Why College Football Programs Are Studying MLS

By D.J. Byrnes on July 17, 2014 at 11:07 am

Football programs across the country — except for The Ohio State University, of course — are facing sagging ticket sales. This, and the reasons for it (HDTV, rising ticket prices, cost to attend a game, etc. etc) are not news.

What is news, however, is what some college programs are doing to fix the problem.

Via r/CFB, comes this fascinating article from The Wall Street Journal:

At first glance, Florida doesn't look like the sort of school that would need to solicit tips from a soccer team. The Gators are the most popular college-football team in Florida, according to Public Policy Polling. They won national championships in the 1996, 2006 and 2008 seasons. School records show that 86% of students used tickets they bought as recently as 2009.

But the Gators failed to qualify for a bowl last season, and the rate of students showing up to games fell to 66%. For the stunning Nov. 23 home loss to Georgia Southern, the student section was only 45% full and more Florida students bought tickets and stayed home than bought tickets and actually used them.

So what sort of tricks does are the magicians at MLS using to spur growth in attendance, especially among younger fans?

In exchange for [profiling data]—which they say allows them to understand their fans better—they offer perks. Sporting KC pays for their fans to attend road games and organizes social events for young professionals in Kansas City. They also strive for irreverence and to be transparent in their transactions, Heineman said, which separates Sporting KC from other teams in pro sports.

It is helping them reach the audience that has eluded colleges recently. One supporter group, the Mass St. Mob, formed in Lawrence, Kan., home of the University of Kansas. Many of the Mass St. Mob's members go out of their way to see Sporting KC's home matches, which are more interactive than any other sporting event, said Adam Crifasi, a 26-year-old electrical engineer.

"You feel like you're part of the game," he said.

Florida isn't the only team kicking the tires on MLS marketing tactics. Pac-12 officials have also signed a deal with Sporting Innovations as they too look to boost sales.

Sure, MLS attendance figures probably had nowhere to go but up, but the growth over the last couple years is staggering, and their pull of young people can't be denied.

If teams want the younger generation to be future ticket holders, it goes deeper than offering WiFi firing at a higher rate than a snail's jaunt. 

They'll have to get original and stop taking attendance for granted; it's a lesson MLS executives seem to have learned long ago.

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