Know How – Sports Marketing: Matt Gaudry: Filling that stadium

“We know that we don’t sell basketball… we do our very best to make sure that everyone has a great time at every game… We create lifetime memories.” Mark Cuban, owner, Dallas Mavericks basketball team.

AT Boise State University Athletics Department, preparations to fill the stadium begin months in advance of the season’s start.

Three months prior to the first game, mid-summer, and sales executives around the country are making 80 to 100 phone calls daily to solicit fans to attend their football games.

Many college athletic departments employ a third party vendor to hire sales people to sell their ticket inventory, with the sales executive usually paid eight-12 per cent commission of the total transaction, a big incentive.

But not at Boise State. Our sales efforts are handled internally by the ticket office staff, their goal being to sell as many season tickets as possible – which entitles fans to attend every home game of the season, but at a discounted price.

The challenge is obvious. On the one hand, the sales executives have to convince fans to spend $80+ per single match ticket (there are cheaper options available) to come and see the game in person. On the other hand, there is the lure of watching the game on TV, albeit on subscription TV.

And since every Boise State home game (there being a minimum of six per season) is televised nationally, it’s the job of the marketing staff to make sure that the best fan experience is seeing a game live.

In an office near the stadium, our marketing staff prepares the multiple in-game elements that it takes to entertain 36,000 rabid football fans.

Some of the early-season preparations range from contacting the local military base, to fly fighter jets over the stadium during introductions, to scheduling fireworks to go off after every touchdown.

Each component is scripted down to the minute, to fit with the television network schedule.

Flash forward to the first home game…

Early on game-day, thousands of Boise State Bronco football fans, clad in school colours – blue and orange – congregate in the parking lot just outside the football stadium.

People are gathered around parked recreational vehicles and party until game time.

Each group has paid a hefty fee to reserve their place in the lot for their vehicle so they can set up ten-to-12 hours before kick-off.

These ‘tailgaters’ fire up their grills cooking assorted meats, watch high-definition televisions connected to satellite, and enjoy cold beverages while waiting for the game to start.

About an hour before kickoff, the grills and televisions are shut off and the procession into the stadium begins.

As fans enter the stadium, we might offer a free give-away such as a bobble head of a team favourite or a t-shirt.

Most people like to purchase food, such as a Bronco Hotdog or cinnamon-covered walnuts, before heading to their seats. Having distinctive concession items is critical to keeping the game-day experience unique and one that fans cannot replicate at home.

To keep fans entertained during the hour preceding the game, we track the #BoiseState hashtag and post pictures of fans from social media on the 2,187-square foot video board at the end of the field.

Many fans, especially the younger generations, love seeing these pictures.

Students are big priority for us, not least because it adds to the game experience for the paying fans.

They attend because of their affinity for the university and with the prospect of having fun. There is a big element of ‘FOMO’, fear of missing out, and they are attracted by the 5,000 free tickets that we issue to them.

Pride in the local team and the party atmosphere that the students bring with them are two of the main reasons why we are able to sell the remaining 31,000 other tickets.

As the official game-clock approaches 0:00, the pre-game introductions begin.

Eighteen thousand Bronco fans in one half of the stadium yell in unison, ‘BOISE’, then the other half responds with ‘STATE’ and the pre-game tensions build.

Shortly thereafter, an explosion of fog erupts from a tunnel as the ‘Bronco Girl’ on her quarter horse runs across the field followed by the team and their symbolic sledge hammer.

Half-time has one of the experiences that the collegiate athletic environment can claim for its own: the playing of the marching band.

The 140-member band marches across the field, playing popular selections from Michael Jackson or Game of Thrones.

Since television runs commercials during this time, it’s a great opportunity for us to create stadium experiences that viewers won’t see.

The marketing staff also uses the downtime to shoot rolled-up t-shirts into the excited crowd with an air-powered cannon.

We also have cameras scanning the crowd to put enthusiastic dancers on the big screen in the ‘Dance Cam’, an interactive Bronco fan favorite.

Not one element alone will keep a fan returning game after game, but rather it is the culmination of the entire show, aimed at creating an exciting experience that can never be replicated by television.

Win or lose, the fans will have had fun and will want to do it all over again next week.

Matt Gaudry is director of Fan Development at the Boise State University Athletic Department, Boise, Idaho, USA.

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