same time, a large student attendance will probably increase the amount of potential recruits who will want to come to that university for the athletics programs, because it shows them that they will have a following and they’ll have supportive fans. So increasing attendance doesn’t have to be done by increasing the winning on the court. These ideas plus a great marketing presence and plan can equal more students at your arenas and stadiums. FM
(Image: Erik Drost/Creative Commons)