We all know the movie and love the sentiment “If you build it, they will come.” Sadly, it’s not a magical corn field you are trying to fill with legends and a handful of local fans. Instead, you’re dealing with large facilities and fans whose attention is fragmented.
Facilities spending is one of the biggest reasons otherwise profitable or self-sufficient athletic departments run deficits, according to a Washington Post review of athletic departments at 48 schools in the five wealthiest conferences in college sports. Big-time college athletic departments are taking in more money than ever and spending it just as fast, yet we continue to see attendance decline.
Think about this: many of the most iconic college football stadiums have always been about volume rather than quality. Michigan and Tennessee — two schools with stadiums with capacities greater than 100,000 — counted on fans wanting to be a part of the general atmosphere rather than wanting Wi-Fi or the ability to post on social networks.
While the old saying “if you build it they will come” may not be true in this case, another classic is true: “where there’s a will there’s a way.”
Here are a couple of tips to consider as you look for ways to improve your game experience for fans.
• Simple improvements such as tidying up the exterior look of a stadium with new graphics, updating concessions stands and connecting concourses can make a huge impact on the overall fan experience that exists within a stadium.
• Focus on technology. Smarter, better, and more connected stadiums have the potential to provide a game day experience tailored for the 21st century fan who don’t want to just have an experience, but also want to share it on social media.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the collegiate athletics attendance problem, there is an approach that can help any program overcome their challenges. It’s called the Sports180 process and it’s offered exclusively by Old Hat. Our proven, research-based approach helps you clarify objectives, analyze your playing field, and develop a winning strategy by getting to the heart of your program’s unique position.
Contact us directly at 405.310.2133 or by email to learn more or to request a demo of our Sports180 process.
Today marks a new era in the long history of Old Hat. As a company that started 14 years ago offering print design only, we are well aware of the need to change and adapt to a changing industry. Twelve years ago that meant adding video production to our list of service offerings and we went on to become the largest single provider of intro videos, player features and videoboard graphics in all of collegiate athletics. Ten years ago that meant adding web development as collegiate athletics discovered the ability to use the digital realm to market themselves more effectively and in that decade, Old Hat has developed more than a hundred websites for the collegiate and professional athletics industry aimed at engaging fans, increasing attendance and aiding in fundraising efforts. The list continued just to grow to include photography, videography, branding and consulting.
The athletics industry continues to change though and in order for Old Hat to continue to help athletics organizations engage fans and increase attendance, we have to change with it. It has become more difficult than ever to bring fans to the stands and as we've seen from recent articles, attendance is on a downward spiral. Gone are the days where we can rely on the old ways of marketing and hope fans respond the way we want them to. It's not about having a schedule poster that has more "pop" than anyone else's. It's not about turning a highlight reel into a TV spot or social media video and expecting fans to show up to the games. Marketing is hard and driving attendance in a world that sees more competition for our fans' attention than ever before creates a need for us to be much more strategic than we've ever been before. We have to do research in its many forms. We have to develop insight based on that research. And we have to then develop a marketing strategy based on that insight. It is then and only then that creative implementation should occur. Old Hat is here to help you through that entire process.
#TheFanJourney Over the past two years, Old Hat has performed exhaustive research on the athletics industry both internally and externally. We have surveyed athletics administrators from coast-to-coast and have collected feedback from thousands of sports fans in every market. Additionally, we have looked at the science behind sports fan behavior. What truly drives them to attend and not attend? We've analyzed data from every perspective and have formed a model of fan behavior we call #TheFanJourney. This journey map explains who we should be targeting and how. It shows where we are losing fans and why. More importantly, #TheFanJourney provides a path to overcoming these hurdles through research, insight, and strategy.
The Sports180 Process Imagine walking into a doctor's office and simply saying, "My stomach hurts. Give me a prescription please." No, the doctor would have to ask questions in order to diagnose the issue. The worse the problem is, the more questions they have to ask. They may have to run tests. Point being, they have to do a lot of research into the problem and develop insight based on that research before they would even think of prescribing a solution. Many times, their solution doesn't fully address the problem so they have to change and adapt their approach based on the results they're seeing.
Now imagine there are 10 people that walk into a doctor's office from different parts of the country, all different ages, all different backgrounds, etc. They all have a stomach ache. Every one of them has the same problem, but the cause is most likely different for all of them and the solution most certainly is. The doctor is most certainly not going to prescribe the same medication to every patient.
Marketing should be no different than medicine in this respect. We all have the same problem: fans aren't coming. But the reasons are different at every athletic program. Every program is different and every market is different. To drive attendance, we must dig deep, ask questions, run tests, and analyze data in order to prescribe a solution.
