Collegiate athletic departments around the country are facing a rapidly evolving industry. To help us better understand the changes happening in our dynamic industry, we recently invited leaders from Cincinnati Athletics and Tennessee Athletics to join us for a conversation about the steps athletic programs can take in 2023 to achieve growth. Below are five valuable takeaways for any program also hoping to better understand their fans’ interests and behaviors, create engaging campaigns, and generate more revenue.
As new Affinaquest clients with ambitious 2023 goals, both of our attendees are in the exciting position of increasing fan engagement and revenue generation in the coming year. For the conversation, we were joined by:
- Anthony Di Fino, Deputy AD, External Relations, University of Cincinnati Athletics
- Alicia Longworth, Executive Associate AD, External Operations, University of Tennessee Athletics
1. Invest in Data Systems and Data Culture
If you feel your department is lagging behind when it comes to using data, 2023 is the year to start prioritizing your technology. The sooner you invest, the sooner you’ll start seeing a return on your investment.
However, it’s one thing to invest in effective tools and another thing entirely to use your data effectively.
Anthony Di Fino from the University of Cincinnati delivered a fitting analogy: “You have to have someone who can drive the car before you buy the car. You have to invest in people. If people aren’t bought in, you’re going to have this awesome system that could really work, but people won’t want to use it. People won’t be bought in and your system won’t be actionable.”
2. Communicate About Changes
Both of our panelists agreed — in your data journey, it’s critical to involve all units of your department from the beginning. This level of alignment and transparency will demonstrate the value of data and give your team members a greater sense of ownership over your data-focused direction. Regular communication will enable your department to identify goals, overcome obstacles, and foresee potential challenges.
The need for communication also extends beyond your athletic department. Practicing open communication across your university, and with fans, about how you are working to enhance the fan experience will increase understanding and appreciation for your improvements.
3. Keep Fans at the Center of Your Decisions
Alicia Longworth from Tennessee Athletics further emphasized the importance of communicating any changes you’re making with your fans. Transparency helps keep fans in the loop and lets them know they are at the center of your decision-making as you attempt to grow.
Remember that your fans and student-athletes will always be your department’s most important assets. Any changes you make should be made with them in mind.
Di Fino added, “if we keep our customers at the core of what we’re doing and obsess over what impacts them, that leads us to the decisions we need to make. That’s what guides our department.”
4. Understand How Your Stakeholders Fit Together
Longworth summed up this point perfectly by saying, “when you can take your marketing and sales strategy and match it with a great [fan] experience, you see what can be delivered.”
What Longworth is alluding to here is the importance of a cohesive environment between your department‘s various units. Your stakeholders should all take intentional steps to break down silos, share data, and work cross-functionally.
5. Be Prepared to Win
Finally, have a plan ready in advance to be implemented with the expectation of winning. This is the most important recommendation from both panelists; don’t wait for on-field success to have a smart, strategic plan. There will always come a time to capitalize on success and drive fan engagement, so you’ll want to be ready with a plan rather than scrambling at the last minute to make the right calls.
For example, coming off a big football win on the road at LSU in 2022, Tennessee Athletics faced a critical junction as they prepared to host Alabama at home. When the team pulled off the upset win, the staff was ready with a plan to engage fans that they had been fine-tuning for months. Longworth added, “a lot of people in our industry want to win and then be ready to go, you have to be ready to win. You have to have a plan before you even start winning.”
To take the next step in fan engagement and growth, your department can take similar steps to pursue a winning strategy today.
How Affinaquest Can Help
As your department plans for 2023 and beyond, Affinaquest can provide the tools, services, and expertise your department needs to firmly establish itself in an increasingly complex landscape.
To speak with a team member about how we can help your department take on ambitious goals, reach out to the Affinaquest team today.