The programs may help increase the number of fans and the energy level in parts of the stadium this year, but the larger point is to embrace a next generation of fans who might someday buy season tickets.
“We want to be intentional about reaching the younger audience,” Rovak said. “On the business side, (high school and college students) are not a segment right now we’re selling to that often.”
Across most pro sports leagues, teams are aware of the need to attract a younger audience to develop future ticket buyers.
Emory University marketing professor Mike Lewis, who researches sports fandom, said an aging fan base is an issue – “enormously so” – for teams around the country.
“There looks to be almost a collapse coming,” said Lewis, faculty director of the Emory Marketing Analytics Center at the Goizueta Business School. “When you look at younger millennials or at Gen Z, it is absolutely frightening for sports teams. I think it stems from the fact these groups didn’t grow up in the media environment that us older fans did where there was one TV in the house and the NFL was on and the NBA was on. Sports is just another entertainment option for (the younger groups).”
It’s an important long-term issue in sports because, Lewis said, “one of the best predictors of season ticket holders – no matter what market you’re in, Detroit, Pittsburgh, wherever – is that they were fans of the team when they were kids and went to games when they were kids.” That fandom usually flowed from having parents and grandparents who were fans of the same team, he said.
“You can’t create that kind of generational history, but this is an effort to go in that direction” he said of the Falcons’ initiatives. It makes sense, he said, especially in a market that may lack in the “generational component of fandom” because “so many transplants” from other parts of the country live here.
Rovak estimated that perhaps 10,000 to 12,000 high school football and flag-football players will take advantage of the free-ticket offer. The tickets won’t be eligible for resale and will be spread across five to seven regular-season and exhibition games.
The Falcons said they have “a long history” of supporting high school football and “are looking with this program to strengthen the bond” and “celebrate the high school football player to thank them for their commitment to the sport.”
The college-pass program is similar conceptually to the high school offer. Rovak said the discounted price for college students will vary depending on the game or event, but “our strategy is to be aggressive” with the discounts.
“If we get 7,000 kids to opt in to the college pass,” Rovak said, “we know that in three or four years we’ll have 7,000 new people to market to.”