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Improving Engagement with Students

A deep-dive webinar presented by Old Hat that takes a look at how some of the leading college athletic programs are driving better engagement from their student constituents.

Adam White

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Adam is the Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. A University of Miami Alum, Adam has worked for opendorse, the Fiesta Bowl, and the University of Miami Athletic Department. He can be reached at adam@frntofficesport.com.

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College Athletics

How College Football Bowl Games Provide Experiences and Impact Beyond the Game

College football bowl games provide not only an experience for players and coaches, but also are an avenue for impact on the host cities.

Jarrod Barnes

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Photo via Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl

With the large majority of the 40 college football bowl games already completed, postseason competition has certainly lived up to the hype.

For example, while not every game has featured traditional powerhouses, over 3.3 million viewers tuned into this year’s Las Vegas Bowl featuring Fresno State and Arizona State — both of whom welcomed a payout of $1.35 million for participating.

Outside of the revenue generated, bowl games offer more than just a chance to end the season with a victory, but rather a unique experience for players, coaches, and fans. In one fun instance, the Capital One Orange Bowl created a personalized bobblehead of each student-athlete who participated in this year’s game.

To put this all in perspective, media coverage and game highlights can overshadow the overall experience bowl games provide to student-athletes. Here are three examples of players enjoying activities beyond the game and off the field this postseason.

Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl: Toledo Rockets vs. FIU Panthers

One of the youngest and most unique bowl games, the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl was certified in May of 2014 and is the lone bowl game where fans need a passport to travel.

The Toledo Rockets and FIU Panthers had an opportunity to make a difference off the field prior to their game last week by participating in two community outreach events in the capital of Nassau. Both teams visited the Ranfurly Home for Children, where players enjoyed basketball, foot races, and volleyball with the children residing there.

READ MORE: Inside the Event Management Playbook for College Football Bowl Games

“For someone like me, I have never been out of the United States until now, so I can speak firsthand on the importance of staying disciplined and watching things work in your favor,” said Willie Ross Jr., a junior defensive tackle for the Toledo Rockets.

Richard Giannini, the executive director of the Bahamas Bowl, took things a step further and donated 3,000 bowl tickets to students in New Providence in an effort to introduce Bahamian students to the game of American football. Within a span of four years, the Bahamas Bowl has pumped over $23,000,000 into the Bahamian economy and even convinced the Bahamian Minister of Education to introduce TackleBar Football into schools on a trial basis.

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: Florida Gators vs. Michigan Wolverines

Making an impact on the community is important, but another reward of the bowl experience is player hospitality events.

The Gators and Wolverines enjoyed competition outside of this past weekend’s Peach Bowl in the event’s Battle of Bowl Week, featuring go-kart racing, a basketball challenge and other events designed for players to have fun.

“We think of it as a reward for the players,” said Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl President and CEO Gary Stokan. “They’re the ones preparing through the winter, spring, summer, and then playing in the fall. They deserve to be treated first-class. We have a theme we use: live, laugh and learn.”

Players also squared off at the Andretti Indoor Karting facility with high-speed super carts and then in a basketball challenge at the team hotel.

“(Entering the week), we (set) a competition every night for the belt, and whoever won the cumulative rankings got the belt to take home with them,” Stokan said. “We’ve seen that belt in a lot of different places. The guys really get into the Battle for Bowl Week belt.”

In addition to competing, Stokan and the Peach Bowl committee also placed a high value on providing an educational experience as well.

“We wanted them to learn,” Stokan said. “We had Congressman (John) Lewis and Andy Young and C.T. Vivian, who are three of the top eight people in Dr. King’s Civil Rights movement. They talked about leadership. We did it in Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King spoke. And we had both teams sit together, which is a no-no in the bowl business. So it’s a living history lesson.”

While the Peach Bowl offered one of the highly anticipated, marquee matchups this season, the impact of the bowl experience was felt far beyond the playing field.

