With many students feeling too busy or ambivalent to attend Penn sporting events, some believe that the Red and Blue will never have as many fans as they deserve.
Assistant Athletic Director of Marketing and Fan Engagement Denise Fitzpatrick, and Assistant Director of Marketing Emily Jakimowicz see it differently. In an effort to roll out new marketing initiatives for the basketball and football seasons, Fitzpatrick and Jakimowicz hope to re-engage current Penn students in the sports culture.
“We want to be an avenue to bring out Penn pride and Penn spirit in our students and let them know that the entire time that they’re here [will] not be, ‘I have to wait until I’m an alum to be proud that I went to Penn,’” Fitzpatrick said. “While you’re here you should be proud that you went to Penn and let us be the avenue in which you show that.”
To attract more students, the marketing team collected survey data to use a “throwing spaghetti” approach: “We are coming from a place of throw it on the wall and if it sticks, great. We’ve got that and we can keep improving,” Fitzpatrick said.
So what are they throwing the students’ way this year?
After trying out a few new programs targeting Penn basketball fans last season, the marketing team found the strategy of leveraging big-ticket games especially effective. This was used leading up to the momentous Villanova game last year; Penn students were eligible for a free ticket to the event as long as they went to several games with lesser-known opponents.
“We weren’t sure how that was going to be received, but it was received really well and something that worked. Now we know in the future we can leverage those big-time games to support attendance at other events,” Fitzpatrick said. “We are seeing what sticks because the student population is extremely important to building our fanbase in the long run.”
Other initiatives, such as the 10K Saturdays and student-athlete MCs center on creating an electric yet homey environment for students to display their pride.
“[For example, there’s] everything from our guerilla marketing — our game week marketing when we are out doing pizzas with Priore, donuts with Donahue, and touch points like that with our coaching staff. We really want to create an atmosphere students want to return to,” Fitzpatrick said.
While the marketing team works on improving the feel of basketball games in the Palestra, it is hoping to explore ways of directly engaging with students come football season. With the kickoff home game fast approaching, the athletic marketing team wants to build an in-game interactive experience by focusing on what works: Merch giveaways, “punt, pass, kick” games, and “run the field” games proved to be most popular last year.
Due to limiting seating, the major construction on Franklin Field threatens to disrupt fan participation, but Fitzpatrick sees it as an opportunity to change fan-athlete interactions in a distinctive way.
“Our team is shifting our sideline so all of our fans, even the visiting fans, everyone in the stadium, will be right behind them and supporting them,” she said. “I think it’ll actually create a unique atmosphere.”
This unusual arrangement is scheduled to last two seasons and will hopefully help fans galvanize the Quakers into winning some home games.
The marketing team is also looking to utilize the stadium’s outdoor space differently. One major rollout this year is a new initiative to attract more students to enjoy pregame downtime on Shoemaker Green. “Pregame on the Green” is scheduled for the Brown, Cornell, and Princeton home games this season and will allow anyone to rent a space for friends, student groups, and fraternities and sororities.
“[G]roups can get their tented space, come in, have food and alcohol for those who are 21 and over, bring their cornhole, little bluetooth speaker, and have their setup out there,” Fitzpatrick said.
This new event is a perfect example of the overarching goal of Penn Athletics marketing: engaging with student groups to develop personal, long-lasting partnerships. To achieve this, the team has recently launched a new campaign, Student Org of the Game, in which student groups will be both recognized during football games and able to participate in the team introductions.
They have also recently allied with veterans’ groups on campus to designate special seating at football games, further develop their Military Appreciation Day, and collaborate with Princeton groups to create intercollegiate sport outings. The marketing team also has its eye on Greek life at Penn. They are brainstorming ways to target these groups, such as by establishing a Greek night at basketball games, but these initiatives are only in their early stages.
While keeping Penn students enthusiastic about their sports can be challenging, the Penn Athletics marketing team is eager to give them the full college experience.
“We’re in the business of creating fun for others, so we want to make sure we’re having fun,” Jakimowicz said. “And if we’re not having fun or making it a fun environment for the students, then we’re not doing our jobs right.”