School Spirit • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

School Spirit

School Spirit
College football is a big deal at Indiana's big three sports institutions.

Major college football in Indiana
For more information on Indiana's major college football programs, visit these websites:
University of Notre Dame
Purdue University
Indiana University

College football fans in Indiana are excited about a new season. Fall colors are starting to show–crimson and cream in southern Indiana, black and gold in west-central Indiana, and blue and gold in the north.
Even though the season has kicked off, Indiana's big three Division 1 programs–Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame–are still excited about their possibilities.
Patrick Kraft, senior assistant athletic director of marketing for IU, is about as excited as anyone could be about Indiana football. Kraft, a former player for the Hoosiers, calls the start of a new football season “a crazy time.” Kraft says he works throughout the offseason drumming up excitement about the football program. His goal is to see that seats are filled in the stadium and that those who attend games enjoy a family-friendly experience.
“The months of July and August are the busiest because you're getting ready to put on a show,” says Kraft. “It is a full year process. We start planning for the next season right after the current season ends.
“We try to do what the National Football League does,” says Kraft. “That's getting people excited about football in the offseason.” And that means touching base with the school's season ticketholders and other supporters. Every two to four weeks, season ticketholders and other fans receive a copy of IU's football newsletter.
“We're trying to create a culture of football at Indiana,” Kraft says, although he admits IU is better known as a basketball school. While football tradition runs much deeper at Notre Dame and Purdue, Kraft said IU is working to create its own football tradition.
The recently renovated Memorial Stadium at IU seats 52,692 people and Kraft says 19,000 seats are filled with season ticketholders. Kraft wants to increase that in coming years, which is why today IU admits youth for only $5 and sells $30 season tickets to fans 30 and younger.
Kraft says if IU can capture the loyalty of young people now, it will pay off in the future when they're adults and want to recapture the excitement of a college football game.
“Our fan base stretches from border to border in Indiana,” says Kraft. “We believe we are Indiana's school.”
Kraft admits IU is doing some of the things it is because of the impact of the nearby Indianapolis Colts of the NFL. “They've taken some of our audience away, but look at the success they've had. You can't blame people for going with a winner. And frankly, we haven't done a good enough job with our product,” says Kraft. This year, IU sent out a fan caravan and hosted “Tailgate Festivals” all over central and southern Indiana.
The school also visited Fort Wayne, which Kraft calls “a big IU area” and has put up billboards and bought television ad time to promote IU football.
“We're being very calculated in where we put our money,” says Kraft. In addition, IU sports are also deeply involved with social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
“Our goal is to enhance the value of the ticket,” says Kraft. “We have the band go through the parking lot with the tailgaters and send out the cheerleaders before the game. Inside the stadium, our ushers are positive and we have the second-largest scoreboard in the conference. It's all about the experience.”
Tom Schott, assistant athletic director for communication at Purdue University, says the goal is to create an enjoyable day-long experience for football fans of the Boilermakers. “We certainly realize that it's more than just the three hours at the game,” says Schott. “We want to make the whole day enjoyable.”
That's why at Purdue, the school holds a street festival and brings in different teams from the school to sign autographs for fans. Purdue also creates a mini street fair atmosphere for children and has the Purdue band march around the stadium, where it stops frequently and puts on short concerts.
Those events are held around newly renovated Ross-Ade Stadium, says Schott. The stadium holds 62,500 people, and about 30,000 of those seats are occupied by season ticketholders.
Schott says the number of season ticketholders is down a bit from recent years, but he blames most of the decline on Indiana's economy. “It's been a struggle at times and we try to accommodate as best we can. We haven't raised ticket prices in three years,” says Schott.
As far as competition from other state universities or the NFL's Colts, Schott says, “I don't think we worry too much about that.”
Beyond game-day activities, Schott says the athletic department works year-round to build relationships with fans. Purdue holds golf outings in the summer, but this past summer, Purdue held its first road show featuring events for up to 3,000 fans at a time.
“We can reach more fans doing that than we can at a golf outing,” says Schott. While Purdue depends on traditional media to report on its major sports, the university gets its own message out on all sports teams through the Web.
Schott says Purdue's effort to promote football, and all of its athletic teams, is embraced by the university's administration. “The university president and cabinet realize athletics is a vehicle to reach the public. It's the front porch to Purdue. It's a great PR tool. We understand that academics are important, so we use athletics as a way to open that door.”
For the University of Notre Dame, filling the 80,795 seats at Notre Dame Stadium isn't a problem. The last time the Fighting Irish didn't sell out was way back in 1976.
But, says John Heisler, senior associate athletic director of media and broadcast relations, the university's goal throughout the season is the same as at any other university–stay in touch with season ticket-holders and fans. And on game day, Heisler says the key is providing a fun, family-friendly atmosphere.
“We've been spoiled at Notre Dame because we don't sell tickets to the general public,” says Heisler, adding that season ticket demand has been down in recent years, primarily because of a sluggish economy. Even so, there are still some 20,000 season ticketholders. Another 30,000 tickets are available on a game-by-game basis to alumni who contribute to the university. The remaining tickets are divided among students, faculty and staff and fans of the opposing team.
“The game day experience is different at every school,” says Heisler. “We undertook an expansive look at the game day experience before the 2009 season. We wanted to see how we could make it better. The typical issue was parking, and that is a problem at a fairly small campus like ours.”
By opening spots on a university golf course and a few other areas, 2,000 additional parking spaces were added, says Heisler.
“We also opened the stadium on Friday before the game so fans could walk out the tunnel and get the same view of the stadium that the players do on Saturday,” he says.
In addition, Notre Dame has created the “Irish Green,” where outdoor pep rallies and entertainment are held for fans and students the night before home games.
But when it comes to getting its message out to fans, Notre Dame is doing much of that itself through its Web page and social media. “With the Web, there is no shortage of information available, unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation, too. That's just the reality of the world today. So we get our own information out.”
Heisler says Notre Dame, which has an exclusive deal with NBC to air each of its home games, doesn't worry about what other universities do to promote themselves. “That's not really a concern. The real concern is hotel prices and ticket prices. With the economy the way it is, no matter where you come from, if you're coming to South Bend for a game, it's a major financial commitment.”
Heisler says that's why Notre Dame wants to make the game day experience as pleasant and convenient as possible for visitors.


Scroll to Top