In episode five of Zipcast, we’re joined by Scott Peace, the Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing and Fan Engagement at the University of Evansville. This small school in Indiana is doing big things when it comes to communicating with their sports fans.
Communication professionals of all industries (not just sports) will be inspired by some of the unique ways this university incorporates texting into their fan engagement and overall marketing strategy. You can expect to hear:
- The ways in which UE’s communication strategy has evolved over the years
- Specific examples of how they incorporate texting into their marketing
- Why they needed to adopt texting sooner rather than later
- Exactly how fans reacted once they started using texting and additional feedback they’ve received from key stakeholders
- How to use keywords and automation to optimize your texting strategy
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Scott Heimes: Welcome to the Zipcast, where we talk about the latest trends and texting for business, customer communication strategies and technology. I’m your host, Scott Heimes, Chief Marketing Officer at Zipwhip. Thanks for tuning in.
Scott Heimes: Joining us today is Scott Peace, he works in Marketing and Fan Engagement for athletics at the University of Evansville. This small school in Indiana is doing big things when it comes to communicating with their sports fans. Even if you’re not working in sports, I think you’re going to get inspired by some of the unique ways they’re approaching fan engagement. Stick around and learn more.
Scott Heimes: Welcome to the Zipcast, Scott, it’s nice to have you.
Scott Peace: It’s nice to be here, I appreciate it.
Scott Heimes: So, tell us about your role at the University of Evansville.
Scott Peace: Yeah. So, I am the Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing and Fan Engagement here at UE. Basically, what that means is that I’m in charge of any marketing or promotional efforts for the department. I oversee spirit squad band and things like that. I work hand in hand with Learfield, which we brought in this year, which is kind of a third-party sponsorship sales group and a lot of the game ops for our home events. And at a small place like Evansville, “other duties as assigned” definitely takes on a real meaning here. But I think it’s also worth mentioning (before we get into anything else) that the previous four years here at Evansville, I oversaw the ticket office. Between the ticket office and marketing, that’s kind of the two major ways that we use Zipwhip. So, I’ve now kind of done both sides of that.
Scott Heimes: Got it. Just give us a sense of reference for university, how many students?
Scott Peace: So, we’re actually one of the smallest Division One universities in the country. We have about 2,200 students total.
Scott Heimes: And your athletic department is pretty much a classic Division One without football. That’s the only thing that you don’t really have, is that right?
Scott Peace: Correct. Yeah. So, we’re in the Missouri Valley Conference most notably recently anyway known for Loyola last year making their run to the Final Four. So, yeah. We’re in the Missouri Valley Conference. We offer 17 varsity sports, just football is not one of those.
Scott Heimes: The team name is the Purple Aces, right? What’s the backstory behind that?
Scott Peace: So, yeah. We are the Evansville Purple Aces which is one of the more unique mascots in college athletics in my opinion. So, a long, long time ago (I don’t know exactly when), maybe 1920s or 30s, something like that, we played University of Louisville in a game of basketball and beat them. The coach in a post-game interview said that we played like we had five aces up our sleeves. So, that just kind of stuck and ever since, we’ve been the Purple Aces. Our colors are purple, white and orange. Our mascot is Ace Purple who’s actually a riverboat gambler. We’re located here on the Ohio River, so it’s a good talking point. It’s definitely unique and it’s a little more interesting than just being the Bulldogs or the Wildcats or something that everyone is.
Scott Heimes: Yeah, I love that. That’s great. All right, so, how do you think about marketing and customer engagement in relation to college athletics? How does it differ from other organizations?
Scott Peace: Well, I went to undergrad at the University of Louisville which is just two hours from Evansville, and I was a sport management major. And one of the things they always talked about in the classes was just what you asked the difference between marketing and engagement, things like that in athletics versus just a regular business. The example they always use was that when Campbell Soup comes out with a new flavor, you don’t see people camped up outside before the store is open to come in and buy it. You don’t see people painting their chests with a C on it for Campbell Soup, things like that.
Scott Peace: So, college athletics in particular I think people are just so passionate about and with wins and losses can make or break someone’s week and things like that. So, I think just the passion behind it is a little more different than any other regular business.
Scott Heimes: And I’m sure the act of engaging fans has changed a lot over the last ten years with new technologies and new approaches, tell us a little bit about how that’s evolved for the University of Evansville.
Scott Peace: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And I think not even just unique to Evansville, but college athletic departments across the country. They’ve all had struggles with filling the stands. I think a big part of that is just the access that is out there to all these games. Every one of our men’s basketball games, for example, is available to be streamed through ESPN. So, you no longer have to attend the game to be able to see it. Pair that with all the updates on social media and things like that, it’s just a lot easier to be a part of the action without being in the building now, I guess, if that makes sense.
