Coach Harbaugh has been in the news a lot lately. Whether you agree with his techniques or not, one thing is undeniable: he’s making the off season something worth watching. And from a marketing perspective, that’s powerful stuff.
Sports marketers are challenged to find ways to draw a crowd and keep them coming back. That’s getting harder and harder to do, because there are more alternatives than ever to game day attendance. At a time when collegiate sports programs are struggling with declining attendance, you can’t afford to let your marketing initiatives simmer on the back of the stove in between seasons. You have to find ways to keep fans engaged and maintain your momentum year round.
Even if your program doesn’t have Michigan’s resources, here are a few lessons you can apply in your own way.
Shake things up. Spring break practice in Florida? Friday night games? What?? Breaking away from the status quo draws attention and gives people something to talk about. Whether you go big or go small, do something different. Better yet, do it in a way that offers some sort of advantage for your team or your fans. Don’t just do it as a copycat, because your fans will call you out on it.
Get people excited about your new line-up. Signing day is a big deal, so make it a big deal. You don’t have to make it a circus to make it count. Look for ways to hype up your new recruits and the strength of your upcoming season. Social media (especially YouTube) is an incredible tool for this, and it doesn’t take a massive budget to make a memorable impact.
Decide what you want to be. Then be it. A football program is a football program is a football program…except that it’s not. It’s a lot more. It’s a collective identity and a shared consciousness. Own it. Does your team have a reputation you’re proud of? Find ways to amp it up. Want to have a different reputation than you currently do? Come up with a plan for how to reposition yourselves, then go after it full force.
Controversy = conversation. Being controversial isn’t for everybody, and you certainly don’t want to be on the hot seat in terms of violating rules. But it’s a proven way to generate media attention, and it can be a mobilizing force for your fan base. Just choose your controversies wisely, if you’re going to go there. And make sure you have the right people on board.
Sure, it helps to have a big budget and powerful connections when you want to stand out. But you don’t need those things to do more in the off season. All you really need is a thorough understanding of your target audience, strong collaboration within your program, a few creative ideas, and the will to win.