Traditional approaches to drawing students to sporting events is no longer working. This trend is neither unique nor exclusive to the University of Denver.
The Wall Street Journal conducted a study on the declining student attendance, mainly targeting football, but relevant to other sports as well. The 2014 WSJ study addressed average student attendance at college football games which dropped for football 7.1% since 2009.
Attendance to athletics is important for four reasons. Coaches and administrators see larger student sections as a great way to build a home-field advantage. Sports covers administrative costs for athletics – administrators, facilities, travel, advertising, etc.. Game attendance helps to build on-campus community spirit and a sense of belonging for students. Finally, sports help to create a bond, beginning as students, that can last a life-time.
Actually, according to the survey, during their college years, most students have attended at least one live sporting event at their university. So, the goal is to increase frequency, duration (stay for the entire game) and intensity (brand loyalty).
The general findings from the study include:
- Interest in the sport, game time, ticket price, opponent and team record were the most influential in students’ determination whether to attend a sporting event. All of these, except price (low or free) are relevant issues for DU students and fans for that matter.
- Students indicated their favorite parts of the game-day experience were watching live game action (23%), in-stadium atmosphere (17%) and tailgating (15%). Of overall respondents, 28% chose stadium and concession food as the most enjoyable part of attending home games, with that option ranking first among Power Five and FBS schools.
- Nearly a quarter of respondents reported leaving before a game is 75% complete. Potential incentives for them to stay, proposed in the survey, for the entire game included free T-shirts, a sponsored post-game party, loyalty points and concession discounts, in that order. Loyalty points and meet and greets with players yielded the strongest results. This area in particular has been an issue with hockey and even basketball to some degree. The University of Colorado gives students attendance points and takes the winners to their league basketball tournament to build an away ‘home court advantage’. DU has also done well in this area especially with improved lighting in Magness, scoreboard upgrades, give aways, golden tickets, and nice facilities and amenities.
- Social media was important in helping to develop a bond between teams and in-stadium spectators. Of students who follow the team on Facebook, 72% attended three or more home football games. Of those who didn’t, 44% attended three or more games. Facebook followers of teams were 63% more likely to attend three or more home games than students who didn’t follow the team on Facebook, and that trend held for other social media. Twitter (61%), Snapchat (47%) and Instagram (48%) made students more likely to attend three or more home games.
This finding is one of the reasons LetsGoDU has committed to expanded blog coverage , Facebook, and Twitter to to get greater attention from students and fans following DU athletic teams. Of course, the DU athletic department has done the same.
Perhaps most notably, technology presents both a threat and asset to student attendance. The correlation between social media interaction and game attendance was noteworthy, according to the study findings. But so was the experience fans can get from HD television, particularly for football, that can give students better views than they get in the stadium. This is less of an issue for most DU sports and few home games in the sports of basketball, hockey, and lacrosse are not televised.
Relevance of games is important, too. For example, in the WSJ study, with the Big Ten’s expansion, Michigan’s home schedule doesn’t include either Michigan State or Ohio State, Michigan’s two biggest rivals, for the first time since 1966. Football ticket sales to Michigan students are down 40% from last year. So, in DU’s case, the relevance of ‘teams played’ is an important factor that we have mentioned in LetsGo DU numerous times, particularly with the issue of DU’s current league affiliation.
The Wall Street Journal also had an article on how US universities are looking at Major League Soccer for answers. With a young demographic similar to universities, soccer’s Sporting Kansas City has started a consulting business, called Sporting Innovations, that is focused on fan relationships, engagement and technology.
Sporting KC’s approach to accommodating younger fans goes beyond giving them fast Wi-Fi so they can use their smartphones. At a time when some colleges don’t keep records on student attendance, Sporting KC collects data on everyone from season-ticket holders to single-game buyers through Sporting Innovations technology, which they offer to college clients. They now have close to 250,000 profiles of fans who have attended games with information as detailed as when, where and how they bought tickets, what time they arrived at games and who they sat near.
Sporting KC offers unique perks. Sporting KC pays for their fans to attend road games and organizes social events for young professionals in Kansas City. They also strive for irreverence and to be transparent in their transactions which separates Sporting KC from other teams in pro sports. The ultimate goal is to create a more relevant, interactive relationship between the spectators and the team.
And winning doesn’t hurt, either.