Scott Peace: That’s kind of the biggest struggle we’ve seen, although we love our partnership with ESPN and it’s great that these road games the people out of town are able to watch, but it does present a challenge at the same time for trying to fill the stands.
Scott Heimes: Yeah. So, you’re a customer of Zipwhip, and thank you for being a customer. So, how do you use texting today in your business for both marketing and fan engagement? Give us a little bit of context.
Scott Peace: Yeah, I’ll be happy to. We take a lot of pride in the work that we’ve put into kind of implementing this as far as what we do. We use it in a number of different unique ways. Anything from signing up children for our Purple Aces Kids Club, we have people RSVP for our special fundraising events, things that may seem kind of silly, but securing ball kids, even for our soccer games, were able to text with parents to try to secure that because the conference requires us to have six at every game. And that’s actually kind of a challenge. But texting is made that easier to communicate with parents
Scott Peace: If you’re, for example, you have season ticket renewals outstanding, you’ve called and emailed someone five times, and you’re not hearing anything. It’d be amazing too, when you look at how often someone will respond to that first text – the answer still may be a no, but as we know a “no” is better than a “maybe” a lot of times. So, you get that answer. New season ticket sales: We do a lot of flash sales where it’s four hours only, but you have to text, and of course, the number one reason we liked it to begin with was it just gave us another customer service outlet and another way for people to reach out to us and engage us. And that’s what we still use it for, but it’s kind of crazy how many other ways we’ve been able to utilize it.
Scott Heimes: Yeah, that’s such a wide array of use cases. That’s great. So, how many people are actually using the software inside of your school today?
Scott Peace: So, there are four of us. Three of them are located in the ticket office and then myself, and we kind of just made that work to where we kind of have a system for who responds to what and things like that.
Scott Heimes: And I know you mentioned one of the things that got you started with us was one of our sales guys reaching out to connect with you, but there must have been some feeling of demand from your customer base. Did you get a lot of inquiries about fans wanting to text with the university or what were some of the drivers there?
Scott Peace: Maybe not specifically that, but when you look at the number of emails and voicemails that were left outside of regular ticket office hours. Or, for example, we play our men’s basketball games in a downtown arena a couple of miles down the road. So, once we leave the ticket office to come down there, you can no longer really have a way to get ahold of us that’s quick and efficient and can kind of guarantee a way for us to get back to you.
Scott Peace: So, we knew that people were trying to get ahold of us in times that we weren’t here, oftentimes about important things. We just didn’t necessarily know that there was a solution out there until this came along.
Scott Heimes: Yeah. It’s one of the great value propositions I think of texting for business is that you can reach people, whereas phone and email are becoming less and less effective at that. People won’t return phone calls, and they get a lot of email in their inbox including a lot of spam. And then the immediacy of fans being able to actually reach you is the flip side of it and allows for a much better service experience. Have you had fans reach out to you and share some of the thoughts about having a texting option? Has it been received positively?
Scott Peace: Oh, yeah. It’s been received very positively. Before we fully implemented everything, the way I looked at it was: if I get a call or an email there’s a chance that I might respond, a chance I might not but I almost always respond to a text. That’s my own preferred method. I think we started to realize that a lot of other people are probably the same way. So, yeah, we’ve got a lot of feedback, all positive about it. I think people realize that we’ve gone out of our way to invest in another way to provide great customer service for them and they’ve appreciated that.
Scott Heimes: So, the University of Evansville has been recognized as an organization that’s doing texting for business, right? Why do you think that is? What are some of the things that you’re doing that you think are really hitting the mark?
Scott Peace: Well, I’ve talked to a lot to schools that end up with going into it. I’ve kind of talked best practices with people, and then on the flip side working with Zipwhip’s sales member, he’s had me kind of talk to some people that were thinking about it, and what I tell them is: The more work you put in to make this worth your while, the more you’ll get out of it. And the schools that I’ve seen have success with, as it were, for the exact same way. I think some schools think they’ll purchase the service and then everything’s just going to work out. While that may be useful for some people, we’ve decided to just find as many possible ways to use it. And the ways that we found has more than paid for the service. So, it’s been obviously worth it for us.
Scott Heimes: Any fun stories or anecdotes about text interactions with the fan base?
