(Varsity Partners are a proud partner of Front Office Sports)
The University of Houston Cougars have been an integral part of the city’s sports culture going back to the days of Coach Bill Yeoman’s veer-option dominance, Phi Slama Jama’s culture changing style and Andre Ware’s prominence on the field.
For the better part of the last decade, the Cougars have strived to be one of the American Conference’s best examples of a “P6” school in many aspects. Over the past ten years, the University has invested over $1B in Capital Investments of which $300M+ over the past seven years has been invested into the athletics program. These capital improvements started with the construction of TDECU Stadium, included the construction of the Fertitta Center and most recently, the completion of the Baseball Player Development Center, all of which has caught the attention of fans and local media alike.
“The past seven years has seen immense growth in facility upgrades, creating moments of pride for not only our campus but the city of Houston.,” Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Operations Michael McBride told FOS. “The city’s taken notice, they understand why we’re making these investments. Over the past two years, this administration has been focused on moving the student-athlete journey forward. We’ve taken a holistic approach in preparing our athletes academically, physically and mentally from the moment they join the Cougar family through graduation and beyond. As the second most diverse campus in the US and the second largest on-campus student population in the state, Houston has long shed the commuter school label of decades past and is now a destination school.”
McBride joined the staff in September and has made a priority to tell the story of the athletic department’s vision.
“We’re striving to spread the news of all the great movement happening over here and how those improvements impact our campus and city overall,” McBride said.
Houston Athletics understand that while state-of-the-art facilities are nice, they are but one piece of the puzzle to connect fans with the brand and keep them coming back in the ever-changing landscape of college athletics.
“Our fans and supporters are one of the main primary factors for our success, and I’m excited that our team is working alongside our fanbase to create an authentic brand and experience vision for Houston Athletics,” said Vice President for Athletics Chris Pezman.
In recent weeks, McBride and his team have begun to identify some of their challenges in engaging with fans at home games from every perspective, from brand extensions to placemaking opportunities. To determine next steps from there, the Cougars have brought in Varsity Partners.
“We wanted to find experts in that area and we quickly identified Varsity Partners as a unique company because they bring a big brand perspective with a focus on details – which is important to us here in Houston. We selected them to come in and be a consultant for us in creating a fan strategy specific to our venues and relevant to our brand,” McBride stated.
Varsity Partners and the Cougars’ staff will explore insight gathered from fan surveys and discovery sessions with internal and external stakeholders to see how the experience can strengthen the overall relationship with the Houston athletics brand.
“How our brand engages and connects with our fan base and the community at-large is crucial, and will play an important role in continuing the positive momentum and success of our athletics program and our University.” David Tagliarino, Deputy Athletics Director and Chief Revenue Officer, said. “For our fans to invest emotionally and financially into us, we have to take the time and consideration to invest in them.”
The Houston Athletic Department plans to use that insight to create experiences and brand touch points unique to Cougar fans and the city they call home.
When the whole project is finished, McBride will look to absorb the assessments of the Cougar faithful in person. This will be one of the greatest indicators of their return on investment.
“For me personally, the image of success is when I’m walking through the concourses and I hear fans of all ages having conversations with their friends and family, talking about the positive experience they just had or how they are looking forward to the next game. When I hear those true organic comments being made, that’ll be where we know the impact, we’re making is positive.”