SBJ/Oct. 14-20, 2013/Colleges

Fan activity integrated with loyalty programs

At a football school like the University of Oklahoma, selling tickets to see a perennial powerhouse isn’t much of a challenge. But basketball often is a different story.

So the school, with the help of two outside partners, Row27 and Paciolan, is implementing a fan loyalty program that rewards those who not only buy tickets, but come early and stay throughout the game.

The Sooners have had a fan loyalty program called Sooner Rewards for the last few years through Row27, which provides the software for loyalty programs at several schools through its FanMaker product. Boiled down, FanMaker rewards fans who are active on social media with points for merchandise and other gear.

Paciolan, the ticketing software for 105 colleges, recently created a partnership with Row27 that enables ticket-buying behavior to be integrated into the loyalty program.

When Oklahoma scans a basketball ticket at a home game this season, data from that ticket holder will be transferred from Paciolan to Row27 and added to the fan’s rewards points. Certain behavior, such as showing up an hour before tipoff, merits bonus points.

Points can be turned in for rewards that include experiences, such as being on the football field when the team runs out, dinner with a coach, or concession credits.

“Driving attendance is the No. 1 thing,” said Charlie Taylor, Oklahoma’s assistant athletic director for marketing. “But it’s also about fan engagement and driving fan behavior. And then you reward them with things they normally wouldn’t have access to.”

The University of Maryland is one of Paciolan’s “pilot programs” tying fan activity to rewards.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Paciolan and Row27 rolled out the idea for a more integrated rewards program this summer and three schools have signed on — Oklahoma, Maryland and Boston College. Costs to implement the program vary, but the schools typically will pay in the low five figures to Paciolan and Row27.

“We have 10 sports you can buy a ticket to, but we can’t roll out 10 different advertising campaigns,” OU’s Taylor said. “We look at the loyalty program as something that’s replacing our traditional advertising buy for a month.”

The schools have been promoting the program with announcements and video-board messages at football games, as well as through email blasts and social media.

Maryland’s program is similar to Oklahoma’s. The Terrapins are using fan loyalty to drive ticket sales and fan behavior.

Boston College’s program rewards students for their attendance at games and other events, such as pep rallies. Students are rewarded with better access to high-demand games in basketball and hockey.

Oklahoma, Maryland and Boston College represent three “pilot programs,” said Craig Ricks, Paciolan’s vice president of marketing, “but a lot of schools out there have their hand raised.”

“From our perspective, we’re looking at this as long-term customer retention,” said Nick Lofaro, associate AD for marketing at Maryland. “With our transition into the Big Ten next year, we’re looking for ways to enhance the loyalty and increase the brand engagement with the fans. Now we’ve got a daily interaction with the people who are our ticket buyers.”

The rewards program is not the same as the booster club, which raises money through donations. Giving to the Terrapin Club determines seat location and seat priority for special events where tickets are limited, like bowl games or the NCAA basketball tournament. Points through the rewards program cannot be used for those kinds of purchases. Donations, however, can be used to increase points in the rewards program.

“We rolled out Maryland Rewards through a direct email that explained it and the benefits,” Lofaro said. “All they had to do was click a link from the email and register for the program. It was seamless and it avoided any confusion.”

Some ancillary benefits of the rewards program have emerged. Oklahoma’s multimedia rights partner, Learfield Sports, has integrated a couple of the Sooners’ sponsors into Sooner Rewards. Mitchell’s Jewelry sponsors one prize, which enables a fan to be recognized on the field and win a gift card to the jewelry store. Taco Bell recognizes a student of the game, which comes with restaurant credits.

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