Scott Peace: I’ll give you an example of my favorite youth that we’ve had with Zipwhip. So, back in March, we hired a new men’s basketball coach, Walter McCarty, who was an assistant with the Celtics at the time. But he was actually a kind of a local high school legend here in Evansville. He won a national championship at Kentucky then had a 10-year career in NBA with the Knicks and Celtics and I think maybe a few others.
Scott Peace: So, bringing him in, there was a lot of excitement that we’re bringing back this hometown hero. So, we wanted to maximize season ticket sales and excitement obviously, but also wanted to take advantage of the press conference. So, when news came out that we had hired him, we set up an Auto Reply for the keyword “WELCOME.” So, the thought behind it was, you were welcoming Walter McCarty back into the community. So, when you texted “WELCOME,” you got a video link back that was coach McCarty talking about how excited he was to be back in Evansville, and he told everybody to get on board which ended up being kind of our motto for the year. And then on the flip side of that, we started taking season ticket deposits using an auto reply keyword as well. Overall, we sold about 1,200 new season tickets as a direct result of hiring coach McCarty, and I’d say about half of those actually came through deposits from the text messages. So, last summer and spring, working through all that was a lot of fun for us.
Scott Heimes: That’s a creative way to use keywords. Have you found other ways that have allowed you to use keywords and automation into your overall experience?
Scott Peace: Yeah. Something we do after every home game that’s simple but a lot of people might not think of it is we’re kind of thanking people for coming to the game and things are kind of coming to a conclusion, we decided to text whatever opponent we play next for tickets, they text that and then you get a Ticketmaster link bounce back that you can purchase tickets right there on your phone. So, we figured people are in the stands, they’re hearing that, say, we just won a big game they’re much more likely to purchase at that moment and now they had that option to do so.
Scott Heimes: Got it. That’s great. So, how do you let the fans know that they can text you? Why do you promote the texting-for-business solution?
Scott Peace: Well, luckily, now that we’ve really been in it for about two full years, it’s just kind of part of the culture here now where people know that that’s an option. But right off the bat, we did kind of a social media blast and let people know that we’ve partnered with Zipwhip and what that means. We had, I don’t remember exactly what it was, but we had some kind of special offer where if you just texted in your name, just to get familiar with doing it, you won, I don’t know, some T-shirt or something like that. That was how it started.
Scott Peace: Then implementing Zipwhip coincided directly at the same time of our revamped kids club that I think I mentioned earlier. So, those kind of came out at the same time and the only way that you could register for the kids club was by texting “KIDS” to our phone number, and the reason why that was so appealing is we got it sponsored and it was free for, I think the first 100. We got at those 100 one day, so we’re going back to the sponsor, they gave us another hundred so the next day we got that and then anyone past that 200 had to pay, I think it’s like $20 which we still kept getting those texts so the kids club. That’s the first time that things really took off for us and like I said, that was really early on with adopting Zipwhip.
Scott Peace: But then long term, basically anytime we have schedule posters or magnets, anytime we have a billboard, anytime we have a press release, it’s not “Call the ticket office for tickets.” Everything is always “Call or text.” If you have questions call or text so we just make sure text is always in there because honestly, it’s easier for us when people text in too instead of call.
Scott Heimes: Absolutely true. Do you store all those conversations? Do you have it integrated with a CRM tool for example?
Scott Peace: We don’t. At this time, it’s kind of worked out without one, but I could definitely see how that would be beneficial.
Scott Heimes: Yeah, it’s something that a lot of our clients like to do just for historical comparison. A lot of compliance in certain industries. Not as much obviously in the sports and entertainment space. So. In the big picture, how would you describe the overall impact of implementing texting at Evansville?
Scott Peace: Oh, it’s been huge. I’m thankful for that because I kind of put myself out there as a champion for getting Zipwhip in the first place so it’s kind of be me on the hook if things didn’t work out, but it’s been extremely valuable in multiple ways. It’s more than paid for itself like I think I mentioned earlier through all the season ticket sales, kids club registrations, things like that. Time that it saved us and the fans are happy they have another way to be heard that’s convenient for them and just so happens to be convenient for us too.
Scott Heimes: Yeah. Well, it’s a quite a success story and it’s really been great to have you on the program Scott, I appreciate you taking the time to join us today.
Scott Peace: Oh, happy to. Thanks for having me and thanks for having such a great product it’s worked for us.
Scott Heimes: We appreciate it. Thank you.
Thanks for joining us. Make sure you subscribe to the Zipcast on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen, so you get the latest episodes. And feel free to text us with topics you’d like to hear about, or other feedback for the show, just text 206-582-3740 anytime of the day. Until next time.