Old Hat has spent the past two years building its staff and capabilities around this idea. We have developed our "Sports180" process, which you've probably heard about by now, that is our proven, research-based process that gets at the heart of your unique position and helps better identify the right strategy for meeting your goals.
Sports marketing has to get smarter and more strategic and that is what Old Hat is dedicated to helping provide. We have a deep bench of talent with expertise in strategic marketing, market research, social/digital media strategy, data analytics and, of course, creative implementation.
Creative Don't worry. Our talented team of designers, editors and animators are still here to produce everything you need from a tactical creative perspective. We know that sometimes the budget doesn't allow for an intense strategic marketing plan for a program that can never support that expense. Sometimes you just need something that looks amazing and aids in fan engagement and recruiting. We're still here for that as well. There's no firm in the nation that has designed more print collateral, produced more video content and developed more athletics marketing and fundraising websites than Old Hat. Our experience and expertise are unmatched in this field and we plan to continue doing it all for many years to come.
Our mission from day 1 has been to help athletic programs drive attendance. We simply want to add greater capabilities that will help achieve that mission.
A New Look We realize that for many years Old Hat has been known predominantly for our creative. However, with our added focus on being a strategic marketing firm as opposed to purely a creative production house, we wanted to make sure people took notice that something has changed here. And what better way to change how you're viewed than to change how you look? To mark the new era of Old Hat and to get the athletics industry to start viewing us a bit differently, we are refreshing our brand starting today. This begins with a new logo, as seen above, that pays homage to our roots but provides a fresh and modern spin on our look. In the coming weeks, you will see a lot of things change about Old Hat. Our website is in the middle of a complete overhaul and the new site will be focused on case studies for how our creative has worked to achieve the goals for which it was intended. We will be sharing a lot of thought leadership on our site about ways to better engage fans and be more strategic in our marketing. Our brand presence will be focused on helping the athletics industry achieve the one goal we all share: Driving Attendance.
If there's one thing every office needs it's a person with a lot of energy. Well, 4'11" Alissa Polles is a compact bundle of energy at Old Hat HQ. She's Kristin Chenoweth size minus the singing skills, but with the same vocal abilities to fill up a room with her laughter. What she lacks musically she makes up with mad organizational skills. Feel free to skip your coffee today! Just read Alissa's answers to our 20 Questions.
4. YOUR GO-TO WORK MUSIC: Hmm – I actually don’t listen to music a lot while I work. It ends up distracting me. I am easily distracted. *Note: This is no way insinuates I don’t have opinions and preferences on music. That just wasn’t the question.
5. HOW DID YOU END UP AT OLD HAT: Relocated to OKC from Austin
6. FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB: Organizing all the things! Lists! Checkboxes! Planners, organizers, HIGHLIGHTERS! LISA FRANK!
7. WHAT’S THE HARDEST PART ABOUT YOUR JOB: Saying yes when I want to say no? Pleasing all the people?
8. HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR FREE TIME: Exercise, laundry, rollerskating, obsessing over my dog.
9. ADVICE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF: Love wins. You don’t really need antibacterial soap. Eat doughnuts.
10. EXPLAIN YOUR OBSESSION WITH OVERALLS: I’m not sure really. Everyone loves a onsie. You can dress them up or down. They make all home improvement activities more fun. They make me feel like I could be cooler than I really am. Also, Kris Kross.
11. IF YOU COULD ONLY WATCH ONE MOVIE FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE WHAT WOULD IT BE: Buhhhhhhh… The Wedding Singer? It has love, the 80s, bad Drew Barrymore, meatballs!
12. FAVORITE TV SHOW: All the Housewives. Judge away.
13. WHAT’S BEEN YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT AT OLD HAT: WHEN I GOT MY SHERIFF BADGE AND BECAME THE LAWWWWWW!
14. IF YOU COULD TRADE LIVES WITH ONE OF YOUR COWORKERS WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHY: Kevin for when I want to be serious. Cody for when I want to be silly.
15. WHAT’S YOUR GO-TO WORK DISTRACTION: Exchanging Family Guy memes, Bitmojis & dog pics w/ my BF.
16. FAVORITE SUPERHERO: WONDER WOMANNNNNNNNN
17. IF YOU WERE AN SNL CHARACTER WHO WOULD YOU BE: Get ready – I don’t watch SNL.
18. WHAT’S THE STUPIDEST THING YOU’VE EVER DONE: I shaved my arms and my eyebrows once. That seems kinda dumb. I was in 9th grade and my mom noticed and pointed it out in front of the senior girl who picked me up and took me to soccer practice. It was pretty embarrassing.
