Background: This post has been written by Michael Keelen, currently a Junior at Rutgers University-New Brunswick studying Sport Management. I had the pleasure of speaking with Mike after he reached out for career advice, and ended up offering the opportunity to write a post that talked about his experiences, how he has gotten involved as a student, and more…I ended up learning more from him than I feel like he learned from me!
Author: Michael Keelen
Sport Management Major: Rutgers University
People don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it. This is a concept that may seem simple, but figuring out the concept of why, may be the single handed most important thing any individual or organization may ever do in their entire life. From the time I was young I was always drawn to sports, whether it be watching every game on TV, or going out shooting jump shots outside in the drive way. I always understood that I was drawn to sport but until I grew older I did not really understand why that was. When I came to college I let my passion fuel my decision making and decided to become a Sport Management major.
My passion for sports made joining an organization such as the Riot Squad very easy. The Riot Squad is the official student section of Rutgers Athletics. The group was started 6 years ago by a group of Marketing interns who would go to games and take down stats of the team’s performance. A few years later the interns in charge decided to move away from the statistics concept and make the Riot Squad a traditional student section similar the sections other B1G schools had. When I came in to college the organization had a marketing strategy that ultimately halted the organizations progress.
When I was recruited to join the organization the marketing pitch sounded a lot like this; “We go to all of the Rutgers sporting events, the more you show up the more gear you will get, you get great face time on T.V and a lot of exclusive opportunities, you should join our organization.” From the outside, this does not sound like a bad strategy. The gear itself was quality, the top prize was an awesome Nike back pack, and most of the members that did recruiting seemed to be good people. Despite this, around my sophomore year the organization started to go downhill. Membership rapidly declined, many members would obtain the prize gear and not show up again, and the members who did show up to games, did not create a great atmosphere or move the organization forward in any way.
Naturally, the first thing most of us did was not search for “why” but we tried to refine our what we did and how we did it. We asked if the prize gear was not lucrative enough, or the tailgates not exciting enough and questioned almost everything but the way we recruit. Through many trial and error brainstorming sessions we realized that the reason people joined the organization in the first place was not the gear or the face time or the exclusive opportunities. People joined because they had pride in Rutgers University, they wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They wanted to change a culture that so desperately needs to be changed. We figured out that “why” and started to make decisions with the concepts of; “pride, togetherness, and culture” and things changed almost immediately. Despite the lack of winning by our key revenue sports, more people began to join the organization. They became drawn to our new identity and were focused on changing culture and sharing experiences.
Through working with the Riot Squad, I realized the sports are about a lot more than the physical games themselves. Sports bring people together from different walks of life. It brings unity in times of division and can provide an escape for people who need it. Sports links music to memories, and when certain songs come on I can picture myself in the RAC or High Point Solution Stadium with a group of my best friends.
Through these experiences I realized that there was a lot more than sports behind the reason I declared my major. I declared because I believe that sports provide a way that I can change the world. Moving forward, I hope to be the Marketing Director for a Collegiate Athletic Department. In a position such as this I could help impact the fan and specifically the student experience. The student section is often an over looked component for many marketing departments. At the end of the day, a raucous student crowd could help sway potential Heisman trophy winners to go to one school or another. A great crowd could inspire a donor to sign that last check that builds that new facility or could help the University land the next big coach that lifts the national trophy title. Although there are other very important components, the student experience is the pulse of any great college game day atmosphere.