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Volume 22 No. 38
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Teams can learn a lot from first day of school

Lessons in transportation, fashion, events and “Instagrammable moments” translate easily from the schoolyard to the marketing plan.

If you have the dual role as a sports marketer and a parent like me, your social media feeds are likely filled with two things these days: images of NFL and college football opening week promotions and posts celebrating our children’s return to school.

My son William just had his first day of kindergarten. My wife Kate and I experienced all the range of emotions you’d expect while the ever-curious sports marketer in me was surprisingly inspired by the experience. It got me thinking: What we can we in the sports industry learn from the ritual celebrations of the first day of kindergarten?

It turns out, a lot.

I often say to our clients at 4Front that sports are best through the eyes of a child. With that lens on, I’ve asked William to be my co-promoter in joining me to share what we loved about the first day of kindergarten and outline recommendations for teams in designing their Opening Day fan engagement strategy.

The Journey: How you arrive at a destination really is half the fun and that was the learning for us. We arrived in style by riding a tandem bike to school. It set the tone by allowing us to say hi to the parade of families on foot. Strangers quickly became friends and it instantly raised our energy levels before even entering school grounds and set the tone for the morning.

Team Learning: Teams would be wise to create a parade-like experience for fans. This can include alumni players and the mascot leading the charge and allow fans to create a communal and high-energy experience before they even enter the venue.

Environmental Envy: In a digital era, it’s all about securing that “Instagrammable Moment” by snapping the perfect on-site photo that is the envy of your followers. The first day of school, customized chalk signs that every parent shares have become staples for the day and an essential time capsule to share on social platforms. 

Team Learning: Teams would be wise to create a can’t-miss location for fan photos with a mascot or alumni player allowing kids of all ages to make handmade signs (and it’s great for data collection) that personalize their connection to the team. This makes it easy for fans to tell their world “I am here” and declare their fandom. These fan-centric storytelling opportunities are also great organic platforms for teams to put paid media behind to fuel FOMO to other fans to drive ticket sales for a future game — and I’m guessing a sponsor would love an authentic association with these posts, too.

First-day rituals and experiences can be applied to fan-facing initiatives from teams and sponsors.
Photo: courtesy of dan migala
First-day rituals and experiences can be applied to fan-facing initiatives from teams and sponsors.
Photo: courtesy of dan migala
First-day rituals and experiences can be applied to fan-facing initiatives from teams and sponsors.
Photo: courtesy of dan migala

Wear the Jersey: My son William is obsessed with “Transformers,” and he wore a customized “Transformers” shirt that became an instant talking point for kids, parents and teachers. I happily went all-in and sported an “Optimus Prime” shirt, too. Something as simple as what we wore further fueled the sense of occasion and helped make instant connections with other families.

Team Learning: Every team wants their fans to wear apparel to games, but there is a great opportunity to increase the incentive for fans to do so. Recognizing fans with best-dressed contests or working with concessionaires to offer Opening Day specials for fans wearing team apparel would be very welcome additions. William recommends an Opening Day special on team-colored ice cream only for those wearing team colors.

After Party: The principal hosted a “Coffee and Kleenex” gathering for parents after the dropoffs. While I’m happy we and William weren’t sad at dropoff, the gesture wasn’t lost on us. The little something extra and personal attention from the principal and school staff gave us a deeper personal connection and appreciation for the school.

Team Learning: So much attention is put on the start of the game, I think it would be a smart add for teams to own the exit as well. This creates a deeper connection and an incredible opportunity to delight fans with a surprise giveaway item or a coupon for team merchandise or a future game. If the surprises are passed out by the team’s front office, alumni players or mascots, even better.

Own a Moment in Time: In talking with the parents of children in other grades, I marveled at how the first day of school remains a moment in time for all of them. Every parent and child seemed to be reflecting on past first days of school and how the photos became a snapshot of past first days that were a badge of honor that they were quick to share.

Team Learning: Teams would be wise to build on the sense of pride for number of opening days attended by fans and honor them in their 5, 10 and beyond anniversaries. The fans, like parents, feel a strong emotional connection to these achievements and it’s another platform to celebrate a team’s most loyal fans.

Sports are really best through the eyes of a child, and as both a parent and sports marketer, I can confidently say the lessons learned from the first day of kindergarten will fuel the inner childlike spirit of any team’s fan base.

Dan Migala is the co-founder of 4Front, a sports marketing company with offices in Chicago, Dallas and Denver. He can be reached at William can be contacted through his dad as he is too young to have an email account and he looks forward to eating team-colored ice cream on Opening Day.

Questions about OPED guidelines or letters to the editor? Email editor Jake Kyler at