Marketing and promoting collegiate athletics is far from standardized. There’s no one audience, each university is different, and the pieces of the game are constantly changing with graduation and recruitment. One thing that doesn’t change: The students. They live on or around campus, they’re directly invested in the university, and they’re often searching for something to do. Regardless of the current situation, there’s always a chance to involve the student body more.
This past week, a person I’d connected with through Twitter reached out asking about how I’ve connected with students and student-groups on campus at the University of Central Missouri. First, I have to note that I’m not in a typical spot: I completed my undergraduate degree at Central Missouri and have spent a lot of time on campus through the years. I spent most of my undergrad involved in groups, working for housing, and meeting a lot of faculty and staff. When I stepped into my position, connecting with the campus was far from difficult.
The question remained, though: Who does he need to meet to get in tune with the student body?
Fraternity & Sorority Life
At Central Missouri, nearly 10% of the undergraduate student body is in a fraternity or sorority. I wasn’t a member of a fraternity on campus, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t aware of them. I met countless men and women involved in each through the various involvements I had on campus.
If your university has a Greek system, it’s a potential goldmine for involvement. It doesn’t have to be a chapter-by-chapter effort, either. Last year, we implemented an attendance competition that tied in directly to the Greek Intramural competition. In tracking attendance, we awarded the top three chapters from each side with the highest percentage of chapter attendance at certain events. These events were ‘FSL Days,’ with notation on the video boards and promotional material. Activating this was a matter of meeting with the representative boards – Delegates from each chapter meet weekly, providing myself and another graduate assistant regular opportunities to gauge their interest in participation in upcoming events.
Reach out to the Greek life advisor on campus, find out what opportunities they’d be interested, and find a match. Even if it only boosts attendance for one event in a given season — that’s more than you would’ve had without them.
I spent my junior and senior year of undergrad as a Community Advisor (CA), also known as Resident Advisors on other campuses, with 60 first-year students on my floor and over 300 students in the building. In the weeks leading up to the school year, UCM Housing put the CAs through training whether it was their first year or third. I knew residents from my floor and others, CAs from every dorm on campus, and friends of all involved.
These are the people you want interested in what you’re doing! Housing employees are there to guide students academically, personally, and socially. As a CA, I had to arrange a variety of ‘events’ including planned or spontaneous social outings and it’s a requirement pretty common among housing employees. One of the easiest events to get my residents to attend was a game — They just had to know about it.
If the athletic department isn’t already, make an investment in having an athletic presence in the dorms and even at the training. Each building is likely to have a supervisor who knows their respective student make up, their interests, and what they’re doing. Meet with these supervisors, meet with the students who supervise the floors, and listen. It’s no secret that free shirts and pizza will get students to a given game, but what will keep them coming back? They can only tell you if you ask.
Every campus has it and every name is different. This is the department on campus who constantly arranges events on campus, works with student organizations, and has a finger in almost every entertainment decision that will impact your students. They’re likely receiving some sort of student fee out of credit hour payments that in turn keeps the campus involved. While they may not have a specific interest in athletics, the goals are the same: Engage students.
At Central Missouri, I’ve worked with the Office of Campus Activities to create watch parties, organize ‘black out’ game events, be part of our ‘Week of Welcome,’ and far more. When Central Missouri made the Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship last year, it was this office that our athletic department worked hand-in-hand with to get buses for students to travel. As I said in the conversation: Your athletic department almost certainly has a relationship with this group, but it can always be better.
No matter the institution, they’re bound to have groups of influence on campus. There are people, places, and organizations that students naturally gravitate to and offer you a chance to grow your fan base. My emphasis in creating and nurturing these relationships: Each is a two-way street. These groups will often be happy to collaborate for the sake of students, but remember that athletics often carries significant weight in the eyes of students. When these groups look for your involvement, what will be your reply? Will you decline outright and hope they continue supporting your efforts, or will you become a staple of student involvement?