From complimentary bald caps at Wilkinson Hall to a de facto dog park at Bill Armstrong Stadium, there are no shortage of themes and giveaways at upcoming IU sporting events.
Athletic director for fan experience Jeremy Gray said these promotions can affect not just the fans, but also what transpires on the field of play.
“We want to establish a festive atmosphere that gives our team a home-field advantage,” Gray said. “We want students to come to the games because they are loud and make it hard for the opponent.”
Drawing out the Hoosier masses means connecting with IU’s largest demographics, such as fraternities. The house with the most members present at the men’s soccer game Oct. 9 received a pizza party, courtesy of IU athletics.
Gray said fraternities are a foundational part of the Hoosier fanbase.
“They’re large organizations, and you can send an email to the president, and they can deliver a promotion to a lot of people in their own house,” Gray said. “If you see where Armstrong Stadium is situated, it’s a very short walk for the students in the Greek community to come and watch.”
An even more ubiquitous group the sports marketing team has targeted is dog lovers. During “Pups at the Pitch” on Oct. 27, fans are encouraged to add barks and yips to the cheers at the women’s soccer game against rival Purdue.
“Everybody loves bringing their dogs to those things,” Gray said. “Actually, people will come to see the other dogs.”
Still, Gray said when it comes to sports promotions, it is tough to top the original.
“Frankly, the oldest theme of a game at any school in the country is the homecoming game,” Gray said. “That has always been associated with a football weekend at every school in the country that has football.”
IU welcomed home the Hoosiers of yesteryear starting with the annual parade Friday. Gray said the parade has long been his favorite part of the Homecoming pageantry.
“It just has an old-timey feel,” he said. “I liked it as a young person living in this town; I like it now as a parent to take my kids to. It definitely gets you in the school spirit mode, and you can tell that the town is behind the football team the next day.”
Those looking to kick off the Homecoming festivities early had the opportunity to celebrate Thursday Night Fútbol with the women’s soccer team Thursday. International Night embraced soccer’s global presence, with fans bearing flags and jerseys from their favorite teams around the world.
To Gray, the decision to pair this event and sport was obvious.
“We’ve got 40,000 students here,” he said. “Sports are popular all over the world. One of our untapped resources in the past has been our international students, and soccer is a natural fit.”
Gray said, as one of the most visible facets of a school, athletic departments have a duty to represent their school's diverse fan base, but he welcomes the obligation.
“It’s great to have a level of social responsibility and bring awareness to important causes and issues,” he said.
Gray said what takes shape in the bleachers is arguably more important than what happens in between them.
“We want to integrate with our community, and we want to integrate with the university in every way possible,” he said. “We want to make sure our venues are seen as inclusive environments to go along with the mission of the university.”
Behind the multitude of incentives for fans to attend games is the unflinching desire to bring people together through the medium of sports. Gray said when this happens, the result on the field tends to tell a similar story.
“Students win games,” he said. “And we want students at the games.”
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