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ZachTheZip

Student Attendance & Marketing

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This deserves its own discussion.

 

OK. Where to even begin? Let's start with the AK-Rowdies.

The AK-Rowdies were created in 2005 to be an organized student cheering section at basketball games in imitation of Ohio University's OZone. Basketball has been their primary focus since the beginning, with a strong focus on soccer beginning when Caleb Porter sought out the groups leadership in an effort to create a unique atmosphere at his home games. Soccer student attendance was poor for quite a while despite an excellent team and the coaches actively courting students to attend with giveaways, free pizza, and typical marketing. It took years of persistence to get things going, and then momentum took over. Basketball continues to be the AK-Rowdies primary focus, though, as it is the only sporting event where they are allowed special privileges (floor seats) over other students.

 

As far as football goes, during the end of the Rubber Bowl era, the Rowdies had nothing to do with football, but marketing towards students in general was strong with free shuttles to and from the stadium, and an open area for them to tailgate in without supervision (this is important). In 2009, the novelty of Infocision Stadium boosted attendance until the losing really set in. Then Rob Ianello happened. Not only did he kill all enthusiasm for the program in general, he had the gall to call out the Rowdies leadership for not getting enough students to the games. Couple this with the university's administrators beginning to grow dissatisfied with complaints against the Rowdies for being too Rowdy at other sporting events, and you have a difficult situation if you're trying to boost student attendance. The athletic department loves the Rowdies and wants them to grow into something bigger, but the university dislikes having to police them (sometimes literally) and some see them as an easy scapegoat when they need someone to blame for unruly students at sporting events (many of which aren't members). I can't tell you how many times I've seen police officers and university administrators go up to the Rowdies leadership to yell at them for something somebody else did or said. It happens multiple times a game at every sporting event.

One other issue is that the Rowdies are what I call a "secondary" student organization. Most members are also part of something else, like greek life or some club that comes first to the students, so when marketing does greek week or a res life challenge, it only cannibalizes the impact of the Rowdies. I don't really have a point with all this. I just though it was information that seems to be left out of attendance conversations I've read where people suggest that more or better marketing toward the Rowdies would fix things.

 

Now, on to the life of the modern student. This really does seem incomprehensible to some posters here, but the life of a university student is vastly different than it was even ten years ago. Today, student loans and a job combined are barely enough to stay out of abject poverty. Time to be entertained is a luxury, thanks to the internet. Classes now require far more time put into them outside of the classroom because professors can so easily put up course material, homework, quizzes, and tons of other stuff on Springboard (that's a web portal for your classes, old-timers). It's really at the point where time spent in the classroom listening to a lecture is a waste of time you would rather spend working on the online stuff where the meat of your education lies. Classes are more self-taught than ever before, because technology makes it possible. This is a tremendous time commitment. Students as a whole don't party like they used to in past decades, they don't even just "hang out" as much. Then factor in the need for a job (need, not luxury, unless you want to be in six-figure debt for life), access to things like Netflix which allows you to be entertained on-demand while you study, and it's no surprise that student attendance is less than it used to be across the country. The only places where it hasn't been affected are the programs where demand outweighs a limited number of student tickets. If student tix were unlimited and stadium capacities no issue, you would see the decline there as well.

 

So, what can be done? The ultimate key is to make athletic events , whatever they may be, seen by students as the place where other students go to have fun. They want to be a part of something, they want to meet people, have fun together, and enjoy themselves. Whether it's at a restaurant, a stadium, a bar, whatever, it doesn't matter. That's the trick. But getting something like that going is a bootstrap paradox of a problem. How do you create self-sustaining momentum?

 

