By Erica Hucalak
When you walk into the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) for a men’s hockey game, you can’t miss the booming music, discounted beer, window wraps and posters of Rams’ players all over the building.
But what’s not so apparent is that it’s all part of a carefully constructed strategy devised by Ryerson Athletics and Global Spectrum, the building management company that runs the MAC.
This is called Level 3 marketing, which has sparked an ongoing debate over the allocation of marketing resources – who gets what and why?
According to associate athletic director Stephanie White, the marketing team implements a strategic approach. “We will use a variety of tactics based on what we think works for that game,” says White.
At the beginning of each team’s season, the athletics department and Global Spectrum sit down to plan. They analyze the varsity schedules, looking at factors such as what day the games are played, rivalry games and special occasions like the home opener.
Games that meet these factors are likely to receive Level 3 marketing. These types of games can trigger radio and newspaper ads, on-campus promotion, white board campaigns and Three Dollar Beer and One Dollar Pop and Juice nights.
Not all strategies are used for each game. The marketing team picks a handful of initiatives for Level 3 events.
“Imagine we have this trunk full of tactics that we can use. We go in and pick a variety of tactics that we think work for that game,” White says.
For hockey games, they have, at times, turned to the “Lights Out” strategy. As players skate out of the tunnel during starting lineup introductions, lights go out, spotlights beam down and smoke rises.
White and Kelly Austin, MAC director of sales and marketing, say they tried “Lights Out” at a men’s basketball game. The strategy failed because the lights took too long to come back on, killing the buzz in the stands. After that strategy fell through, Ryerson athletics and Global Spectrum took another tactic from the trunk. They offered free food before select games held in the MAC.
In an attempt to attract fans to men’s hockey games, they introduced Three Dollar Beer and One Dollar Pop and Juice nights.
The marketing team deemed the strategy successful, as it brought more fans out to the game. However, the increased attendance wasn’t consistent between games.
“The Three Dollar Beer night is great for the game that it is being featured,” says third-year men’s hockey player Brian Birkhoff. “But I don’t know that it entices people to come out to more games.”
In 2012, the marketing program’s first year, Three Dollar Beer and One Dollar Pop and Juice nights were used only for men’s hockey games, to the disappointment of the women’s team.
But after a successful trial with the men’s squad, the specialty nights were introduced for the women as well.
Introducing the drinks campaign at men’s hockey games first was strategic, White says.
“If we just did it willy-nilly across all the sports, we probably weren’t going to get the measurable results we wanted,” she says.
Many athletes question why the popular night wasn’t offered to the other sports.
“There are a lot of factors that go into what we pick out of the trunk,” Austin says.
The drink deals are doable for court sports such as volleyball and basketball. But fans are only allowed to consume alcohol in the lobby, and not in their seats.
Third-year women’s soccer player Leah Semeniuk understands that off-campus sports face certain stipulations. However, she would like there to be more hype for her team’s games.
“With soccer I can understand the (problem of a) liquor licence at the field but it goes as far as not even providing music for warm-up or halftime or between games. It’s the little things that keep the fans entertained and having a good time,” she says.
This season, men’s soccer was the only team to reach nationals. It was difficult to give the team the same type of marketing that on-campus sports received, since soccer games take place off-campus.
However, Birkhoff understands why sports held at Ryerson are marketed more than the ones played away from school.
“I feel like they base how much money they put into marketing in relation to how much money they get out,” he says.
The athletics department and Global Spectrum say they do their best to recognize off-campus teams for their successes.
“We’re trying to look for ways to bring more visibility to athletes that compete off-campus,” White says. “We want to bring recognition to the athletes that don’t compete here.”
The men’s soccer team got a standing ovation when honoured for a record-breaking season at a men’s hockey game.
Similarly, the department had the difficult task of marketing men’s volleyball when they went to the OUA Final Four tournament held at McMaster University in Hamilton.
“For these games we rely heavily on social media and word of mouth,” White says.
First-year men’s volleyball player Brett Whitley says he thinks it was advertised fairly well, and having a fan bus to McMaster brought supporters to the game.
“I think they could have posted more ads in the MAC and made more public announcements about it, but it was an away game, so it may have been a good idea that they didn’t spend too much effort on it because of the minimal amount of people who could travel to Hamilton to watch,” he says.
In only their second year as a partnership, Ryerson athletics and Global Spectrum marketing are constantly learning new ways to increase attendance.
“We are working hard to develop a great atmosphere for students to come and enjoy Rams sports,” White says.
“We want to make this one of the toughest buildings to play in, in any sport, and that doesn’t happen if our students don’t come and support the teams.”
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 12, 2014.