Wichita State will not beg you to buy season tickets to volleyball matches this season. Nor will it plead for women’s basketball support, or push softball and baseball passes.
The athletic department is going soft sell on buying, and hard sell on buying in. It wants your loyalty, and is confident your cash will follow.
WSU is rolling out a new campaign that highlights the players, the Shocker experience, the action of college athletics. The advertisements don’t appear to ask for much. That is the reaction John Brewer wants. This marketing push — built on the Twitter hashtag #WatchUs — is about social media, getting fans to bring in new fans and building loyalty that lasts beyond a $65 volleyball season ticket.
“The idea is, one fan turns into many,” said Brewer, WSU’s assistant athletic director of marketing and sales. “They begin to interact and participate and feel like they can really buy in and have some sort of ownership with our athletics programs.”
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In marketing terms, the call to action (buying tickets) is in small print. The branding (identify yourself as a Shocker fan) is what matters.
“This is disposable income, so it’s time that we understand that we want you to buy in and feel like you’re a part of something, versus you have to do this in order to participate,” Brewer said. “That’s what going to stick with people. I’m a Nike guy. Nike doesn’t make the best golf products. But I’ve worn Nike basketball shoes and Nike running shoes and Nike gear all my life. When I went to buy my golf gear, I also bought Nike. That’s because of brand loyalty.”
The #WatchUs campaign started with print advertisements and on Facebook and gets its big debut at the Shocker Volleyball Classic beginning Thursday at Koch Arena. Fans will start to see opportunities to take pictures and submit them for a spot on the Koch Arena scoreboard.
Fans who use Twitter can do the same, using the hashtag #WatchUs, as in #WatchUsSweepColoradoState or #WatchUsDunkontheSalukis. It could be #WatchUsEatNachos.
Attitude after beating Creighton is encouraged. Words or images not appropriate for a family setting are not, and submissions will be scrutinized before display.
The campaign is heavy on social media. It is also consistent through all sports. The #WatchUs look — bold, black, simple — will be used the entire school year and will stay uniform in items such as team posters and schedule cards.
Using Twitter, Instagram or YouTube is free, an obvious advantage over other advertisements. Social media, Brewer believes, will let WSU reach a younger audience and let its fans work for the athletic department while doing what they do naturally on social media — share their life. If they share a part of their life that includes wearing black and yellow and cheering wildly at Koch Arena, even better.
The plan starts with one big advantage — WSU already draws crowds bigger than most colleges for several sports. The men’s basketball team ranked No. 38 nationally in 2011-12, averaging 10,391 fans. The volleyball team ranked No. 10 (2,527) last season with baseball No. 20 (3,103). Shocker basketball season-ticket holders are typically the most affluent and the oldest demographic of that group, Brewer said.
Volleyball and women’s basketball rely more on families than corporate support. Crossing those lines is one of the goals of the new campaign. WSU doesn’t have many men’s basketball tickets to sell, but it can take advantage of those crowds in other ways.
“We have 10,500 that come through here 17 nights a year,” Brewer said. “That’s a powerful fan base. Let’s turn our fans into foot soldiers for us and try to drive interest in our other sport programs. How are we going to do that? We’re going to get them to interact.”
WSU plans for the campaign to work in many ways so it can convert a WSU baseball fan into a WSU fan who supports all sports, or bring in a recent transplant caught up in Shocker success. Perhaps a picture of a big crowd on the Coleman Hill for a Shocker baseball game lures in a new fan. The marketing team’s fondest wish is that high-profile Shocker athletes or coaches use the #WatchUs hashtag to get the word out to their followers on Twitter.
“You have one fan who attends an event and uses Facebook or foursquare or Twitter, Instagram and they post on their own account,” said Katie Glunt, director of marketing. “Their whole list of friends sees it, and they get excited. It’s this whole cycle of reaching new people. That’s how it can transcend groups and reach new people.”
When graphic artist Kayla Blanding set out to create the look for the campaign, she wanted to focus on the athlete. The print and video ads will be bold and simple with no distractions in the background. One ad features a picture of volleyball player Jackie Church serving. The background is black. No fans. No coaches. No net. A volleyball ad for TV will be similar. Another shows men’s basketball player Carl Hall’s jersey.
“We have athletes,” she said. “They’re tough. They’re gritty. That’s the best way to highlight them, by just showing them.”
WSU made its first big marketing push earlier this month when it held an open house at Koch Arena and offered prizes for new purchases of men’s basketball tickets. In a three-hour period during the open house, WSU sold 65 tickets, worth $17,000, and $10,000 in Shocker Athletic Scholarship Organization donations.