Something happened at the App State game that gave me some insight into this. So, the university has set aside a portion of Lot 9 for all UA students to tailgate in. It's a fairly big space, right by the SE entrance. The Rowdies set up a tent, had a grill with hotdogs, chips, water, cornhole, giant jenga, KanJam, and music. As an official student organization, they can't have alcohol at the tailgate but students could bring their own. Now, during the home opener, there were also some other student tailgater there that set up alongside them (I forget if they were greeks or some other organization) and it was a pretty good event. At the App State game, however, no other student organization was present in the student tailgate lot, and so it looked sparse and kind of pathetic. The other groups had set up elsewhere, way out by the JAR or spread all over the place away from the stadium. Things were good when you had synergy, and things were bad when you didn't. This is entirely on the University. The Rowdies did their part. The other student organizations need to be pushed by the university to also use the lot, if the university actually wants there to be a good student experience at the game. There needs to be cooperation. The Rowdies can't do anything without the university breathing down their necks and forcing things, but these other groups can set up wherever they like and do whatever they like and nobody even gives it a second look. There's potential to have a big event, which creates the thing where students see other students together and having fun, which creates the kind of atmosphere that attracts more students. They can't rely on the AK-Rowdies alone, because at the end of the day you'll only get the small core of dedicated sports fans to show up if you're not also involving other groups.

 

I realize that this whole thing has been very apologetic towards the Rowdies, but that's my perspective on the situation right now as someone on the outside but close enough to see what's happening. I won't deny that they could have done more in certain years. It's not all on them. I just feel that it's relevant now with Matt Newhouse coming back.

 

Another thing I want to touch on is UA's social media marketing. It's just not good. There are too many accounts. There are accounts for every sport, plus a main one on both Facebook and Twitter. It's too confusing. Not only that, but it's a little too promotional. Everything they post sounds like a press release or a commercial. People filter that stuff out subconsciously before they even read it. Where are the pics of people tailgating or cheering at the games? No cheesy captions or comments attached, just some pictures of people having fun in Zips gear. That resonates.  Where are the highlight clips posted just minutes after the big play happened? Every professional team in every sport does this, and most colleges, too. People want to share the experience they just had right now, not three hours later after the game ended and the excitement has worn off. If you look around, the most successful social media accounts are about the raw experience. Also, somebody please help get coach Bowden verified on Twitter. That little blue checkmark goes a long way.

 

As for more traditional marketing, UA has it all wrong. Billboards don't do anything, traditional newspaper ads don't get you anywhere (but the newspaper itself might warm up to you if you give them enough money... there's a thought), TV ads don't get you anywhere with cord cutters, Internet banner ads are useless for students because nearly all millennials use ad-blocking software (and more are also using tracker-blocking software to make the ads that do get through irrelevant). So what do you do? First, you go to where they are. You make ads designed for Spotify and other streaming apps, which ad blockers can't touch. Also, you do whatever you can to get yourself mentioned in the dominant media for the region. The TV news channels and the big sports talk radio stations. Those are the only ones that matter in a lot of people's minds. Maybe less so to students as a primary source, but those places chop up their segments into clips and podcasts that can be shared on social media, and that's key. People don't watch the news live, they check the website and watch the clips. Less commercials, more convenience.

 

This turned out to be way more rant-y and longer than I had envisioned. Still, it felt good to get it all out there. I hope we can have a good discussion about student attendance and marketing.

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Thanks for this great post. I can tell that you put a lot of time and thought into it. 

 

There has been a lot of talk on this forum about the Rowdies leadership (or lack thereof). I would like to give my perspective. I am a current student who was on the Rowdies board for the past two years, including being the president for the 2015-16 school year. Looking back, there are absolutely some things that I would have done differently, but there is a serious misunderstanding of what the Rowdies are and what they are meant to be.

 

First, the Rowdies are NOT the student marketing department for athletics. Athletics has their own employees that are paid to get students to games. The Rowdies are a group that work to make sporting events fun for its own members. Because everyone has a better time when there are a lot of people at a game, the Rowdies have volunteered to help the marketing staff when they can, but as Zach said, the Rowdies board consists of students who are not paid and are being stretched in 100 different directions on a given day. My board last year included a student in the process of applying for grad school, a student on the leadership board of his frat, a student doing her first semester of lab work, and a student who started a new student org during her first semester in college. All of these responsibilities were much higher on their list of priorities than the Rowdies and I don't blame them in the slightest. 

 

 

My big goal of the past year was to get other student orgs involved with the gameday experience. The biggest example of this was with our football tailgates. We wanted to have different Greek groups cosponsor the tailgates. All they had to do was get their students to come out and bring a couple 12 packs of pop. In return, the Rowdies would supply all of the food, music, and games.We had at least 1 frat and 1 sorority sign up for each tailgate, maybe 4 showed up all year. The frat that a board member belonged to was the only one to have more then 5 members come. 