19. WHAT’S THE LAST SHOW THAT YOU BINGE-WATCHED: West World.
20. IF YOU WEREN’T DOING THIS JOB WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING: Living quietly w/ my family somewhere green. With close access to a roller rink.
A few years ago I took a vacation to Cabo. It was beautiful and relaxing…except that every time I tried to relax on the beach and enjoy my surroundings, somebody wanted to interrupt the experience and sell me something. Sombreros. Ice cream. Water sport activities. Colorful souvenirs. Beach blankets. And you know what? It was frustrating. It wasn’t the experience I had hoped for, and it’s one I’d prefer not to repeat.
Do you realize that same type of thing is happening to consumers every day when it comes to online advertising?
There are certain types of digital ads that are like those beach vendors. Instead of displaying their wares in an enticing way and allowing consumers to come to them (like the nice locals I actually did buy something from in Cabo), these ads get right in the consumer’s face and make it difficult for them to do whatever they were trying to do online.
Since advertising money supports more than just businesses (think social connections, valuable free content and journalism), there’s a group called the Coalition for Better Ads that has developed a set of Better Ad Standards to try to improve consumers’ experience of online advertising.
Here are the types of digital ads the Coalition’s research revealed as the most intrusive and disruptive to consumers:
This month, Google Chrome is rolling out an initiative to improve their user experience based on the initial Better Ad Standards. That means they’ll warn sites that display these types of ads and block ads on those sites if their concerns aren’t addressed. And Google isn’t the only one taking action – you can expect to see others following suit.
So what does this mean for you? Basically, treat consumers the way you would want to be treated. Be considerate of the experience they’re trying to have. Ensure that your digital advertising strategy is focused on adding value for consumers and becoming part of their experience rather than interrupting it. Think about what’s useful and relevant to them, then offer it in a way that’s respectful.
#ExOps18 is in the books and by all indications, it was a rousing success. Huge thanks goes out to Brad Wurthman, Ryan Peck, Chris Ferris and Daniel Veale for traveling to Norman, spending a couple days with us and contributing great information to the discussion. Thanks also goes out to everyone who joined remotely. We were excited to see that people from the industry were tuning in, asking questions and participating in the discussion. We had a great time, learned a lot and have a lot of notes on ways to make #ExOps19 even more engaging and valuable for everyone.
We covered a number of topics during our day-and-a-half of discussions. You can watch it all for yourself on the Old Hat Facebook page or you can simply read my recap below.
An Unconventional Look at How to Drive Attendance We kicked things off on Thursday morning with a private presentation I've developed that addresses what I see as a new way looking at collegiate athletics marketing. The group in the room served as my test audience. I do a number of speaking engagements in the spring, and this will be a topic I cover when visiting with athletics marketing groups. In my opinion, we should take a much different approach if we want to fill our stadiums and arenas. In this presentation, I outline what I believe is that approach. Be on the lookout for a webinar of this presentation coming soon.
Major in the Majors Next up, we had Brad Wurthman of Virginia Tech walk us through a presentation called "Major in the Majors" where he outlined steps he feels we should be taking to focus on the things that truly matter. Brad pointed out that it's difficult to not get bogged down in the minutia and lose sight of the majors, or the big things we actually should be paying attention to. Brad asked questions like, "What's your why?" and "What are we chasing?" and also laid down some golden wisdom with comments like, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it," and my personal favorite, "We don't want our staff to do more, we want them to do different." Check out his presentation slides here, but I also highly recommend you follow along by listening to the Facebook video feed for a more valuable experience hearing it directly from Brad.
Roundtable Discussion After Brad's presentation, Chris Ferris of Colorado State led a discussion on various external operations topics. One strong area of focus was that of student attendance. Everyone felt strongly that despite student attendance being a non-factor in direct revenue generation, there are ancillary benefits that cause indirect increases in revenue. The most obvious of those is the effect students have on the overall gameday experience. Games are more exciting and more fun if the students are there. That, paired with the idea that students are your future season ticket holders and donors, brought us to the conclusion that when the old fans are complaining about the loud music and song selection, but your students love it, you err on the side of pleasing the students. Those die-hard older fans aren't going to stop coming because of the music, but your students won't turn into die-hard fans if you don't give them a great experience.
