The fan experience at college football games has reached a new level with schools such as Ohio State offering an a la carte menu of activities at the stadium if people are willing to pay the price.
The idea may sound fun and only optional for colleges, but it should be viewed as a necessity to keep fans involved and build revenue.
If an Ohio State fan wants the chance to run on the field and grab the kicking tee, the price tag is $200. The Buckeyes defeated Nebraska 62-3 recently in which they had 11 kickoffs because of the high score. That means the athletic department made conceivably $2,200 from the Buckeyes’ scoring barrage if a fan signed up to grab the tee after every kickoff.
Like airlines that offer early check-in for an extra price, Ohio State also allows fans access into the stadium 30 minutes before everybody else by paying $10 more.
Among the other perks if an Ohio State fan’s wallet is so inclined: A $75 fee to be part of the “high-five tunnel” that players walk through on the way to the stadium and $100 charge to be in the tunnel when the Buckeyes storm the field.
Fans can also pay for pre-game stadium tours, on-field photos, locker-room tour, video-board messages, and the opportunity to sing “Carmen Ohio” on the field after the game.
These activities have a maximum number of people allowed, and they are first-come, first-served.
Colleges should try such promotions, especially to keep fans involved in such a personal, intimate way. That could encourage people to return to the stadium for future games or increase demand from fans who may not have been inspired to attend a game before.
Administrators have scrambled in recent years to keep attendance at a respectable number to help meet the financial demands of a department.
The problem of inconsistent student involvement is becoming a greater concern for athletic departments, especially after a Wall Street Journal report in 2014 indicated student attendance at college football games was down 7.1 percent from 2009. The reasons for the decline included competing activities, viewing preferences (large-screen HD televisions are more prevalent than ever) and being able to use social media.
Currently, having a reliable Wi-Fi network can mean the difference for bringing in loyal customers. Schools have tried to improve the way students and other fans can access the Internet on their phones without using their data. The stadium can be a great venue to stream videos and fans might be reluctant to use up their own data. If a school has a poor Wi-Fi connection, students are likely to go elsewhere.
So many factors are involved in getting fans into the stadium and keeping them there for potential concession purchases in addition to cheering on the team. The a la carte fan experience offered by Ohio State and other institutions is a good attempt at giving fans added incentive to attend games and stay there.
A comprehensive 2014 report called the “Student Attendance at Collegiate Sporting Events” commissioned by the National Association of Collegiate Marketing Administrators (NACMA) and the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center discovered that students welcome the idea of promotions to keep them involved.
Nearly a quarter of the 18,876 respondents reported leaving before a game is 75 percent complete for various reasons including personal agendas, visiting with family and friends and the use of the Internet.
The report discovered that potential incentives for them to stay for the entire game included free T-shirts, a sponsored post-game party, loyalty points and concession discounts, in that order. Loyalty points and meet and greets with players yielded the strongest results.
Not all personalized activities have to be high-roller promotions like Ohio State has with the kicking-tee retrieval and “high-five tunnel” experience. A simple chance to be around players after a game for a modest price for students and their relatives – or with a sponsor footing the bill for publicity – is a good revenue producer while making sure fans stay in their seats the entire game.
Allowing fans that kind of access will keep them coming back for more and create a demand. What fan wouldn’t want to have their image on a jumbotron scoreboard, sing with the marching band on the field after a victory or congratulate a player directly about his performance?
Attending games is not what it once was. The appropriate word now is “event” instead of game and athletic departments should conduct their business accordingly.
Javier Morales has worked as a sports journalist for more than 25 years. He reported for The Arizona Daily Star for 13 years. He was the Star’s beat reporter for the Arizona men’s basketball program when the Wildcats won the national title in 1996-97. A 2010 Arizona Press Club award winner, Morales operates the blog site AllSportsTucson.com.