 

If any of you have recommendations that the Rowdies haven't tried, I've yet to see one on this forum, please let me know. I will be happy to pass it along to this year's board. As far as I know, I'm the only former Rowdie board member around that still visits ZipsNation.

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Thanks for the response. I wish I knew of a way to get more student orgs involved. That's something that marketing needs to get creative about. They're way too flaky. Their feet don't get held to the fire like the Rowdies.

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8 minutes ago, ZachTheZip said:

Thanks for the response. I wish I knew of a way to get more student orgs involved. That's something that marketing needs to get creative about. They're way too flaky. Their feet don't get held to the fire like the Rowdies.

What if there was some type of campus wide contest, for all organizations, that culminated at the end of a football game? Like a fundraising contest for a charity that had different types of awards, to motivate different types and size of organizations to be involved? It would be nice if it could include a celebrity experience (celebrity relevant to millennials, not their parents) and/or cash awards for the organizations? Or maybe make it a situation where organizations pick the type of challenge they want to participate in and then the winner of each category is entered into a drawing? If you had a theme to pull it altogether like One Akron Week (from E pluribus Unum) that showcases the diversity of the different student organizations and how the sum total make UA a better place. Maybe even pair  organizations together to cultivate unity that might not normally work together or be considered polar opposites?

 

One thing that we desperately need at UA is some kind of tradition. We have no cheer that is unique, no song that gets the crowd pumped up (Steelers-Renegade, Wisconsin-Jump Around, PSU - Sweet Caroline) and everything seems to require a corporate sponsor. I get the need for sponsors, but we should be able to have some type of tradition that is organic and pulls people together and creates an experience that makes it more fun to be together and makes people glad they are there.

 

Maybe we can hijack this and repurpose it:

 

One thing not mentioned impacting student attention has been weather: last year's rain and the year before some rain and bitter cold. It's hard to get dedicated fans out in some of the weather we have seen, let alone attract new fans.

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Excellent post, Zach.  Thank you.

 

I know we've been saying this for years now, but UA Athletics could learn a lot by simply spending some time with the guys down the street.  Here's another article on the RubberDucks from today's ABJ.  They've been selected to represent the Eastern League as a candidate for the John Johnson President's Award, which, I guess, goes to the most outstanding franchise in minor league baseball.

 

http://www.ohio.com/sports/rubberducks/rubberducks-selected-as-eastern-league-s-nominee-for-top-honor-in-minor-league-baseball-1.714947

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Great post Zach, this is certainly a great topic that has been discussed on several occasions on this forum, it really needs it's own thread.  It's also nice to see some other younger posters all chiming in as well.  I would like to point out that this isn't an attack on older members...but instead a different perspective of the non-student involvement at games.  We all care about UA, or we wouldn't be here spending time talking about UA on this forum.

 

UAZippers I love that you say that the AK-Rowdies are NOT marketing for the athletics department.  I'm sure the athletics department wishes they would be...:lol:   

But seriously, I pull out that point because it's one that points to the underlying cultural problem at UA.  That the people running things (administration), don't treat the students as if they're adults.  They treat them like children.  And because of this, most student orgs choose not to get involved with things outside of their primary objectives.

 

Zipsoutsider, that idea is a wonderful idea, and I think it's something UA should explore.  That idea has been brought up almost every time this forum has the conversation 

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I don't have anything to add right now. I'm sure I'll take some time to come up with some constructive thoughts, but I just want to say thats its nice to see a constructive discussion happening regarding this topic rather than the same old back and forth talking in circles.

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Hate to plagiarize others ideas, but these are the type of traditions we need. Take someone else's good idea and fine tune it to make it your own. Going to the football game should be a fun and exciting experience that students look forward to all week. Not something where you just stand around for 4 hours and kind of just go thru the emotions.

 

I worked 30 hours a week, took 15-16 credit hours, and was treasurer of my fraternity all at the same time. My "free time" was valuable. There are thousands of other stories like mine around campus. Game day experience has to justify their time commitment. Right now they can follow the game on twitter or watch on TV in the comfort of their home while studying, doing projects, or whatever multi tasking things these young kids do these days.

 

 

 

 

I think a designated student tailgate lot where the University won't be dicks about policing would be a good start. Make the lot free and be 1st come 1st serve.

