5 Ways To Better Engage Students On Gameday
There was a time when schools had little to worry about in terms of engaging students at sporting events. The game itself — whether it be football, basketball, baseball, soccer, you name it — was the star attraction. Now, that attraction is losing its star status as an influx of social media and new technologies comes flooding in: Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, text messaging, FaceTime…you get the idea.
Fret not, that same love of sport is alive and well in most of your students. Still, the desire (and reasoning) to attend an event or not varies. It might be driven by a desire to simply be around their peers, or to feel more ingrained in the community. Driving students into seats and engaging them on gameday is a whole different beast in 2019. High schools and colleges have to utilize every resource at their disposal, because winning on the field doesn’t necessarily guarantee fan support at every school, as Vanderbilt learned in 2018.
Despite starting their football season with a 3–0 record, the article states that there were just about 50–100 students in their seats prior to the game against Nevada. This post will be all about looking at a few different ways to reverse that trend. In particular, we’ll be diving into five ways that high schools and colleges alike can better engage their student body on gameday.
Student Rewards App
Ah, phones. If you know that your students are going to be on their phones all of the time, why not provide them with a way to benefit from it while attending an event? Plenty of schools are creating “reward apps” that students can download and check-in on when they attend games.
A student reward app opens up a great number of possibilities. Primarily it is used for students to earn “points” that, once accumulated, can be used to earn rewards. Those rewards might be discounted concessions, ticket prices or even a chance to earn gameday experiences like watching from the sidelines for a half.
UMass Athletics’ app allows students to enter a waitlist for gameday parking, meaning that they can reserve some of the more sought-after tailgating positions.
There’s really no limit as to what you offer on an app that you create. Ultimately it’s up to the school to determine what might best attract the attention of their student-body. One thing is for certain: this is a do-able thing for college and high school athletic departments alike. It’s never been easier to create an app with next-to-no coding experience. Heck, even taking advantage of an external app like FanFood to track how often students come to games and place orders might be helpful. Based off of those numbers, a rewards system could be put into place making it more enticing for students to make it out to the game.
It doesn’t need to be complex — it just needs to be something where students feel incentivized to attend your events.
If you’re sold on the first idea, which is having a student rewards app, you can’t avoid this second point: having a reliable in-stadium WiFi.
For the majority of colleges, I’d assume some sort of fan Wi-Fi is present. But the real question is how reliable it is. Are fans able to stream, download and do everything that they’d be able to do at home? For a lot of fans, that phone acts as an extension of the game when they are inside the venue, especially since they need to check the statistics and facts about the game.
One of the most popular college football venues in the nation — Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, A.K.A., “The Swamp” — is home to the Florida Gators. Florida partnered with Extreme Networks and Verizon Business Markets to bring numerous brand-new wireless access points inside of the stadium. Those stronger access points will make it so fans can stay connected to the game even more intimately, checking stats and staying up to date on scores from around the country.
Understanding that high school budgets are much more limited than that of a major University like Florida, the installation of a Wi-Fi network may be more strenuous. Still, for schools with the flexibility, a strong wireless network could be the key to keeping those social-savvy 15–18 year-olds coming to events.
Including Students in Gameday Operations
Students aren’t just valuable if they’re coming to games. They’re exponentially more valuable if they’re contributing to the flow of your in-venue game day operation.
Take for example the company, EATS2SEATS, which was recently featured in our blog. The business was founded by University of North Carolina student Mary Laci Motley and it stemmed from her prior work, recruiting concession delivery runners for FanFood. Now Motley is using her EATS2EATS as a staffing agency, per se, as they look to raise money for local non-profits.
There might be plenty of student groups with a lot to contribute to a large or medium-scale in-stadium operation. Taking the time to seek these groups out, talking to them and finding out how your needs intersect is the key.
If you’re looking to get more kids to attend a high school football team, try looking for a student-run band to put on a pregame concert. One, seeing some of their own peers perform might entice students to come/stay for the game and two, you might be able to offer something redeemable such as a free snack at the concessions stand.
Strengthen The Online Profile
Breaking News: young students enjoy social media.
I know, I know, that’s very new information. That’s why, as a school, it’s important to be aggressive in terms of your social approach and how you distribute game information. According to a Wall Street Journal study, of the students who followed their college football team on Facebook, 72 percent attended three or more home games. 44 percent of those who didn’t were able to attend three or more.
Even if you’re a high school with not a whole lot of social media manpower, you still need to make sure there’s a constant stream coming from your social feeds. If, during the season, you go dark for days at a time without a single post, students’ attention to the feed will dwindle. Distributing any bit of press that the team receives, simple game recaps or announcements regarding potential fan events can go a long way in staying in the back of the students’ minds.
The way to the 16–22 year-old heart is through social media. Stay consistent, stay up-to-date and you just might have them interested enough to come and see what they’ve been reading about.
Prioritize Post-Game Activities
Unless you’re a college student at a school like Alabama, LSU or some other big-time football school, you’re probably going to deal with a good chunk of students leaving the game early. It’s just what happens, and it’s probably what will always happen. Whether it’s too hot outside, too cold or they’re being summoned by friends to the nearest neighborhood bar. So, the question becomes: how do we get more of those students to stay all the way through the end of the game?
For both high schools and colleges, it should be by prioritizing post-game activities. Offering various post-game activities has its benefits outside of trying to get fans to attend the game and stay. It also presents an opportunity to decrease post-game traffic surrounding the stadium.
There are a few things that a high school or college could think about offering once the final whistle has been blown. Kids love being able to feel the actual field beneath their feet. Offering an organized opportunity for fans to run around on the field is always a great idea. Just think of how much we (or, maybe it was just me) loved running the bases at a baseball game as a kid.
Another possibility is offering sale prices on concessions up to a half-hour or forty-five minutes after the game has ended. This is something that Ford Field (home of the Detroit Lions) has done in offering $2 pizza slices and discounted cocktails.
We talked about pregame concerts earlier, but how about having one after the game?
This will also make fans feel like they’re basically getting a 2-for-1 value with their ticket. A game and a show.
Students will always feel pulled in a million different directions on game day. Getting them into their seats is one thing, but keeping them there, and at the same time engaging them to help with the entire operation is something different.