In Salisbury University Athletics’ ongoing challenge to increase fan attendance, one relatively new idea has found success in its first year of implementation. The Sea Gull Nation app has found a growing number of usership over the last 12 months and now enters its second year with the same goal in mind.
Overseeing the operation is still SU Assistant Director of Athletics and Campus Recreation Jessica Stoltz, who is very happy with the success, acknowledging that she did not know what to expect when the endeavor began. Stoltz says that current records show that the app has over 2,100 users, which accounts for around 20 percent of the student population.
Despite the early success, Stoltz and SU Athletics want to see even more participation. Now one year in, the staff now can see adjustments that need to be made, including making some changes to how they give away prizes.
“Last year, we just found that no one was coming to claim their prizes, whether that was our fault in not setting up in the right areas or maybe we weren’t getting the word out,” Stoltz said. “So, we’re just trying it differently this year to see if this would help.”
Previously, fans would accumulate a certain amount of points in order to unlock different prizes. Stoltz says that because of a lack of actually picking up the prizes, they are going to try a new tactic at the actual sporting events.
“This year, we are basically promoting giveaway games within the app. We’re basically going to have one giveaway game per sport,” Stoltz said.
The new giveaway idea will take place at one game for each sport each season. Stoltz says that the staff is still working out the details of what to give away where and how many. Those factors will be determined by the average attendance a specific varsity sport gets.
The “unlockable” prizes from the 2017-18 academic year will generally remain the same, but instead they will be used for the new giveaway system. These will include water bottles, sunglasses, cups, t-shirts, bobbleheads and duffel bags.
“We’re trying it out this way so that we can see if we can get a ton of people to one game for one sport and reward them for coming,” Stoltz said.
It is still being determined as to when the prizes would be given away as well, whether at the start of the event or at halftime to make sure fans stay for a majority of the sporting event. Stoltz acknowledges that they know students enjoy free stuff, which should work in conjunction with highlighting each varsity sport on campus.
Those fans working toward a grand prize have no need to worry. The top five prizes from last year return again to the app for the 2018-19 academic year with support from all of the same sources.
These top prizes will once again include $1,000 donated by the President’s Office, a $500 SU Dining Services voucher to any on-campus satellite locations, an iPad from the SU Bookstore, an SU gear pack filled with an item representing each Salisbury University team, and a Sea Gull Stadium suite fan experience.
The point system generally remains the same for these prizes: accumulate enough to be in the top five at the end of the school year, and the fan receives one of these. To hear about the game giveaways and other point opportunities though, fans will need to download the app.
After encountering issues with the notification system last year, Stoltz says that the app was recoded to fix the issue and notify fans correctly of opportunities. Polls and the fan-cam return to offer bonus points to participants.
But at the core, fan participation at games and in special themed events seems to be a problem. To address that, the staff called in those most involved in varsity sports, the SU student-athletes.
Students take the lead
With SU Athletics still wondering why students are not as involved as they could be at varsity sports events, Stoltz and the staff have turned to the student-athletes to see if they can rally support through their own ideas.
“We told them that we’ve tried to do things our way,” Stoltz said. “When it comes from us, it’s not cool. We basically have to get the students to be the ones to promote that.”
The group of student-athletes advising on the app and further involvement is aptly named the Fan Engagement Committee. The group consists of student-athletes from each varsity team at Salisbury. The administration reached out to all of the coaches to see if they had athletes that were interested.
“We basically got all of the kids that were interested and were excited about it,” Stoltz said. “They just started spitballing ideas. It was awesome. I just kept writing and writing. They all have really good ideas, and it’s all basically social media driven.”
Stoltz was very happy with the first meeting and looks to gain input from other sources as well.
“We’re trying to have one representative from each team, as well as trying to pull in Greek life and student government and all these other leaders on campus,” Stoltz said. “We’re trying to have a whole committee on just, what do students want to see at games?”
The hypothesis is that students will have a greater chance of listening to their peers than the athletics administration. The plan going forward is to have Stoltz and her staff run the giveaways and the app, while the student-athletes will organize and promote themes and attendance for games such as a “gold out.”
The hope is that teams will work together to promote each other’s events this upcoming year using provided graphics on their own team social media. One idea that has already come from the committee is to have athletics marketing come out over social media and email earlier in the week, so that students have an opportunity to plan time ahead in order to attend a game.
Stoltz says that the committee’s ideas should help the organizers of the app better connect with the student body. She sees it as an ideal tool for today’s age to quickly stay up to date with the schedules and teams in SU Athletics.
One new supporter of the app is SU President Dr. Charles Wight, who made a commitment already for a prize donation from his office.
“He’s been at every single home game so far. It’s been so awesome to see,” Stoltz said. “I think he is just willing to be part of the student body. He’s excited about the students and that’s exciting for us to know that we have really good support so far.”
For the SU Athletics staff, they are seeking every student to follow in Wight’s footsteps and get out to games. With new giveaways at sports events on the horizon, it is to be seen how consistent attendance for each varsity sport is truly impacted.
By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: Front page of the Sea Gull Nation app. (Chris Mackowiak/Emma Reider images).