College sports are big business. The College Football Playoff later this month. March Madness to crown a basketball champion. The iconic College World Series in Omaha. And at the center of it all? The college sports fan, eager to cheer on his or her alma mater with fervor and passion.
Many colleges and universities are creating premium spaces within their sports stadiums and arenas to give those fans a better experience at games and other events, but they should focus on delivering a premium experience to all fans, not only those who sit in premium areas such as luxury boxes, said Chris Plonsky, director of women’s athletics at the University of Texas.
Speaking at the Intercollegiate Athletics Forum this week in New York, Plonsky added that colleges also must listen to their fans to give them the experience they want. “It’s a changing market,” she said. “And so is our customer.”
These changes are forcing colleges and universities to adapt to new demands.
For example, panelist Brock Warner, vice president of client strategies with Advent, explained how spaces that colleges routinely use for Hall of Fame presentations are becoming less popular with young fans. Warner said millennials aren’t interested in sterile spaces that showcase old sports artifacts, so teams should look for other ways to engage them.
Technology plays a role in delivering the experience fans want, panelists said, citing solutions such as video boards and mobile apps as ways to achieve this objective.
Robbie Robertson, president of the Colonnade Group, a sports and entertainment consulting firm, said video boards at college stadiums help to create a shared experience that increases the impact for fans. “A college football game is a daylong experience,” he said, adding that teams must provide a better experience than fans can get by watching from their couch.
Warner emphasized that teams have to extend the fan experience beyond the game. One way schools are doing this is by creating mobile applications that deliver content to fans that may not be available elsewhere, thus increasing their connection to teams and institutions.
Creating these connections yields benefits far down the line. Plonsky suggested that teams should strive to connect with current students by delivering the experience they desire — with the goal of turning them into lifelong fans. These fans are more likely to become the season ticket holders and university donors who are the lifeblood of educational institutions.