I was talking with a close friend the other day that was telling me about the woman he’s dating. She just received her Ph.D. and is moving to Washington, D.C. to work for an organization whose mission is to get clean drinking water to the 800 million people on the planet that don’t have access to it. As he told me that, all I could think about was how worthless I feel when I hear about people like that. I know people that run into burning buildings to save people. I know people that went to school for twice as long as I did so they can work toward eradicating diseases.
What do I do? I try to get people to spend their money on going to sporting events.
An over-simplification, maybe. Old Hat partners with athletic organizations to create marketing initiatives aimed at increasing attendance and improving the gameday experience (so fans will continue to attend) with the ultimate goal of increasing revenue for that organization. So in essence, I try to get people to spend their money on going to sporting events.
So when I hear about people that risk their lives to save others’ or spend their careers trying to help people stay alive, it’s easy to feel a little insecure about my contributions to humanity. But then, I spend a little bit of time at a place like Cameron Indoor Stadium, and I’m reminded that what I do matters too.
The Greatest Moment in Sports History
When I was little and we’d make the drive from Guthrie, Oklahoma, to Norman for a football game, I’d sit next to my dad and watch the Sooners hang half-a-hundred on whoever they were playing that day. One-on-one time with my father was a hot commodity, so getting to spend that time with him as he explained the finer points of college football to me was the absolute best thing in the world. Each Saturday afternoon at Owen Field was the greatest moment in sports history for me. Only to be outdone by the next Saturday. Or the weeknight trip to Stillwater to watch OU take on Oklahoma State as we sat wearing crimson in a sea of orange. Win or lose, that moment was the greatest moment in sports history for me.
See, that’s what we do. We, as collegiate athletics marketers, give those moments to thousands of people every day.
I had the opportunity to check off a bucket list item this past November. I was lucky enough to be in Durham, NC, when Duke was playing a home game. It wasn’t Duke vs. UNC or anything like that, but simply getting to witness a basketball game in one of the top 2-3 arenas in the country is something I’ve always dreamed of doing. My wife and I took our seats (thanks, Nicole and Kelly) and settled in, and as I looked around, I was reminded of why I do what I do for a living.
To our left, a man who appeared to be in his thirties, sat next to his elderly father and cheered on their beloved Blue Devils. I didn’t speak to them much, but it appeared as if they were sitting in the seats they always sit in, game after game, and these two men were connecting over college basketball. In front of us, a woman and her two daughters watched together. The girls were wearing their Duke basketball jerseys and seemed to be having the time of their lives. To our right, a 4-year-old asked question after question to his young father about what was happening on the court.
All of these people were enjoying their greatest moment in sports history that day. Only to be outdone by the next time they came to Cameron Indoor and connected with the people they loved over a sporting event.
As collegiate athletics marketers, what we do is important. And we’re lucky. We have the opportunity every day to silently be a part of thousands of people’s greatest moments in their lives. When those little girls from the Duke game are old and gray, they will still remember all those times spent with their mom at Cameron Indoor. They’ll remember the sights, the smells, and how it felt to enjoy that time with their mother. And you’ll know that you were a part of it. You helped make that moment special because you sold them the tickets, you produced the videoboard graphics, you did the game script or you simply turned on the lights and swept up after. No matter what your role, you were a part of The Greatest Moment in Sports History.
We don’t save lives, but we sure help make them.
Stop the Clock
I’m writing a book, and I’m calling it Stop the Clock. The book is about those moments in sports history when all you wanted to do was stop time so you could either live in that moment forever or have another chance to do it over again. I am collecting stories from athletics administrators; those behind-the-scenes people who help make those moments possible for millions of people every year. Everyone knows what the coaches and athletes do to make those moments happen for sports fans. What I want to do is highlight the unsung heroes of collegiate athletics. I am collecting stories from as many Directors of Athletics and Senior Staff members as possible about times in their lives when they witnessed the power and impact of sports. Few are willing to label it as their “Greatest Moment in Sports History,” but they all have many examples of times when they were in awe of what they’d just experienced.
After I collect these stories, I will look for themes to emerge and then write about what we can learn from these experiences so that we can do our jobs better and help provide those great moments for future fans. If nothing else, it will serve as an inspirational reminder of what we do and why we do it. And hopefully, it is a motivational tool to do more to drive attendance and improve the game experience for fans because no child will ever remember the day they spent in their rooms playing minecraft while their dad watched the game downstairs. The greatest moments in sports history can only happen if you’re at the event, so we have to do everything we can to get people there.
So far, this experience has been the most fun thing I’ve ever done in my career. I’ve interviewed about 20 ADs and senior staff. I’ve heard stories of overcoming adversity, building character and embracing superstition. I just got off the phone with the legendary Tom Osborne and heard a story that almost had me in tears.
I’ve always thought that what we do is important. I’ve always known that giving the greatest moment in sports history to fans is what I was meant to do with my career. If I ever had any doubts, writing this book has laid those to rest. Sure, I don’t run into burning buildings or help eradicate disease. I’m not saying that what we do as an industry is on that level. What we do has a positive impact though. We must continue to strive to do it better.
Note: I hope to have the book out in the middle of 2017. But in the meantime, we’ll be taking some of the interviews and turning them into podcasts. The podcast will be called Stop the Clock as well and will be available on iTunes starting in early 2017.