NCHC Bubble Presents New Challenges For College Marketers

    • Omaha hosted a bubble for NCHC conference play this year.
    • Social media and mobile apps played a big part in the event's fan engagement strategy.

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Taking a page from the NBA and the NHL, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) invited its member teams to Omaha, Neb., for conference play within a contained bubble. 

Not being able to host fans was a disappointment, but the NCHC board of directors made the decision knowing that it was the safest decision for fans, staff, and players. As a result, every scheduled game was played.

“Maybe it’s not ideal for the players. I’m sure they’d love fans in the stands to cheer them on as well, but this allows them to get the maximum amount of games in,” Beau Brown, Associate Athletic Director – Marketing at the University of Nebraska Omaha, told Front Office Sports shortly after bubble play began.

While Omaha’s Baxter Arena was set up a bit differently than it normally would have been, Brown and his NCHC counterparts worked to provide the type of behind the scenes content that hockey fans typically crave.

“We’re just trying to give our fans the best access that we can to the players, even though they’re not being able to be in the venue,” Brown said. “We’re utilizing social media to the best of our ability through the accounts of the schools, the teams, and the arena.”

In addition to highlights, behind the scenes content, and in-game updates, the teams shared the playlists that players listen to during warmups, much to the delight of fans on social media.

“People love hearing what music’s being played in the venue and what the schools play for warm up music,” Brown said. “Fans really get a kick out of hearing those and seeing what the players want to listen to while they’re getting ready for a game.”

In the bubble, the unique circumstances created a situation where the creators and marketers from the different institutions, as well as the venue, collaborated more than usual. The conference also collaborated with From Now On to create an official mobile app that, among other things, has played a strong role in distributing content.

“The industry now, especially with the pandemic, is all going mobile,” Brown said. “Being able to build an app that allows us to distribute game info and content, as well as tickets digitally, has been extremely beneficial.”

Bubble scenarios like this have brought a sense of safety to players and presented many lessons for content creators moving forward. For Brown and his counterparts, the main lesson has been the ever present need for content that provides an inside look at teams that fans can still appreciate from a distance.

“The bubble has taken us to the next level of being able to provide behind the scenes content that fans don’t normally see and provided them access to that,” Brown concluded. “Moving forward, capturing behind the scenes content and finding ways to creatively distribute that content to fans will remain essential to fan engagement with our programs.”

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