Old Hat’s first-ever sports strategic engagement was completed for SMU. The goal was to develop a new brand strategy that increased sales and attendance across the entire department, specifically with football. With our assistance, SMU learned that they had the wrong perception of their fans and were, essentially, selling to the wrong crowd.
SMU has had low attendance since the NCAA imposed the ’Death Penalty’ on the football program in 1987. The reality was the fanbase was disengaged and more interested in tailgating than what happening on the field. Since 2007, they were only above 21,000 in attendance one season, and typically averaged less than 17,500. The product on the field wasn’t terrific either, as the Mustangs qualified for only five bowl games since 1985.
The process began with internal surveys with fans and staffs, as well as with students, to get a current understanding of perceptions. Old Hat also took inventory of SMU’s current marketing strategy (radio, outdoor, print, mailers) and tweaked it to represent the entire department. We found upwards of 15 different “looks” representing each sport, each program, or various entities of the department. We helped in creating a brand development strategy that unified the image athletics wanted to portray.
With 40,000 living alumni in the Dallas area, we learned that SMU was targeting the wrong fraction of this base. Because of the affluent nature of SMU grads, it was discovered that not only was football competing for fan’s attention with the lake, the couch, and the golf course but also houses in Vail and Italy. This crowd wasn’t interested in being seen in “cheap seats” and wanted to be seen in important areas. With this data, SMU created new premium seating areas, of which, they sold out. The second problem we found was that there was an entirely untapped market of fans / alums who didn’t know when the game was, how to get there – the basics about the game. These people who wanted an inexpensive day at a football game, we learned, were the people who wanted to come. We took this information and created GetHereForGameday.com, serving as a destination for fans to purchase tickets, obtain gameday information, and absorb content around the football program.
In 2015, SMU had hired a new coach (Chad Morris) and had a great schedule, starting off with both Baylor and North Texas at home. Attendance, however, was poor, averaging 21,043 per game as Chad Morris only won two games. We engaged with them in the Spring of 2016 despite the challenges of a worse schedule, the Mustangs saw attendance jump to 23,708, a 12.6% increase. Even more impressive, revenue jumped as well.