University looks to fill seats at athletic events, keep them full
Phillip Lady wants to boost student attendance and engagement at Southeast sporting events across the board.
Lady is the assistant director of athletics for marketing and engagement. Along with his department, Lady has invested time and money to fill seats at athletic events — and keep them full — in an effort to build a better student fanbase.
The goal, Lady said, is to go beyond a one-time student visit and create a full-time student section.
“The key is engagement. We can get a student to a game, but now we need them to sit in the student section, cheer and be engaged,” Lady said.
To engage students, the department has implemented halftime acts, giveaways and competitions. Among those acts are martial arts groups, dancers and family fun performers.
Lady has also begun to cultivate student leaders in freshmen Aidan Gremminger and Sophie Machen to lead Rowdy Crowd SEMO, a student section created this year.
According to Lady, one challenge has been competing local interest.
“It's not the only show in town,” he said of the other entertainment in Cape Girardeau. “We have to stay fun and we have to stay affordable to compete with everybody else in town.”
Another issue Lady identified is the sheer volume of athletics. The university is trying to build a fanbase for several Southeast teams with more than 100 home events with multiple teams playing in the same season.
“The biggest [challenge] is fatigue, especially for students, because they have so many other obligations,” he said.
Lady also urges students to try something new because although there are a lot of home events, the opportunity for experience is there and it’s free.
“Maybe some people haven’t been to a college volleyball match,” Lady said. “Gymnastics is totally different than anything anyone has seen.”
Lady said his department saw some success when students in the student section stayed for the entire football home opener Aug. 29.
“That doesn’t always happen,” he said. “For them to come and be engaged and stay is a big victory.”
Last year’s historic football season, which came off of seven consecutive losing seasons, may have helped, but Lady knows his focus must be on fan experience.
“We can’t control what goes on on the field,” Lady said. “But we can control what goes on in the stands, the music, giveaways and the atmosphere to hopefully make it as fun as possible so win or lose, [fans] come back.”
Losing seasons can be depressing to student engagement and winning seasons can draw interest, but Junior Public Relations major Tia Johnson, noticed an alternate dynamic change at the fall opener.
“[The first] game was different than others because last year we had a winning season, and we have some of the top players in the OVC, but the student section has a Rowdy Crowd leader that kept everybody active and players are motivated from the crowd,” said Johnson.
Johnson noted a T-Shirt giveaway, but believes the Rowdy Crowd made a real difference in energy of the students in the crowd.
Land and student leaders say those interested in participating in the student section are welcome to join free of charge and encouraged to participate in the activities of the group.
Lady stressed the importance of student communication through Rowdy Crowd and said they are always seeking suggestions to increase engagement and entertainment.
He urges students to route their ideas first through student leaders because “some of the best ideas come from other people.”
“We don’t know it all,” he said. “We can see what [other schools] do and maybe tailor those things to fit the Redhawks. We would love to hear ideas.”
For information about upcoming events and themes, the new student section can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by searching “Rowdy Crowd SEMO.”