Edited by kreed5120

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18 minutes ago, kreed5120 said:

Hate to plagiarize others ideas, but these are the type of traditions we need. Take someone else's good idea and fine tune it to make it your own.

The Zips already do some of these. I like the DJ idea. Fleck's enthusiasm reminds me of our interim president. Get him more involved. 

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2 hours ago, kreed5120 said:

Hate to plagiarize others ideas, but these are the type of traditions we need. Take someone else's good idea and fine tune it to make it your own. Going to the football game should be a fun and exciting experience that students look forward to all week. Not something where you just stand around for 4 hours and kind of just go thru the emotions.

 

I actually just watched that Western Michigan video.  I get it.  They want to create some things, and instruct everyone on what to do.  Great.  I'd love to find out how it works for them.  And it doesn't have to be a modification of someone else's idea.  They can be uniquely our own.

 

I actually,enjoy watching other team's traditions, and feel jealous at times.  Singing "My Old Kentucky Home" before kickoff in Lexington a few years ago was a memorable moment for me.   So was watching the entire crowd do "Jump" at the beginning of the 4th quarter at Wisconsin.  

 

We certainly could make more efforts to get these things started here.  I remember a few years back when we attempted to get the crowd to shout A-K....R-O-N along with the Cheerleaders near the end of our fight song.  A guy came out on the basketball floor and led us through it a couple of times.  The Cheerleaders still do it, but few in the crowd participate.   

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Zach,

   Think that was a great post and gave a lot of insight into the situation and even some good suggestions on how to address it. Traditions that everyone can participate in are important. Rocky Top in Tennessee, Toomers Corner at Auburn, the Grove at Mississippi (and by the way zipsoutsider they no longer do Sweet Caroline at Penn State, something about the lines touching me, touching you after the Sandusky scandal didn't sit quite right so they abandoned it, but if you want you can count that for the Boston Red Sox they still do it). The Baltimore Orioles play Thank God I'm a Country Boy during the 7th inning stretch but for the life of me I can't figure out why. :) 

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I like WMU's attempt.  But IMO it's gotta feel organic; can't feel contrived.

 

Maybe we could grab onto a song by the Black Keys?

 

Chrissie Hynde & The Pretenders' classic My City Was Gone is about Akron, but probably not a song we'd want to identify with. Lol

Edited by Blue & Gold
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57 minutes ago, MDZip said:

Zach,

   Think that was a great post and gave a lot of insight into the situation and even some good suggestions on how to address it. Traditions that everyone can participate in are important. Rocky Top in Tennessee, Toomers Corner at Auburn, the Grove at Mississippi (and by the way zipsoutsider they no longer do Sweet Caroline at Penn State, something about the lines touching me, touching you after the Sandusky scandal didn't sit quite right so they abandoned it, but if you want you can count that for the Boston Red Sox they still do it). The Baltimore Orioles play Thank God I'm a Country Boy during the 7th inning stretch but for the life of me I can't figure out why. :) 

+1 for Rocky Top and the whole game day experience in Knoxville. It's probably still my favorite college football experience.

PSU did halt Sweet Caroline for a while, but has since brought it back.

 

13 minutes ago, Blue & Gold said:

I like WMU's attempt.  But IMO it's gotta feel organic; can't feel contrived.

I agree - felt contrived to me. I also have wondered why they just don't change their mascot to something with a nautical theme.

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29 minutes ago, zipsoutsider said:

+1 for Rocky Top and the whole game day experience in Knoxville.

 

Certainly one of the best places I've been to as well.  

 

But keep something in mind.  Rocky Top IS their fight song.  A very unique one.  But a fight song, nonetheless.  

 

It shouldn't be asking much for fans to sing a fight song, but it will never happen here.  If we can't even get people to chant A-K....R-O-N, they are never going to sing the entire song.  But, I love hearing the players sing it in some of the videos I see.  

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3 hours ago, Blue & Gold said:

Maybe we could grab onto a song by the Black Keys?

 

The Black Keys wrote a song about Akron, but it might just confuse people when we play OU.

 

 

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Come to think of it, I'm not aware of any songs that have Akron in the title, or even talk about Akron at all.  