RedBox Bowl: Michigan State Spartans vs. Oregon Ducks

Not to be overshadowed by this year’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game, the San Francisco Bay Area is also host to an annual bowl game. After four previous name changes since the game’s inception in 2002, the Bay Area’s college football bowl game was renamed the Redbox Bowl earlier this year following a multi-year deal with the new-release movie and video-game rental company.

READ MORE: Inside the Meteoric Rise of College Football Games

“The Redbox Bowl is thrilled to welcome two storied college football brands with shared history like Oregon and Michigan State to play in front of a primetime national audience at Levi’s Stadium,” said Ryan Oppelt, executive director of the RedBox Bowl and director of the Bay Area Host Committee. “The Ducks and Spartans have large alumni contingents in the Bay Area, so we couldn’t ask for a better way to kick off an incredible week of postseason football.”

Players attended a premiere matchup this week at Oracle Arena between the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers. Several Michigan State players were welcomed by Spartans alumnus and current Warriors star Draymond Green after the game.

Student-athletes were also given a tour of the world famous Alcatraz Prison on Alcatraz Island. Outside of sightseeing, both Oregon and Michigan State players volunteered to help those in need at GLIDE and St. Anthony’s in San Francisco ahead of Monday afternoon’s tilt.

As you can see through just a small handful of examples, bowl games provide not only an experience for players and coaches, but also are an avenue for impact on the host cities, local communities, and even countries that participate. The level of responsibility for sports commissions and planning committees is high, but the outcomes can create memories far beyond the game.

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A Huge Gap in Economic Impact Numbers Begs the Question: Are Bowl Games Worth It?

A significant economic impact gap between the more than 40 bowl games leaves professors wondering if they’re all worth it.

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The amount a college football bowl game brings in to its respective community varies greatly — so much so, the events can economically be stratified into at least five tiers.

A 2016 economic impact study of the previous season’s 41 bowl games found a top tier of the major events, such as the Rose Bowl, can have a seven-to-eight-figure economic impact, said Carl Winston, program director the Payne School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at San Diego State University.

The Football Bowl Association commissioned SDSU and George Washington University to perform the study, which found the total impact of the season’s 41 contests was $1.5 billion annually.

“You go down the tiers and it drops pretty fast,” Winston said.

Along with the 2016 nationwide study, SDSU regularly looks at the local impact of the Holiday Bowl and the Poinsettia Bowl, which was discontinued in 2017.

“San Diego, we’re in the $20 million range, depending on the year,” he said. “We’re mid-tier, and there’s plenty of others generating $5 million and not doing a lot.”

The Peach Bowl in Atlanta has an average economic impact of $37 million, Georgia State University Economics Professor Bruce Seaman said. When Atlanta hosted the NCAA National Championship last January, however, the impact was nearly $70 million.

READ MORE: How Cities Prepare to Host the College Football Playoff National Championship Game

The economic impacts in the communities around them are often low earlier in the bowl season, but there are benefits to teams and leagues. Also, cities with plenty of football and hospitality infrastructure can host them with relatively little cost.

Seaman said Orlando can host the Cure Bowl without much burden. In not too many words, a bowl game being worth it or not is a complicated issue with no real solution.

“If the NCAA can wring any additional money out of them, the conferences are certainly happy,” Seaman said. “The incremental cost is not all that much, so it can be modest and justified.”

Large sponsors are also hard to come by, Winson said, with only the major bowls bringing in high-paying marquee sponsorships. The larger bowls tend to have complex activations around them, often turning into a whole week, which helps extend the spending of visitors.

Bowl-game payout often determines the teams playing, which, in turn, is tied to the economic impact. Teams like Alabama, Michigan and Notre Dame have large fan bases willing to travel and spend money.

There are also factors, like if the game is run by a local organization. In Atlanta, Chick-fil-A runs the Peach Bowl and the ticket money stays in state. When the NCAA or NFL comes to town, the ticket money flows out, Seaman said.

All those extra factors can create confusion when professors across the country are putting together economic impact studies about the bowl games. He wants there to be some form of a general consensus in how to put those numbers together.

