Fans / Marketing / Stadiums


Winning back the students

Author Christian Martin, University of San Francisco

Posted: October 18, 2015

Sporting events marketers need to be able to understand the motives and values of their various market segments in order to better understand their customers (Pons, Giroux, & Mourali, 2014, p. 34). By failing to understand their customers, sport organizations can lose opportunities to generate additional revenue from profitable segments and/or lose customers. This effect can presently be seen with respect to some colleges and universities, as the top 50 public colleges in the U.S.A have experienced a decline in their student attendance by seven percent (7%) since 2009 (Smith, 2015, p. 24). The student-fan segment is valuable to colleges and universities because it represents the core group of future donors for the school that will support the growth and development of the school’s programs and brand (Smith, 2015, p. 24). Additionally, this segment provides the energy for games in the stadiums (Smith, 2015, p. 24).

In order to prevent further churning in student attendance numbers at collegiate sporting events, some schools have allocated resources towards investigating the motives and values of the student-fan segment. The University of Texas, for example, hired AECOM to analyze 50,000 student records, and AECOM determined that the drop in student attendance was created by a shift in values of this market segment (Smith, 2015, p. 24-25). The students at the University of Texas were quoted to “want the in-person experience, the social experience. They want to be around other people” (Smith, 2015, p. 25).

According to the Sport Fan Motivation Scale, the over-arching desire of University of Texas students to be around other people strongly reflects the importance of the group affiliation dimension to this market segment (Pons et al., 2014, p. 26-27). The group affiliation dimension pertains to how a social event fulfills the need of one to belong to a social group (Pons et al., 2014, p. 26). One of the challenges to building a loyal following with a market segment that is highly motivated by group affiliation is that sporting events compete against alternative forms of social gatherings, as found by AECOM with the University of Texas (Smith, 2015, p. 25).

The competition between college sporting events and other social experiences for the University of Texas student-fan segment can be can be organized and explained using an analytical approach called “laddering”. Laddering uses a vertical chain of associations between benefits, consequences, and value to explain how an individual decides on one product or service over another (Funk & Lock, 2014, p. 42). For example, a University of Texas student who personally values group affiliation may decide to attend either a Longhorns game or a live music concert based on the perceived social benefits that he or she will receive from each event. These perceived social benefits have consequences, and the student is mostly like to pick the event whose consequences will most fulfill the student’s social needs.

In response to the student-fan segment insights by AECOM, AECOM and the University of Texas have teamed-up to create a student acquisition and retention plan for this current football season. The University of Texas hopes to build a loyal student following and attendance at its football games by adding more social experiences within the stadium for this market segment. According to Mark P. Pritchard from Central Washington University, “what loyalty looks like in your customers is that they are (a) strongly committed to your brand and (b) willing to consistently rebuy despite situational effects… or attractive alternatives” (Pritchard, 2014, p. 123). The current plan includes the creation of a “fan fest” area for home games, where an open space at the north-end of the stadium will be open four hours prior to kickoff that will have food trucks from popular local food outlets and live music (Smith, 2015, p. 25). The University of Texas is also considering general admission seating as a way to appeal to the social needs of the student segment (Smith, 2015, p. 25).


Funk, D. C., & Lock, D. (2014). Sport Consumer Attitudes: Formation, Function, and Effects on Information Processing. In M. P. Pritchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds.), Leveraging Brands in Sport Business (pp. 37-50). New York, NY: Routledge.

Pons, D. F., Giroux, M., & Mourali, M. (2014). Consumer Behavior and Motivation: Why Are Sport Event Consumers So Special? In M. P. Pritchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds.), Leveraging Brands in Sport Business (pp. 21-36). New York, NY: Routledge.

Pritchard, M. (2014). Building Loyal Consumers in Sport Business. In M. P. Pritchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds.), Leveraging brands in sport business (pp. 123-141). New York, NY: Routledge.

Smith, M. (2015). What does it take to get students to the games? SportsBusiness Journal, 18(19), 24-25.

About Christian Martin, University of San Francisco

Christian is currently a graduate student in the University of San Francisco Sport Management Program and employed at Street Soccer USA. He aspires to be a leader in the soccer industry internationally and speaks four languages (English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese). He is also an entrepreneur, having started his own promotional coffee mug business (UndercoverMugs) as an undergraduate at the University of San Diego, and operates a motivational website ( A San Francisco native and world traveler, he loves experiencing the diversity of people, food, and traditions. Follow him on Twitter: @thefurnace1. This article is an edited version of a paper Christian prepared for Dr. Michael M. Goldman’s Sport Marketing class at the University of San Francisco.

IImage by Phil Roeder, "Texas vs. Iowa State", Accessed via Creative Commons license.