Both professional and university athletics teams can benefit greatly from marketing to their former athletes. To do so, create a culture of service and gratitude by nurturing your athletes from the start of their recruitment all the way through their graduation or retirement. In professional athletics, this may be more difficult, but the challenge can be overcome by collaborating with the players’ associations and alumni groups of your respective leagues. Most universities and colleges already have alumni associations built into the fabric of university life, so that might be a good place to start if you work at one of those institutions and don’t already have an athletics alumni group.
Most of what I’ll discuss here forward will pertain to college athletics programs, but many of the principles could also apply to professional sports as well. Read on and leave your comments below!
Start with your current students and your own department as it exists now and review the policies of your letter-winners club. Considering what it takes to earn a varsity letter at a university, my suggestion would be to make that group the focal point of what it means to serve your organization. By making the “letter” award a big deal and being a “part of the club” something to admire and strive for, you are creating an affinity group within an affinity group. The inner circle if you will. If being an alumnus fan of university athletics is an affinity group, to be a part of an even more selective group is something special.
Encourage your development staff to interact with your athletes on a regular basis – showing up at practice, being there before and after games, showing up to send them off on road trips and welcoming them home upon return, and congratulating them at end-of-the-year banquets are all things you can do that carry great meaning and don’t cost anything but time.
If your department is in a greater financial position to support your athletes with other items (laptops to check out for road travel, bookbags at the beginning of the year with your letterwinners club logo, sponsorship of post-season awards), you can use those items to further emphasize the importance of alumni giving and involvement. Encourage former athletes to be a part of their former teams’ programs by buying season tickets, signing up for mentoring sessions, and providing financial gifts when able to do so, while at the same time pointing out to your athletes that these people are doing those things.
By bridging the gap between past and present, you are effectively building the bonds that last a lifetime. The more connections you establish early on and the more regularly you promote the idea to your current athletes that alumni involvement is important, the more likely these things will eventually take hold and carry on once they graduate and become alumni themselves. Invest in your athletes today for greater future returns and with no expectation for how or when.
I cannot stress that last point enough – don’t expect that anyone do anything. Similar to the idea of great customer service being about providing your customers with a product they value and always putting forth your best work, serving your athletes in this way must also have the same sincere sense of caring for their overall well-being and development as future global citizens. By taking a sincere interest in who your athletes are as human beings while they are with you, the more likely they will cherish their time as students as something more than just a 4-year transaction.
This is a subject I feel strongly about and will be writing about more in the future. If there is anything you are interested in reading, please leave me a note in the comments below and sign up for email alerts to the right.