(Varsity Partners is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)
Change is a chance for a fresh start. With the beginning of a new academic year and a new fall sports season, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte have a chance to do that in terms of their brand.
In the last year and a half, the athletic department has hired a new athletic director in Mike Hill, a new head football coach in Will Healy, and made new hires at several other coaching and support positions. Each member of this new staff seems to be more than up for the challenge.
“A long time ago I realized that what really motivated me was the ‘build’ part of the journey,” says Deputy Athletics Director for External Affairs and college athletics veteran Chris Fuller. “We really came into a situation that had great potential for growth and in a city that has just exploded in terms of population and culture in recent years.”
The social media motto #GoldStandard was quickly adopted as part of the athletic department’s mission. The feeling behind the phrase lives beyond social media as well, however. Staff believe that the school does not sponsor a sport/team that does not have the ability to compete at the highest level within Conference USA. The mantra is therefore used to motivate student-athletes to be their best athletically, academically, and as members of the community.
Creating this sense of pride in the student-athletes, the rest of the student body, and the Charlotte community helps tackle a unique challenge the football program faces: a lack of generational fans. The school brought back football in 2013 after a nearly 70-year hiatus. Therefore, the program is building an entirely new fan base in an area where many football fans already have established connections to other teams. Additionally, the staff is well aware of the challenges of getting young people to live sporting events in 2019 thanks to technology and short attention spans.
“If we want to meet that challenge, we have to think differently,” Fuller says. “We’re marketing ourselves to a younger audience. We’re a young institution. We’ve got to find a way to engage our students, our young alumni in a way with a game experience that can be different. I think if our strategy is ‘We hired Will Healy and now we’re going to win a bunch of games, and therefore a lot of people will come,’ that’s a really flawed strategy in this era.”
The 49ers then decided to bring in Varsity Partners to begin to build their new football fan strategy. The group will explore insight from fans gathered at football games and other athletic events this season as all as provide recommendations to improve the fan experience in the future.
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“As the, the property representative, sometimes it’s really helpful to bring in somebody with expertise from the outside. They can be brutally honest about what you’re doing well and what you’re not doing well. I think sometimes on college campuses in particular, it’s easy to get really operational in nature. We’re trying to build an, an excellent program, so we really want candid feedback.”
As the football program continues to change and mature along with the 49er fan base, it’s clear the staff of the athletic department are dedicated to the same #GoldStandard their student-athletes are held to.