Communicating with College Sports Fans on Their Terms

Observations and takeaways from a NACDA Convention newcomer

In the most recent installment of our    FanX On The Road    series, Sales Representative Max Wyrick reflects on observations from his first NACDA experience.

In the most recent installment of our FanX On The Road series, Sales Representative Max Wyrick reflects on observations from his first NACDA experience.

A main purpose of the annual NACDA & Affiliates convention (including some of our favorite groups like NACMA & CoSIDA!) is to serve as a vehicle for the exchange of information among those working in and around college athletics. If this metaphorical “vehicle” had a chauffeur driver, its name would be DATA. Whether the conversation focused on building fan relationships, creating a master digital strategy, or enhancing sponsorship opportunities, this year during NACDA convention week, DATA was the backbone of many programming tracks, hallway conversations and lobby bar “brainstorming.”

Each session demonstrated an industry-wide desire to better understand layers of WHO college sports fans ARE. Now that data is driving much of the decision-making across collegiate athletics marketing, schools are pushing to get more and more of it to inform their decisions.

As a continuation of our series FanX On The Road, here are some of the ways collegiate athletic directors, marketers, sports information directors and others in the biz want to use data in the upcoming season(s).

Understanding how and where to communicate with college sports fans

Clearly there is no one size fits all solution to communicating with the modern sports fan, but as fan preferences become more personalized, it's important to have a communication strategy that can adapt as consumer habits evolve.

Kate Turkcan of Kantar presented in a panel called “Meet the Centennials: The Next Generation of Students”. The depth of insights shared here was amazing. Centennials (the generation that came after Millennials (sometimes known as “Gen Z”) was born between 1997 and 2009. Turkcan delivered the goods on this age demographic, with facts like 86% of them own a smartphone and they got it between the ages of 9 and 10. They don’t use Facebook. I repeat. They don’t use Facebook.

Using influencers to provide inside access content

Michael Thompson, Deputy Athletic Director for External Relations and Business Development, and Kyle Bruce, Director of Digital Strategy for the University of Washington, delivered a presentation on the cultural trends impacting today’s college sports fans. This one really drilled into the preferences of the college sports fan.

It’s no surprise that attention spans are getting shorter, but this report suggests marketers have seven seconds or less to catch the eye of the modern college sports fan. Which type of content gains the most traction? They desire exclusivity, and favor behind the scenes content featuring athletes. Content being delivered directly from athletes introduces a layer of authenticity which fans crave. This makes them feel as if they are engaging directly with the influencer. According to Thompson and Bruce, “the content itself is almost secondary”.

Creating personalized experiences in-venue and on campus

According to Turkcan’s presentation, 81% of Centennials surveyed said that they like their mobile applications to be personalized. They like when their information is saved and the experience is tailored to them and their unique interests.

This discussion certainly relates to their preferences in following their school’s sports teams. Athletics marketers know this, and they work with partners like us to build personalized experiences for their fans. Markus Jennings, of Sacramento State may have put it best when he stopped by our booth to share some feedback with our team, “We love having an app for our fans. It really feels like we are giving them their own Hornets-branded version of the ESPN app to follow their favorite teams!”

Engaging donors with high quality mobile experiences

It’s not just Gen Z looking for personalized experiences. In addition to our NACMA friends, we also spoke with a few NAADD folks who shared some of their current frustrations they are hearing from donors. As major gifters to the athletics department and university, and comparatively low users of social media, many donors have asked for “a better way” to stay engaged with their favorite teams, or to receive special information from the university.

Director of Business Development Jeremy Mohr and Markus Jennings, Sacramento State Associate A.D/External Affairs strike a pose.

Director of Business Development Jeremy Mohr and Markus Jennings, Sacramento State Associate A.D/External Affairs strike a pose.

This is really our sweet spot. As gameday experience creators for colleges and sporting events across the country, we work hard to deliver the best content in the simplest way to college sports fans, young and old. Most of our schools really begin to find their stride with push notifications, and this is a perfect solution for engaging donors. As long as they are willing to opt-in to receive notifications (and provided that schools use this channel responsibly), these donors will never miss an important moment again. And they’ll be sure to feel closer to the schools that they love and support.

Well, there you have it. Our NACDA convention recap for the year. Thank you to all of those who played host to us in Orlando last week! We learned a lot and we can’t wait to build some of these insights into our products!

Max Wyrick joined the From Now On sales team in early 2019. You can continue the conversation with him here .