Nothing boosts a prep athletics team’s spirits like bleachers full of cheering fans. But sometimes schools can have trouble filling those seats. As a high school athletics administrator or coach, here are seven ways that you can increase attendance at your school’s sporting events.
The first question you should ask yourself is whether students at your school and members of the community actually know that these athletic events are going on. If your potential audience has to research when games are happening, they’re less likely to attend.
Announce game days and times in the bulletin at your school and consider asking your local newspaper or radio stations to promote the events. If you have a marquee board at your school, make sure that the information is posted for parents and others that pass by. Maintain a current athletics website and keep your social media accounts updated.
We’ve found that schools that can effectively build a following on Twitter can very easily send out new or relevant information to parents, students, and the school community. You can see how the StateChamps Twitter account has been growing here. Give us a follow, and we’ll follow your school back!
2. Engage student leaders
Even college athletic departments can struggle to get members of the student body to support their sports teams, leaving some holes in the student section of even the most accomplished teams. Consider gathering a focus group of students and talk to them about why they and their classmates aren’t attending games and what can be done to encourage attendance.
We’ve found that a number of our client schools have very strong student-run fan bases, that go all out and rally students around them to support their teams. If you can put together a core group of students interested in supporting the school and taking on some leadership roles, you’ll see your attendance numbers grow.
3. Swag It Up
Everyone loves free stuff! Hand out free school t-shirts, offer food deals or provide a giveaway to the first people who arrive at the game. After attending a game, the hope is that the excitement of the team’s performance will keep them coming back for more in the future, no incentive needed.
And, even after the game, by encouraging more and more school spirit attire to be worn by students, a strong sense of spirit will become a part of your school’s culture.
4. Be social media friendly
For those of us who didn’t grow up with a smartphone, the idea of students tweeting and Snapchatting during a high school sports game might not leave the best taste in our mouths. BUT social media has become an integral part of the high school experience, and integrating it with your prep athletics will help appeal to this younger audience.
Create a school or athletic department social media strategy to leverage these platforms for promoting your sporting events. We mentioned Twitter a little bit earlier: having a sports community Facebook certainly helps, as does a regularly updated athletics website.
“One of our biggest no-show rates in football was the Iowa game,” Mark Hollis, the athletic director at Michigan State, told ESPN.com. “And I’d go out and walk the streets and start talking to kids, ‘Why didn’t you go?’ And they said, ‘We couldn’t text because it was raining.’ They couldn’t have their phones out. That kind of hit me pretty hard.”
5. Make it convenient
Attending a high school event should be easy for fans! A lack of parking or long admission lines could be the reason you’re having trouble filling the seats at sporting events. The same goes for the staff and volunteers that are working the game. Make sure that your customer service is on par and eliminate excuses that fans have for staying home.
And, do your best to be forward thinking and open to suggestions from the community, or examples from what other schools are doing. We try to get as much feedback as possible from StateChamps client schools, to make sure our practices and our technology can make for the best possible experience for fans.
6. Donate to a good cause
If you have a decent number of empty seats during regular season games, why not donate them to a good cause? Partner with a youth organization or other charity in your community and give away a certain number of tickets to events that aren’t well attended. Not only will you be giving someone a chance to become a life-long fan of a particular sport, but you’ll also increase the size of your audience. It’s a win-win.
7. Host a party
A major complaint of many coaches is that many fans don’t stay for the entire game, either arriving late or leaving early. In 2013, Alabama Coach Nick Saban publicly criticized Bama fans for leaving early during blowout wins, reported ESPN.
“My sense of it is, I always say the fans are a part of the team,” Saban said, according to the Anniston Star. “Everybody else should have the same sort of commitment. You don’t have to do the work all week, you don’t have to practice, you don’t have to come in at 7 in the morning and leave at 11 at night, you don’t have to do any of that stuff.”
While a public plea to students and other fans may convince some to stay the entire time, it’s not your only option. If you’re still having trouble keeping your seats filled, consider hosting a tailgate party before the game to make sure people arrive on time, or arrange for an after-party that will motivate fans to stay until the final whistle. These are also good ways to give students a chance to have fun with their friends in a supervised setting that doesn’t involve underage drinking or other risky behavior.