Effects of the New Tax Code on Fundraising After a lunch break, we came back to another roundtable discussion led by Ryan Peck of North Texas. We went through what the old code states about tax-deductible gifts and what the new code says. We also talked through a number of things different athletic departments have done to try to prepare for the unknown, but "the unknown" was really where we landed on this topic. The fact is, no one really knows how, or if, the new tax code is going to affect the industry. After some initial panic toward the end of 2017, most of the people at the table agreed that it might not be a major issue. Toward the end of this discussion, we also touched on the topic of data analytics, predictive analysis, look-alike modeling and marketing automation.
Virginia Tech Ticket Sales Strategic Planning Session Having spent the past few hours in discussion, we turned the live-stream off to get our hands dirty with a little strategic planning for Hokies football and men's basketball. Due to the proprietary nature of both the client information being shared, along with wanting to keep our process for making strategic marketing recommendations under wraps, we didn't broadcast this part to the masses. However, I can tell you that ahead of time, Brad Wurthman gave us a goal he's hoping to achieve: increase non-season ticket sales for football and men's basketball. We dug through the data gathered from surveys we'd conducted, talked through some of the issues Va Tech is facing, and looked at census data and historical sales information before calling it a day. This part of the process was all about information gathering. We haven't completed our strategic plan yet, but we will be doing so in the coming weeks and delivering that to Va Tech with a full list of recommendations to help them achieve that goal in a targeted and strategic manner.
2018 Digital Marketing Trends We kicked things off on Day 2 with a live-streamed presentation from Old Hat's Director of Web/Digital, Kevin Kelly, on the topic of web and digital trends for 2018. Kevin shared some great statistics on the impact of video engagement vs. the traditional means of communicating on social media. Some of those stats:
- 4 times as many consumers would rather watch a video vs reading - 1 in 4 consumers lose interest in product if there's no video about that product - 4 in 5 consumers say video of how a product works is important in decision to buy - 95% of a message is retained when watched in video vs. 10% when reading
One idea that was thrown out as a result of this is that maybe instead of having our internal video production crews focus so heavily on high-impact, emotionally driven videos, we should ask them to produce more informational videos that actually communicate a message about our product.
Other topics that were covered are too many to name, but I'll be asking Kevin to develop this into a webinar in the spring - so stay tuned for that. There's some great information that can help us better engage with our fans.
Responding to a Changing Industry For the final segment of #ExOps18, we turned off the live stream and talked through ways Old Hat can better serve the industry. When I started Old Hat 14 years ago, we were a traditional creative production shop, and we were selling a service the industry was already buying and knew it needed. Old Hat just offered a better version of it at a competitive price. However, as I've seen the industry shift, I've realized the need for our marketing to be much more strategic. Therefore, we developed a wide range of strategic marketing services that include data collection, analysis and strategic recommendations that can help an athletics organization identify who specifically to target, where to find them, how to message to them and how to measure the results. Unlike posters, videos and schedule cards, this list of services is not one the industry already knows it needs. During this discussion, we talked through ways of shifting the industry's perception on what marketing should look like and how to convince athletic departments to look at the product they're selling the same way other industries view their own products and services. That is through doing research, developing insight into who to reach and how to reach them and then rolling out a strategic marketing message in the right ways to the right people.
Overall, it was one of the most fun and most valuable day-and-a-halves in my entire career. Outside the walls of that conference room, we ate a lot of great food, learned a lot about each other and enjoyed the company of some very progressive and forward-thinking minds in collegiate athletics. There were so many people that came together behind-the-scenes to make this a reality, and my sincere gratitude goes out to all of them. We can't wait to do it again next year.
After months of planning, we are excited to announce the first ever Collegiate Athletics External Operations Symposium, or as we like to call it, #ExOps18. What is #ExOps18, you ask? Great question!
#ExOps18 is an opportunity for anyone working in collegiate athletics to learn about and discuss the topics at the forefront of the minds of those charged with ticket sales, increasing attendance, game experience and fundraising - the "external operations" of collegiate athletics. We're starting small and because of the luxuries the web provides us, year one will primarily be an event you can attend remotely. No need to worry about getting approved to spend money to attend. That's assuming, of course, that your university isn't on AOL's pay-per-minute internet service. If so, maybe you can collect some "free trial" disks in the mail and attend next year.
Fortunately for you though, not everyone is attending remotely. Old Hat has invited four of the top minds from collegiate athletics marketing and fundraising to be on-site to present, discuss and field questions. Those minds belong to:
Chris Ferris Senior Associate AD for Sales, Marketing and Communications Colorado State University
Ryan Peck Executive Senior Associate AD for External Affairs University of North Texas
Daniel Veale Director of Marketing SMU
Brad Wurthman Senior Associate AD for External Affairs Virginia Tech
On January 25 and 26, these four people will gather at Old Hat world headquarters for a day-and-a-half to discuss the topics that are weighing most heavily on their minds. Portions of those discussions will be live streamed via Facebook Live (link: ExOps.live), and we're inviting you to listen in and be a part of the conversation. You will be able to send in questions ahead of time, ask questions live via Twitter using the #ExOps18 hashtag or submit questions in the comments on the Facebook Live video stream. Below is an agenda for the event and a list of topics we will be discussing, so mark your calendars and get ready to plop down in front of your computer next Thursday and Friday for some great conversation.