READ MORE: Economic Benefits of Hosting the NCAA Tournament

“We need to get some consensus of a model so everyone is on the same page,” he said. “So, we’re not playing the game of biggest impact, which can come from all sorts of methods with little ways to manipulate. It’d be nice to have a common, if not the same, model being used so we can agree on the thing always accounted for.”

In looking at the economics of bowl games, it make sense for the NCAA to continue to expand, but that doesn’t mean Seaman believes there aren’t too many events. In fact, he does think there are too many. Eventually, he believes, others will come to similar conclusions.

“It’ll end when cities look at it and say it’s just a hassle to consider hosting,” Seaman said. “Either the NCAA’s incremental benefits are so small or nobody cares and cities are reluctant to host, but until then, it’ll keep growing. It’s like you’re giving out candy at the end of the year, and it’s how much can you give out, and you’ll be tempted to keep handing it out to shut people up.”

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College Athletics

Michigan Athletics Turns to Facebook to Drive New Donations

The University of Michigan athletic department has found a great return on investment by reaching donors through paid Facebook advertising.

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The University of Michigan recently tapped into a fundraising reservoir using Facebook.

Last December, Brian Wagner was given a list of 20,000 emails of University of Michigan alumni who had the means to give, but hadn’t previously donated to the athletic department. As the department’s digital strategy and creative lead, Wagner decided to turn to a modern solution: social media.

Uploading the list into Facebook, Wagner found 15,000 of those emails on the website and from there the department created a “basic ad campaign” with former quarterback Denard Robinson.

“We were trying to grab some emotional strings there,” Wagner said.

SEE MORE: VERT Looks to Real-Time Data to Provide More Engaging Fan Experience

Spending $500 in the final week of December, the University of Michigan athletic department reached 9,029 of the 15,000 targeted users. Intrigued by the ad, 199 people clicked the link and eventually 40 donated a whopping $17,392. The 56-percent result rate and $2.51 cost per result were well worth the initial $500 investment, Wagner said.

The money went to the Michigan Athletics Scholarship Fund.

“Our development team was very pleased with the results,” Wagner said. “We do so much of our interactions with our season-ticket holders, and unless you’re a big donor, there’s not a lot of touch, and in the last week of the year we wanted to amp that up.”

The campaign was the only one that resulted in monetary donations, but Wagner said the athletic department regularly uses targeted Facebook campaigns, including letting the 25,000 season-ticket members know that there would be a “maize out” for a football game.

Early on in the football season, Wagner said they spent a few hundred dollars for a “thank-you” message to their season-ticket holders and will likely do another one later in the season, near Senior Day.

SEE MORE: Paws & Claws Club Provides Auburn Pets to Be Fans 

More were used to target the geographic area for ticket sales. The best performing campaigns are those emails they have from previous ticket purchasers, so they’re not just sounding off with a “megaphone.”

The success of the campaign also has resulted in Facebook receiving budgetary allocations in the annual budget. Wagner said the department will likely do another donor push in the near future.

“A lot still goes toward more traditional marketing, but we were able to add more dollars in this year for the paid social, where we hadn’t budgeted in previous years,” Wagner said. “We’d have to allocate from other areas, so it’s not an overnight shift, but we were able to siphon off more money directed to paid social and most of it is geared toward more revenue generation.”

The process sounds more sophisticated, Wagner said, but is fairly easy once the ad buyer dives in. He also said social media paid ad targeting isn’t something talked about much in his world, but it can be a useful tool.

SEE MORE: ‘Climb With Us’ Moniker Leads Marketing Efforts for Penn State 

A worry is all the controversy brought up surrounding Facebook and other social media business models, Wagner said. So far, however, the University of Michigan Athletic Department hasn’t had negative feedback.

“I’ve even thought about that myself,” he said. “But we’ve not received any emails or calls. The way I see it, and others might, I would much rather see an ad like this than one that doesn’t relate to me.”

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