Monday, September 2, 2013

Our Love Affair with College Football

Did you happen to notice more people than usual wearing shirts, jerseys, or caps of their favorite college or university last Friday? If yes, it was not a coincidence. August 30 was College Colors Day, an annual event that coincides with the debut of a new college football season. The event, which began in 2005, is a celebration of the traditions and spirit of the college experience. It goes without saying that college football is a contributor to traditions and spirit that are kindled at institutions across the country. The timing of College Colors Day to be observed at the beginning of a new football season is an acknowledgement of the love affair American sports fans have with college football. College football trails only the NFL and baseball as America's favorite sport, according to Harris Interactive.

How College Football Stirs Consumption Motivations
College football is unique in its power to attract fans through a variety of motivations. Perhaps most unique about the appeal of college football compared to other products is its ability connect with people using the past, present and future. An explanation of how this happens follows.

Past - College football is steeped in traditions that help form an interesting story that attracts fans. Rivalries with other schools, heroes from one's younger days, and historic victories are three examples of how the past builds brand relevance today. An example of a tradition that received great fanfare recently was the entrance of the Clemson football team into its home stadium. Few other sports can match rituals like Clemson's entrance for stoking passion among fans.

Another influence of the past on college football consumption is family. At the first class meeting of a sports marketing class, I ask students to share information about their favorite teams or athletes and why they like or admire them. One student said her favorite team was Vanderbilt because she was "raised that way." Family members' affinity for a team is often passed down like this; sometimes family members make it interesting by choosing rival schools to follow. Either way, many of today's college football fans can trace their identification with a team back to family influences.

Present - Socialization opportunities have transformed the experience of attending a college football game. The game itself is one of several events that take place. Class reunions, tours of academic facilities, other sporting events, music, and of course, tailgating are elements that are complementary pieces to a football game. Whether it is spending time with family, visiting with old friends, or making new friends, college football gives fans a common bond with other people. Sense of community is a characteristic of sports consumption in general, but community in the form of alumni or geographic proximity can be particularly powerful in attracting college football fans.

Future - The reach of college football on influencing sports consumption can extend into the future, too. Success on the field can translate into behaviors that strengthen one's connection to a university. Increases in new student applications or donations to a university's athletic programs are often observed when notable on-field success occurs such as a conference championship or bowl game victory. Another way in which the future motivates consumption among some college football fans is discussion of recruiting classes. Before opening kickoff for the 2013 season, some fans were already talking about the freshman class of 2014- which schools would land prize recruits?

College Football Not Unique
The discussion of consumption motivations for college football relates closely with last week's post about the characteristic of affinity advantage and how sports brands enjoy emotion-based relationships with many of its customers (fans). College football is hardly the only sport that evokes emotions from customers in ways that non-sports products long to experience. But, connections to the past, present, and future put college football in a unique position to cast a wide net and attract people with varying reasons for wanting to consume. Could brands outside of sports learn from our love affair with college football to become more effective at appealing to consumption motivations of potential customers?