Please note: Portions of the days' events will not be live streamed due to proprietary and confidential information being shared. The segments that will be live streamed are indicated below.
Thursday, January 25 - All times Central
9:00 a.m. (LIVE) - Welcome, Introductions and Icebreaker
9:30 a.m. (PRIVATE)- An Unconventional Look at How to Drive Attendance: An internal discussion on fan behavior - Zac Logsdon, CEO, Old Hat
10:15 a.m. (LIVE) - Major in the Majors: Filtering out the unimportant and concentrating on valuable metrics - Brad Wurthman, Virginia Tech
10:45 a.m. (LIVE) - Q&A session Brad Wurthman
11:15 a.m. (LIVE) - Marketing/Ticket Sales Roundtable discussion, led by Chris Ferris, Colorado State - Topics to include: Increasing Student Attendance, Growth Metrics that Matter, Data Analytics and How do you measure engagement?
Noon - Break for Lunch
1:30 p.m. (LIVE) - Fundraising/Development Roundtable discussion, led by Ryan Peck, North Texas - Impact of the new tax code on fundraising
2:30 p.m. (PRIVATE) - Strategic Planning Session for Virginia Tech Ticket Sales
5:00 p.m. - Break for the day
Friday, January 26 - All times Central
9:00 a.m. (LIVE) - Digital Marketing Marketing Trends for 2018 Presentation/Discussion - Kevin Kelly, Director of Digital/Web, Old Hat
9:45 a.m. (LIVE) - Q&A - Last opportunity to ask our guests questions
10:15 a.m. (PRIVATE) - Internal Discussion on new products/services, positioning and adapting to the changing market
Have you ever thought to yourself, "What was the artist thinking when they created this design?" Depending on your tone you either LOVED or HATED the design. If we happened to collaborate with your team on a project we always hope you love it. Cool looking designs are always the goal.
As we kick off 2018 we're going to take a look back at some of our favorite projects from the previous year and pick the brains of our very talented artists. You might be surprised to learn there is a rhyme and reason to even the simplest of designs.
Here is our chat with Art Director Caitlin Murphy about her work on the Florida International University Swimming and Diving poster.
What was the inspiration behind this design concept? FIU mentioned that they wanted the swimmers to look like they are coming out of the water and have the 3 championship trophies behind them. I wanted to make the athletes looks like they were in the water but also have the trophies stand out and glow in the background. My inspiration was sort of a fire/water element together.
What was your main goal / what were you trying to accomplish with this design? My main goal was to make it look like the athletes were actually in the water. The pictures of the athletes we received from FIU were of them standing by a backdrop so trying to make water images/elements look realistic around them was what I was hoping to accomplish.
What is your favorite design element of this project? The reflection of the athletes in the water and the water coming off their torsos. It was fun to play with the perspective of the swimmers and ripple effects to make it look more watery realistic instead of just their straight reflection.
What was the biggest challenge of this design? My biggest challenge was trying to make the water/splashes look realistic. I have never worked with water elements before so it was more of a trial/error thing to see what worked/didn’t work as I went along. I went through many different splash elements that didn’t work until I finally found 2-3 that looked like they blended and worked well together.
If you could change one thing about this project what would it be? I would have liked to incorporate the “ALL IN” header into the design a little more. The ALL IN header was a late addition so I had already envisioned the poster a certain way and laid out the design with all of the elements. So although I had thoughts of how I could have incorporated the ALL IN header more with the water/fire effects, it would have meant changing around the poster as a whole.
Growing up in Texas, snow days were rare. Even just a little ice or a little snow typically resulted in everything shutting down. My friends and I would spend the day running, sliding, and eventually falling on the ice. It may have only happened once or twice in my entire childhood, which made it all the more memorable.
This last week it snowed in South Central Texas. Since I was in Oklahoma (where it did not snow), I received many photos, calls, and texts about the “crazy snow” that was happening in and around Austin: my nephews playing in it and building a snowman; my mom having to get a kitchen spatula to clean off her car windows to go to work; my friends telling me how hard it was to drive through all that snow.
