Here’s an example of one of hundreds of conversations I’ve had over the past 15 years with people I meet:
Person: What do you do for a living?
Me: Sports Marketing.
Person: What does that mean, exactly?
Me: I own a creative agency that works with athletics organizations.
Person: (looks at me blankly) So you like, print t-shirts or something?
Me: No. We partner with universities to help them with their marketing efforts.
Me: Okay, so you know how when you walk down Main Street in your nearest college town and there’s a poster in the local bar window advertising the State U. volleyball team? We design those!
Person: Ahhhhh! That’s cool.
The conversation usually then turns into all the other stuff we do. But it all begins with the schedule poster. Everyone knows what a schedule poster is. And Old Hat was built on the schedule poster. We don’t know exactly how many we’ve designed over the years but conservative estimates put us at more than 4,000.
Four. THOUSAND. Schedule posters.
The Dying Art of the Schedule Poster
Used to be, schedule posters were something people actually looked at in order to find out their favorite team’s schedule. I remember seeing an OU Sooners Football schedule poster from 1985 hanging in a restaurant in Norman. No photos, no crazy photoshop effects, no cheesy tagline. Just the schedule. And the thing about it is, that poster probably did more to get people to the games than most of what is produced these days. People don’t have to walk over to the poster on the wall anymore to see what the schedule is. In fact, there have been times when I’ve had the OU football poster on my wall behind me and I’ve still pulled out my phone to see when the next game is. Because when I do that, I can then tell Google to put it in my calendar automatically and set it to send me a reminder to buy tickets to the specific away games I want to go to. Last time I checked, the poster on the wall couldn’t do that.
Schedule posters are going the way of the dodo bird as a promotional tool. They have some value in recruiting but let’s be honest, 18-year-old student-athletes are probably way more interested in the multi-million dollar weight room and the 64-foot wall graphic than the idea that when they’re a senior, they might get to be on a poster.
Once upon a time, just putting your schedule on a poster was enough to get people to the game. The art of the schedule poster has come a long way since then. Some of the posters we produce here are truly works of art. But these days, they have to be so much more than that if you want them to actually result in a fan taking action.
I’ve talked a lot about how we are fighting for people’s attention unlike ever before. The world has changed more in the past decade than it did in the 50 years preceding it and that has resulted in people having a lot more options in entertainment. And that’s not changing. In fact, it’s going to get worse for those of us whose job it is to get people to the stadium. Stadiums aren’t doing multi-million dollar renovations to create more premium seating areas just for the fun of it. They’re doing it to compete with people’s couches. Because more and more people are finding it hard to convince themselves to go sit on a hard bench crammed in with thousands of other people in the September heat when they can watch from the comfort of their recliner.
Stadiums are upgrading to appeal to fans more. It’s time schedule posters do too.
Breathing Life into the Schedule Poster
Your schedule posters can be one of three things: 1) A valuable sales tool. 2) An ancillary recruiting tool. 3) A waste of time. You’re going to have to decide which you want yours to be.
If you want your schedule posters to be a valuable sales tool, what can you do to make them have more of an effect on driving game attendance? For one, you can remove the schedule.
The biggest mistake we can make is assuming that putting the schedule on a schedule poster has any relevance anymore. I’m not saying you have to remove it. I’m just saying that its presence is pretty irrelevant. If you make people want to come to your games, they’ll find the schedule. And probably not by looking at a poster.
So that’s the key, right? Making them want to come?
What we have to start doing is treating a poster more like an advertisement than a schedule poster. The poster, like an ad, has to be positioned properly. It has to target the right audience. It has to deliver a message. It has to inspire action.
You have a built-in passionate fan base already. You have fans that wear their school colors every Friday before the game and then watch it from their living room the next day. The passion is there. You just have to reignite it. You have fans that want to be reminded about what they’re missing out on by not being there.
Advertising works. That’s a fact. But it doesn’t work without being based in research and strategy. The most amazing looking schedule poster that delivers the wrong message to the wrong group isn’t as valuable as a very basic poster that delivers the right message to the right group.
We are currently working with a number of universities to help figure out what that message is and to whom it should be delivered. And the research we’re doing to base our strategy on is truly fascinating. Who are the decision makers in your market? What are their other choices for entertainment? What are they doing instead of coming to your games? Why? What drives them? Dig deep enough and you’ll find the answers. And you’ll find your message. And you’ll find your fans. And they’ll find the stadium.