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UM Looks to Loyalty Program to Boost Attendance for Some Sports

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The University of Michigan is considering launching a loyalty program for its sporting events. While the university doesn’t need help building attendance for its perennially sold out football games, men’s basketball and men’s ice hockey, the university’s other 25 teams would benefit from an attendance boost, the purpose of starting such a program, said Dave Ablauf, associate athletic director in charge of public and media relations.

“We want to increase student engagement,” Ablauf said. “We want to reward students who attend a wide variety of our sports. At any of our engagements, the students make a lot of noise, and that makes it much more difficult on the opponents.”

The program will be strictly for students and not open to other ticket buyers.

“We’ve looked at a lot of different programs over the last few years,” Ablauf added. “We have a new chief marketing officer, Hunter Lochman, and this has been a priority of his. Our loyalty program will probably have pieces of some others and others that are uniquely University of Michigan.”

Loyalty programs for college sports programs, while not new, are growing in popularity, according to Ronald Dick, associate professor for sports marketing at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pa. The programs themselves have different elements, to encourage different behaviors.

For example, at UM rival Michigan State University, the loyalty program for the men’s basketball program rewards students depending on the time they arrive at a game, and penalizes them if they come in late or skip the game altogether. The timing element encourages students to be at the games for tip-off, when any television crews typically note the crowd and helps provide the home court advantage for the game.

At the powerhouse schools that make only limited tickets available for the student body for football, men’s basketball or other sports that typically sell out and for which student tickets are limited, the reward might be the opportunity to buy tickets for one or more football or basketball games, according to Dick.

However, that won’t be one of the elements of the University of Michigan program, Ablauf said. “Any university student that wants to buy a season ticket for football or any other sport is allowed to get one.”

Dick added that the programs often need tweaking after getting underway. Some colleges have used the programs to encourage attendance at certain events only to find that students would come in, get their loyalty cards scanned, then walk right back out again.

“Many college students will only do the minimum to get by,” Dick said. So programs some have added stipulations that loyalty cards would be scanned on the way out and no earlier than halftime, for example.

However, so far, these programs have been self-contained and have not gone outside of the athletic departments themselves to include loyalty partners, such as retailers, according to Dick.

Ablauf said that he hopes to have the University of Michigan sports loyalty program finalized and in place by the time students enter school for the fall semester.

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