UMN starts two new fan engagement programs for Gophers sports fans

One is a fan-advisory board; the other is a loyalty program.

Goldy Gopher pumps up the crowd during kick off at TCF Bank Stadium as the Gophers face Texas Christian University on Sept. 3, 2015.

Liam James Doyle

Goldy Gopher pumps up the crowd during kick off at TCF Bank Stadium as the Gophers face Texas Christian University on Sept. 3, 2015.

by Mike Hendrickson

The University’s athletics department recently announced two engagement programs aimed at building a better relationship with the Gophers sports fan base.

The first program is a fan advisory board that will start in May; the second is a loyalty system that will begin in August and will reward fans for going to multiple events.

“We’ve got to earn people back,” said athletics director Mark Coyle. “That’s what we’re trying to do and those two programs will help us do that.”

The new programs were partly motivated by low ticket sales for certain Gophers events, like football games, assistant athletics director Mike Wierzbicki said. Attendance for 2016 home games for the football team was it’s lowest since 2002.

But the program’s main intent, which Wierzbicki and Ben Fraser — director of Gopher athletics’ annual fund — floated to Coyle in September, is to create sustainable attendance across sports.

“We’re always looking for ways to engage our fans,” Fraser said. “This wasn’t just football specific.”

One of the new programs, the fan advisory board, is common at other schools, Wierzbicki said. The group will advise Coyle, Wierzbicki and other athletics administrators on Gophers events. It will be comprised of 25-30 individuals of varying backgrounds — including season ticket holders, but also Gophers fans who have never seen a game before.

The board will meet four times a year and will have its first meeting in May.

“It’ll be somewhat of our voice of the fan base,” Wierzbicki said. “It’ll be an opportunity to engage with our fans that can stretch a broad array of demographics.”

Coyle said he had fan counsels at Boise State and Syracuse University and it was helpful for understanding fan perspectives.

“Sometimes we get so far down in the weeds, we don’t see the big picture,” Coyle said. “We’re hopeful that we can take [the information from fans] and do everything to enhance the game experience for our fans.”

Wierzbicki said the loyalty program works like a rewards system for a credit card. The more events you go to, the more points you earn, which can lead to discounts, use of facilities and meet-and-greets with athletes and coaches. The benefits will be customizable to each fans’ interests.

These opportunities would normally be open to donors only, Wierzbicki said, but will now include season-ticket holders, and will eventually be open to everyone.

“By being an athletics supporter, you’ll have access to a wide variety of opportunities and benefits to reward your loyalty to us,” Wierzbicki said.