40 Under 40 Perspectives: Rejuvenating the atmosphere at your athletic events
The Elk Grove High School (Illinois) athletic department was faced with a serious problem — empty seats.
The once proud athletic institution saw more and more bare bleachers over the last couple of years. Crazy weeknight schedules, increased rigor in students’ coursework, co-curricular activities and struggling athletic teams all contributed to the problem. To improve the climate at home events, the athletic department implemented numerous interventions to increase involvement from students and the community.
We started with the “EG Nation,” a student-led fan club. Nation was struggling with leadership and accountability. Luckily, Assistant Principal Bob Murphy had a vision. Murphy raised expectations for the group and encouraged innovation and creativity. By scheduling weekly meetings and creating a leadership board, the Nation had the structure it craved. This stability empowered students to participate and engage in the revival of the school culture.
To effectively communicate with today’s teenagers, Murphy knew that social media was key. By creating a Nation account on Twitter and incorporating students’ online habits, Twitter was doing the majority of event promotion and heavy lifting. For any chosen event, participating members tweeted with a hashtag to spread the word and ensure a trending presence on the internet. The more people who see it, the more it generates interest and encourages discussion.
The Twitter crusade led to a highly successful #EGBIG10 campaign. For the season’s first road football game, Nation set a goal of sending 10 buses full of fans, a feat that few had come close to accomplishing. Because of the Nation’s efforts, the pizza, bus tickets and game tickets promotion, Elk Grove showed up with 10 yellow buses and more than 300 students. That may be a simple accomplishment for a playoff or state meet, but not for a non-conference football game 50 minutes away from school.
In addition to the Twitter campaign, the Nation created a fan pack combination of T-shirts and accessories that were tied to each of the themes for the football season and school year. This economically-priced pack allowed every student to participate in the athletic themes for the whole year. The high school also shares the themes with local middle schools. During the week of the game, we sell the themed T-shirt at the middle schools, and all middle school students get free admission if they abide by the chosen theme. There is reserved seating in the home stands for the “Junior Nation.”
Hoping to continue the success into winter sports, Elk Grove and the Mid Suburban League changed the girls and boys basketball schedules to include a Friday night combo primetime. This would include a girls varsity game, boys varsity game, cheerleaders, dance team and pep bands. All fans, family and community members could enjoy the festivities of game day while promoting equity in all sports and activities.
Led by a team of progressive, committed administrators, and the use of technology, Elk Grove has filled its bleachers and regained athletic buzz around town.
Jackie Randall is the girls’ athletic director at Elk Grove High School in Illinois and a recipient of Coach & Athletic Director’s 40 Under 40 award, a program honoring the next generation of leaders in the sports industry.