From what I can tell, there wasn’t more than an inch. Making a snowman was way more work than it should be since snow had to be gathered from four different yards.Windshield wipers probably would have cleaned off the windows just fine, but that doesn’t matter to any of the people who experienced this event. The “blizzard of 2017” will be marked forever in their memories. I know my brother will be telling stories to his son about how much he hated snow the first time he was in it, that time it snowed in south Texas. Even a quick look at my “trends for you” section on Twitter shows what a big deal that little bit of snow was to the people watching it happen.
Why is this relevant to us as marketers? Events like these are rare, and while they may seem minuscule to some, the people who experience them will keep those memories for the rest of their lives. There’s a natural opportunity for you to connect with people in these moments and to become part of an indelible memory.
Whether the event that happens is a game, a freak weather event, or even just a spur of the moment gathering of people, there will be opportunities that you and your team can capitalize on. Here are a few things to think about if you ever find yourself experiencing a “snow in south Texas” type event.
1. Capture the moment. It seems obvious, but make sure you record it. Document the event as much as you can. Whether it’s snapping a few photos of the snow to use for holiday materials next year or making sure you capture the stories of people who experienced it, capture the moment and look for opportunities to share it again later on down the road.
2. Be timely. Timing can be everything. Just look at the impact Oreo made during the Super Bowl Blackout a few years ago. When unique moments happen, your ability to respond quickly can make or break your ability to connect with people. If you aren’t ready as the event is happening, don’t try to force it. Jumping on the bandwagon too late makes you seem less relevant .
3. Be genuine. This is a phrase that gets repeated in marketing conversations quite often, but with something like this you have to be genuine. A large part of that comes with being true to your brand. If the event does not fit or fall in line with who you are as a brand, let it pass. It is better to sit on the sidelines and watch things unfold than to put something out there simply because you felt it was required.
4. Tie your brand to the event. During the recent snow, a lot of the Twitter activity I saw related to snow at Kyle Field. Opportunities for photos of an Aggie helmet covered in snow on the 50 yard line are few and far between, but by capturing the moment in that manner, fans will forever remember the time it snowed during Aggie football season.
5. Embrace the moment. Often this type of event is unexpected and brings out a little bit of craziness. Embrace it. This is not something that is going to happen often and it might not ever happen again. As long as you’re reacting in a way that’s consistent with your brand, don’t be afraid to do something different to take advantage of a unique opportunity.
Winning streaks. How do they always seem to come around when needed the most? A game in which every call goes your way and every ball on the line is fair instead of foul. A miraculous postseason run. A championship.
When you’re feeling the high that comes with a winning streak, you’ll do almost anything to keep it going. And if you think you’re superstitious, imagine how players react to a winning streak. When somebody on the team has a “hot hand,” they'll eat the same meals, wear the same socks, follow the same routine for as long as they can to keep that streak alive. As soon as it's snapped, they'll never touch those socks again.
But what if I told you the "hot hand" was just a myth?
Apparently, winning a few games in a row doesn’t affect future wins like we think it does. According to Dr. John Eliot, Clinical Associate Professor at Texas A&M, winning streaks don’t define momentum. The factors that truly determine success are elements of a team’s culture. Things like trust between teammates, having a higher rate of physical interaction (high fives, pats on the back), and high levels of confidence in yourself and your teammates are what really make a difference in how well a team performs.
But wait a minute, you’re thinking, don’t those things naturally happen more if a team is winning? For many teams, they do – but teams without a strong cultural foundation will lose their momentum and go back to their old ways as soon as the going gets tough again.
Sustainable winning patterns emerge from teammates who are more invested in each other than individually invested in winning. Almost sounds counterintuitive doesn't it?
Think of it this way. Did you ever have a coach or teacher who pretty much scared you into performing your best? You were motivated by the fear of disappointing Coach or losing your place in the line-up if you weren't producing. That's not the best way to reach the full potential of the team. When players know their spot is at risk, they play with less confidence and are less likely to support each other. It's tough to win a championship when players are focused on competing amongst themselves rather than on competing against another team.
On the other hand, have you ever noticed that the teams that are winning are the ones that look like they’re having the most fun? Some might say they are having fun because they are winning, but based on these recent findings, I'd bet they are winning because they are having fun. They are soaking up every moment, genuinely happy to see their teammates succeed, and everything else just falls into place from there. Every championship speech from the Coach includes how "great the team fit together...like family" and "how much fun" they had that year. Doesn't sound like a coincidence to me...
This mentality should apply to other areas as well. Work. Family. All of it.