 

If there were, I think playing those kinds of songs at games generate pride in the city, and might lead to pride in OUR team.  I know several slogans and videos have gone down this road in the past, like the "Roo Town...This Is Our Team", and the football video from last year with Bowden saying "Akron is a Blue Collar Town...and we're a Blue Collar team", etc.  

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The only slogan that had any real success was "Fear the Roo". I don't understand why they scrapped it.

 

One problem I've seen is that every new marketing staff wants to have their own big idea, and due to rapid turnover, this means every marketing campaign for the last decade has died before it had a chance to catch on. Whatever happened to Roowards?

 

What's needed is a conservative, long-term approach to athletic branding. Stick with something for more than two years and you might see it catch on, or even see a tradition be born.

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1 hour ago, skip-zip said:

Come to think of it, I'm not aware of any songs that have Akron in the title, or even talk about Akron at all.  

 

If there were, I think playing those kinds of songs at games generate pride in the city, and might lead to pride in OUR team.  I know several slogans and videos have gone down this road in the past, like the "Roo Town...This Is Our Team", and the football video from last year with Bowden saying "Akron is a Blue Collar Town...and we're a Blue Collar team", etc.  

Not in the title, but about Akron and not really pump up music.

 

 

I went back to Ohio
But my city was gone
There was no train station
There was no downtown
South Howard had disappeared
All my favorite places
My city had been pulled down
Reduced to parking spaces
A, o, way to go Ohio

 

Well I went back to Ohio
But my family was gone
I stood on the back porch

There was nobody home
I was stunned and amazed
My childhood memories
Slowly swirled past
Like the wind through the trees
A, o, oh way to go Ohio

 

I went back to Ohio
But my pretty countryside
Had been paved down the middle
By a government that had no pride
The farms of Ohio
Had been replaced by shopping malls
And Muzak filled the air
From Seneca to Cuyahoga falls
Said, a, o, oh way to go Ohio

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I was one of the first members of the AK-Rowdies. Me and my buddy attended every football and basketball game. I changed the lyrics to "For Boston" and taught everyone on the bus to Detroit for the bowl game.  

 

Do do they still do the AK... ROWDIE! Chant anymore?  Nothing was better than when we invaded the ksu student section and flipped out shirts inside out, screaming ak rowdy and jumping around. 

 

As for a song, can we contact VEC and pay them for the song, maybe even get it polished up a little.  For its time and budget it was a pretty good hook. As a backup plan, pick something by the Black Keys, even play the YouTube video where they give a shoutout to Akron, Swensons and Luigis. 

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53 minutes ago, pdt1420 said:

I was one of the first members of the AK-Rowdies. Me and my buddy attended every football and basketball game. I changed the lyrics to "For Boston" and taught everyone on the bus to Detroit for the bowl game.  

 

Do do they still do the AK... ROWDIE! Chant anymore?  Nothing was better than when we invaded the ksu student section and flipped out shirts inside out, screaming ak rowdy and jumping around. 

 

As for a song, can we contact VEC and pay them for the song, maybe even get it polished up a little.  For its time and budget it was a pretty good hook. As a backup plan, pick something by the Black Keys, even play the YouTube video where they give a shoutout to Akron, Swensons and Luigis. 

 

VEC?  And what song?

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12 hours ago, zipsoutsider said:

Not in the title, but about Akron and not really pump up music.

 

 

 

Well, I've heard this song thousands of times in my lifetime.  The area radio stations have always loved playing it.  Maybe there's a background story about the writing of the song.  But, other than a reference at one point to Cuyahoga Falls, I've never felt any connection myself between this song, and being an Akronite.  

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Yeah, graciously, Chrissie Hynde didn't explicitly name Akron in the song.  But the song's about Akron.

 

Chrissie should write a tune about Akron's comeback!

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30 minutes ago, Blue & Gold said:

Yeah, graciously, Chrissie Hynde didn't explicitly name Akron in the song.  But the song's about Akron.

 

Chrissie should write a tune about Akron's comeback!

 

Still, regardless of the fact of whether it mentions Akron, or is a "pump up" song, I think it could still be played at a timeout.  Throw in a Joe Walsh song or a DEVO song too.  They are all from local artists, and generate some local pride.  

 

They have more value in connecting with our fans than some random rap song, don't you think?

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