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How to Win Your Fans – Change Your Culture

Mary Pink's picture

Are you marketing your team with culture of your fan base in mind?

A recent article titled "Bucs Set Sail with Fresh Approach to Business" by Daniel Kaplan in the Sports Business Journal highlighted how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers changed their team’s culture and how it positively impacted ticket sales. Through marketing, customer service, ticket pricing and game day experience the team worked to mirror the culture of their ticket holders.

Not only can you change the culture with pro sports teams but it can also be done in intercollegiate athletics. At the Iowa State Athletics Department, we have been working for the last several years to change our culture internally to match that of our fan base. This has been a work in progress but has had an impact on ticket sales and increased excitement around the football program.

One way to assess your culture is to survey your fans to see if your team or department matches the culture of your ticket holders. Survey these fans to get their views on the team, game day atmosphere, marketing, and customer service. Don’t wait until you see a problem or disconnect with the fan base. You can use an outside company or your organization can do it internally. The first step is sending out an online survey followed by meeting with different segments of your fan base such as season ticket holders and single game ticket buyers in separate groups. Meeting with ticket holders in person has been the most valuable as you can get more in depth feedback than a paper survey. When we conducted our own survey in 2006, we gained the most feedback and potential solutions from meetings with our ticket holders.

For example from our survey, we discovered that we needed to improve our game day production. Several other things that were noted included, our PA announcer was vanilla and fans didn’t see him as a part of the game day experience; the team entrance didn’t flow well and felt choppy to our fans; they wanted new traditions that they could embrace, and they wanted better customer service along with more engagement with our athletics department.

With this input from our ticket holders we made the following changes: the PA announcer became more involved during the game by encouraging our fans to get loud on 3rd downs for the opposing team, leading the crowd in chanting “That’s another first down” for our team and other forms of engagement. We brought in someone to lead the cheers in the stadium before each home game which in turn developed a new cheer called “Cyclone – Power” which has become a tradition at every home game. A new video board with an improved sound system was added to the stadium and we changed the team entrance.

Along with these game day changes, we also looked at price points such as mini packs and season tickets. We offered greater incentives for fans to buy mini packs with an added value $20 gift card from Applebee’s for those who purchased this package. Then the next season focused on getting mini pack buyers to purchase season tickets, by offering more affordable options for buying season tickets.

In addition, Ames is a Midwestern town where it is important to be connected to our coaches, staff and athletes. So, we have also worked on reaching out to our fan base more with events with the athletics department and a focus on our customer service by responding to fans in a more timely fashion to try to meet their needs.
Through these changes and others, there has been an impact in ticket sales and excitement for the program. We have has been able to achieve over 80% growth in season tickets within seven years for a football program that has had one winning season during this time.

This movement doesn’t happen overnight. It has taken time and slowly implementing changes over these years. It also starts with a commitment from the top to make these changes and take chances on new ideas. Jamie Pollard, the Iowa State athletics director has made changing our culture a big focus for the department and continues to focus on it today.

Marketing departments and teams could truly benefit from taking a look at the culture of their fans to see if they need to make changes to increase fan support.

If you have any ideas for future articles or questions, you can reach me on Twitter @maryzpink or at

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