According to Dr. Eliot, when you don’t have that same type of strong cultural foundation in your workplace, you’re going to be at a competitive disadvantage. Having the right type of environment isn’t just about what the leaders in an organization do. Like a good coach, the senior people in the organization set the tone but it’s up to the entire team to work together to build momentum. It’s about peer-to-peer support, strong relationships, and genuinely caring about the people you work with. In our office, we have a philosophy of not letting your teammates fail. We are here for each other. We work together, within and between our positions, to find the best possible solutions for our clients, and no doubt, we have fun while doing it.
Have you ever been emotionally hijacked? You're confronted with harm, either physical or emotional, and all of a sudden you're in fight or flight mode. Your blood starts pumping and you cease to think clearly. Your mind gets blurry and you lose all ability to make rational decisions. Sound familiar?
We all experience it but how we react differs from person to person. Some people lash out in anger and can't control what they say or do in those moments. Some people shut down completely and flee the scene physically or psychologically (or both). But the one thing that remains true in all cases is that the brain is reacting on emotion and it is scientifically incapable of making completely logical and rational decisions.
There's a science to this, of course, and it all has to do with how humans have evolved to protect themselves from harm. What's happening in our brains when we get hijacked? What causes us to lose the ability to think rationally in times of crisis? Well, I'm no rocket surgeon but according to the internet, it all has to do with the amygdala. That’s the area of the brain that processes emotion. When faced with a threat, or any situation really, the amygdala immediately kicks in to assess the situation. It asks itself, Can this hurt me? Should I fear this? If the answer is yes, it immediately sends a message to the rest of the brain which triggers the hormones that tell us to either flee or fight. When we face potential danger, the amygdala takes over nearly the entire brain, including the part that allows us to make rational decisions. Think of it as human evolution's security system. When danger is present, our brain goes into super-protection mode and it simply turns off all the parts of the brain that normally regulate our emotions.
What does this have to do with sales and marketing? Well, emotions don't just prevent us from making rational decisions when faced with fear. They can also take over in other situations, resulting in us making irrational buying decisions. And don't think for one second that companies don't take advantage of this on a regular basis. Raise your hand if you've never made a buying decision based on emotion. You see product X and you suddenly start thinking about how much pleasure it's going to bring you. You picture yourself wearing it, eating it, or driving it and you can't stop thinking about how badly you want that thing. All logic and rationality leave your brain as the emotional side shuts down your ability to think about things like I can't afford this, or I'm going to feel like crap if I eat this entire cake. So just like when you’re hijacked out of fear, you make decisions that aren’t fully rational. When you eventually start thinking rationally again, regret sinks in. You apologize to your partner for screaming unintelligible expletives at them for 45 minutes straight. Or you return the gold-plated Winnebago you thought you couldn't live without.
Industries all over the planet do their best to take advantage of your emotional buying decisions. From product placement at check-out stands to test-drives at the car dealership, they look for ways to play on your emotions. Have you ever been to a state fair and gone into one of those buildings where there are hundreds of products being sold and each one is being demonstrated by a charistmatic salesperson with a microphone strapped to their face? Believe it or not, those people spend years honing their craft to figure out how to get you to making emotional buying decisions. That's why it's so effective. They demonstrate their product and paint a picture for you of how much your life will improve if you just buy this one product. You visualize yourself with that amazing potato peeler preparing the best spiral cut homemade french fries your neighbors have ever seen. You think about the praise you'll receive for having the most attractive side dish at the church picnic. And you buy whatever it is they’re hawking. On the drive home, of course, you begin thinking rationally again. You get home, put your potato peeler in the drawer and never quite figure out how it works.
As those state fair salespeople will tell you, emotional buying decisions are a short-play. If you don't hook them quickly, they’re gone. If somebody says they're going to think about it, you've lost the sale. Because when they think about it, they start thinking rationally. And these sales strategies aren't based on rationality.
Emotional Buying in Collegiate Athletics
Athletics is an emotional thing for most people. Fans live and die by their sports teams, and there is no better example of irrational decision-making than that of sports fans and the things they do to show their passion for their teams. But here's the problem with playing on emotion when trying to drive fans to purchase tickets to your events: it doesn't work. Yep, I said it. Using emotional messaging to drive attendance to sporting events DOES NOT WORK. But what's worse is that it's the number one strategy employed by almost every athletics organization out there. High-impact photography of student-athletes looking larger than life on posters. Commercials that show your favorite players knocking the snot out of your biggest rival. Don't get me wrong. I love that stuff! I love those posters and I love seeing those commercials. But again, when it comes to motivating people to purchase tickets and attend events, it doesn't work.
