Fans matter and can help your team in numerous ways, but they aren’t going to magically appear overnight.
May 2, 2017 by Alex Rummelhart in Opinion with 0 comments
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Building a good fan base provides a variety of benefits for any serious team. Vocal and emotional support at games can make a tangible difference in the effort and success of the squad. Supporters can help organize travel arrangements, provide money and food to support the team, and more. Recruiting players can be aided by having a popular and successful team, but that won’t happen unless the effort is first made to recruit more fans.
Too often ultimate players have so many other concerns to worry about — from logistics and organization like having to pay their own way, order uniforms, book lodgings, organize food, and more — that trying to deal with outsiders, especially those who may not be very knowledgeable or committed to the game, is a nearly insurmountable challenge. As a result, while ultimate players may be enthusiastic to have spectators or people who follow the team, there usually isn’t a concerted effort to acquire such a group.
Whether the squad is a youth, college, club, or professional team, acquiring and cultivating spectators and dedicated aficionados to support the team or to cheer at games should be among the priorities for the management of any club. But, how to acquire these elusive fans when the squad is busy enough as it is?
Here are five simple, sustainable steps that require very little time and no money to acquire a bigger fan base. Just a little focused targeting and hard work can make a big difference.
Step 1: Raise Awareness and (Free) Advertising
You can’t sell a product if people don’t know it exists.
The first step to getting fans for your ultimate team is to spread awareness. It starts with advertising, preferably of the free variety. Just as you have to go out and recruit players by letting people know about the team, you must do the same for spectators.
Flyers are your friend here; print out as many as you can with information about practices and games, then post them all over your school’s campus or your local hangouts.
Flyers are a key part of free advertising, but you yourself and your teammates are your best products. Use yourselves as free advertising; wear team gear to be basically walking billboards, practice or play pickup in the public eye, and discuss and share the game as often as possible. Share your schedule, talk about the team, and let everyone know that you are an ultimate player and this is the best sport around.
Too often ultimate players find the annoyance of educating the non-playing populace intimidating or frustrating. These conversations, however, have to be embraced. Ultimate is entering the mainstream now — slowly, but surely — and there are dozens of professional videos or websites that you can refer people to in order to show them what you do. Capture the word of mouth first, make people at least aware of the fact that your ultimate team exists, and the next step will be getting them out to see you play. Before long, they’ll be in love.
Step 2: Swag and Giveaways (More Free Advertising)
The best way to solidify the idea of free advertising is to let the fans do it for you.
Always have something on hand to give people when you tell them about the team. A flyer is the easiest thing, free to print out, and with pictures to demonstrate what is happening in the game. Even better, however, is team merchandise: t-shirts, hats, discs, or other great swag. Giving these away will immediately put someone on your side and make them remember you; after all, everyone likes free stuff.
If you can’t afford to have some t-shirts or something made up to give fans for free, then make the investment to have some merchandise or swag available for people to buy. This is tough — especially to set-up — as it will require a financial investment up-front, but selling your gear can provide you a small profit to help the team and also ensure the gear, when worn, is more free advertising.
Many smaller teams don’t bother with this route, thinking no one will want a youth or college ultimate t-shirt. However, it just isn’t true. The best way to get their support is to get them wearing your gear, just like any other sports team. A good tip? Any profits from the fan gear sold should be reinvested back into the same system.
Step 3: Social Media
Digital advertising, as everyone is aware, is the newest and best route to letting people know about a product. Easy, free, and fast, you might as well make social media, which everyone is on anyway, your tool to reach out to as many people as possible and gather a fan base.
Your team simply must have a Twitter account; it is the primary vehicle of ultimate communication — to report scores and results and to give quick updates to fans. Facebook, the dominant monster of the internet world, should also have a team page, as this is better for the non-ultimate crowd. Think of adding Instagram and possibly regular write-ups, either through Facebook or a blog, to keep your fans in the loop as well.
Part of the problem with being an ultimate fan is that it very hard to watch the team you root for. Games aren’t on TV and traveling to tournaments or games with a squad often isn’t an option. Therefore, the little extra work to do as much as you can to keep fans excited while you play is critical.
Use a social media coordination site like HootSuite so that when you post a result in one place, it will automatically populate in another (Twitter posts will also show up on Facebook, etc.); it also makes it easier to follow other teams, respond to fans, and generally build an online following around you.
Best route? Livestreaming is now easier than ever online. If you can, record video, even if it is only of part of a game, as it can make a big difference in what you showcase — whether through highlights or recaps — for people not with the team.
Step 4: Showcase
Digital results and write-ups are all well and good — and livestreaming can be excellent — but at some point you need to get your fans in front of a live game.
As mentioned earlier, most of the time in ultimate this is very difficult, even in a model like the AUDL, just because the games and tournaments are so spread out, often not easily accessible to most people.
Therefore, it may be on you and your team to organize your own exhibitions or showcase matches. This is less about your team — although a good scrimmage can help you practice and get better — and more about the fans and how to make them happy.
Scrimmages in unique locations, like the halftimes of other sporting events, can be a good start and an easy path to joining an already organized sporting structure. But even a free exhibition match or a hat tournament at the local park that you organize can help make people excited.
Try to be creative with these and use your showcases as opportunities to do something unique. Maybe go for mixing with other teams, especially if you have an opposite-gender squad you partner with, or setting up specific rivalries that already latch on to a school or city’s preexisting sporting traditions.
Bottom line: it’s up to you to spend the little extra effort once or twice a year to provide your team a fan experience easy for them to access. Use these as a chance to recruit, sell or give away swag, and spread the word about your social media. Have a few team members whose only job is to talk to the audience, move around the crowd, spreading information, answering questions, or selling food or clothing. Make it into a party or a fundraiser, or both, and it’ll soon be the favorite event on your calendar.
Step 5: Community Outreach
The most important — and also the hardest — thing a team can do to build up fans is to build up the community around you through outreach.
Volunteering your time to help others is simply the best way to do this. If you help others, they will help you. Create free youth clinics, volunteer to visit schools or summer camps, or organize your team to do charity work, whether it’s free landscaping or habitat for humanity, and the effort will make your team very popular with the local community. Promise to support other teams or sports, perhaps local soccer programs or a track and field club, and then host them at a showcase to return the favor. Build up a fan club or spirit group for the entire school or city, not just yourself. There’s strength in numbers, and numbers are what you need.
This is undoubtedly the least ultimate-related aspect of building a fan base and also the one that requires the most time and effort. However, this is also the one that will build the most net positive in good will with a team, and can do the greatest good in general. Remember, creating fans starts with building positive relationships, and helping and doing well with your community is key to beginning those partnerships and making them last.
Fans matter and can help your team in numerous ways, but they aren’t going to magically appear overnight. Just as you need to recruit good players, recruiting good fans is key to team success.
With a little time and effort, you can find people who contribute to your squad’s well-being. Put the work in off-the field and make the community around you grow.