Emotion-based sports marketing appeals to two types of fans. The first type is die-hard fans. They're the ones who watch every video you post on social media and share it with their friends. They tailgate before the games and they sit in the same seats their family has had for as long as they can remember. Their kids have your posters on their walls and they get really excited when the commercials come on TV because they get to see that big hit and one-handed TD catch that never get old. But here's the thing. They're coming to the stadium next Saturday no matter what. They'll be there whether they see that commercial or get that poster. They'll be there whether you spend $100,000 on outdoor advertising or $0 on outdoor advertising. Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't market to them. I'm just saying that if you want to drive attendance, don't spend your time marketing to people that are coming no matter what your poster looks like.
The other group of fans that emotion-based marketing appeals to is the casual fan. These are people that may have grown up a fan of your program or perhaps even went to school there. They go to a game or two per year, they have some existing affinity for your teams, and if they don't attend the game they're probably going to be watching it on TV. So it makes sense to play to their emotions, right? It makes sense to show them the passion and hard-hitting action and activate that affinity within them, right?
Playing to the emotions of a casual fan works. The problem is, it doesn't work for long enough to convert them into a ticket purchaser. Or even if it does, it doesn't always result in them actually attending once they've purchased. And it doesn't keep them coming back. As I stated before, emotion-based marketing is a short play. You're at the check-out line and see something you want, you buy it right then and you use it right then. You're at the state fair and you picture how much better your life will be when you're finally able to cut your child's hair using this amazing vacuum attachment. So you buy it right then. The state fair salesperson doesn't care if you actually use the thing once you've bought it, they just want you to buy it.
Athletics doesn't work that way. We play on casual fans' emotions with those hard-hitting commercials, billboards featuring taglines that fuel their passion and posters with die-cuts and high-impact photography, all in an attempt to activate their affinity for the alma mater. And it works, temporarily. But we're not selling a bag of M&M's at the check-out counter. We're not selling an impulse buy. What we're selling requires that they "think about it." The exact thing that emotion-based marketers don't want to give their buyers time to do. These casual fans see the commercials and billboards and think, "Oh, man. I gotta go!" Then their amygdala allows them to start thinking with logic and rationality. They start thinking about how comfortable their couch is, how expensive the beer is at games, and how much warmer/cooler it is in their climate controlled home. And home is exactly where they are on Saturday afternoon. Because if they didn't care about all of those things, you wouldn't need to be marketing to them.
If you have empty seats, new fans with no existing affinity for your program cannot be ignored. Professional teams fight to win over people that relocate to their market and colleges shouldn't be any different. If you're a sports fan and you move to the Raleigh-Durham area, you're surrounded by 3 major universities with storied athletics programs. Whose events are you going to attend? Whichever one markets to you in the way that's most effective to fans with no existing affinity. And as you can probably surmise, appealing to their emotions won't work.
Okay, so if emotion-based marketing doesn't work for athletics, what does?
Rational and logical messaging.
Athletics makes the mistake of thinking that what we're selling is any different than any other product or service. It's not. We want people to buy a ticket and attend an event. That's what we're selling. We need people to connect with that purchase the same way they connect with buying a pack of gum, a car, or a chicken sandwich. We have to show them why what we're selling is better than whatever else is competing for their time. And how do we do that? The same way Dentyne, Ford and Chick-fil-a do it: by researching their market, developing a strategy to appeal to the most likely buyers in that market, and executing that strategy through creative implementation.
Another great tactic is utilizing ticket sales teams. Ticket salespeople are athletics' version of state fair salespeople. And that's not an insult in any way, shape or form. They're trained to do they exact same thing only they're selling tickets instead of potato peelers. But they use the same tactics. They get you on the phone, play to your emotions, paint the picture of how much better your life will be if you're at the game and they get you to buy. If you say, "I'll think about it," they know they've lost you. For the record, I love ticket sales teams. I think they're great and every athletics program should have one. The problem is, just because a fan is convinced to purchase a ticket does not mean they're going to attend. Just like that potato peeler, there is a high-likelihood that they'll stick those tickets in a drawer and never quite figure out how they work.
For that reason, ticket sales and marketing have to go hand-in-hand. Both work. But both are more effective if they can lean on each other for support. If you market to fans and build affinity, they're more likely to buy when that ticket salesperson calls them. When they buy a ticket, they're more likely to attend if you're marketing to them. But your marketing cannot be based strictly on emotion or you're throwing money away.
So do some research to figure out who your casual and new fans might be. Then create a strategy for reaching them. Figure out what media is most likely to reach that group. Then build a campaign that targets them specifically. You can't be all things to all people. The good news is, you don't need to be.