The Engagement Super Bowl

For football and non-football fans alike, the Super Bowl is an exciting, annual tumblr_mrjusy8wcM1s5tlmxo1_1280phenomenon.  For football fans, it’s a must-watch even if your favorite team isn’t playing.  For folks who don’t really like football, there are plenty of other options to partake in.  The Super Bowl is a great model for institutions that are looking for direction when it comes to planning Homecoming.

Homecomings take on different forms throughout the United States.  Many are yearly activities that are centered around a sporting event, others incorporate reunions for specific years (or for all alumni), others are some sort of hybrid combining these elements.  Regardless of the format and timing, for the purpose of this post, consider any event housed on-campus where boatloads of alumni reconvene at alma mater to reconnect.

What makes the Super Bowl one of the most watched television programs is its diversity.  First and foremost, you have THE GAME which is a winner-take-all battle between two teams, the only professional sport with this format.  Football fans of all stripes wouldn’t dream of missing it.  Then, you have the COMMERCIALS.  You know, those edgy, trendy, classic and expensive commercials that disallow you from leaving the room to refresh your beer during breaks in the action.  Companies pay big money to advertise during the game due to the number of viewers.  At halftime, you get the SHOW.  It might be a famous classic rock group, a popular starlet, or someone you never heard of.  In any event, it’s a free concert and anything might happen (see Jackson, Janet).  These three elements occur if you don’t change the channel, but there are more things going on if you do.  Have you ever heard of the Puppy Bowl or the Lingerie Bowl?  Although they couldn’t be more different, they are very popular halftime alternatives.

Besides these annual elements, there are contests, television teasers and additional new programming that are unveiled during THE GAME.  You are driven to your smartphone or iPad to see the ending of the Go Daddy commercial or to vote on which potato chip will be launched in the next month.  The Super Bowl is an interactive and personal event.

Now, you may be asking yourself how does this translate into alumni relations programming…it’s a fair inquiry.

Successful homecomings need to have the same characteristics of the big game.  The event needs to appeal to a large audience, but needs to be personal to those in attendance.  It has to contain diverse programs while addressing a multi-generational crowd.  Here are some examples of how to do this:

  • Although not essential to your success, hosting a sporting event gives you the chance to cater to a large number of alumni who are attending the event and the pre-game tailgating that takes place.
  • Consider providing alumni with academic programming, particularly for those who may not be enamored with a sporting event.  While you may not want to compete with “the big game,” these academic events can take place prior to the game.
  • How about a concert?  You don’t have to contract U2 to play on campus, and hosting a post-game concert is a fun way to keep guests on campus after the game and avoiding traffic heading to the gates at halftime of a blowout.  Although classical or jazz groups may not be the best picks for a stadium concert, there are student and alumni cover bands that will fit the bill.  If your budget can handle it, a fireworks show can punctuate the end of the performance with a bang (no pun intended).
  • That classical or jazz band I mentioned above?  You can host a concert for them during Homecoming as well.  It’s a great way to showcase the student talent you have on campus.
  • If you are looking to market a new program, an upcoming activity or contest, consider advertising those activities on campus through banners, announcements, giveaways, handouts, or QR codes.  Happy attendees are more likely to attend future events.
  • Provide alumni with tours of campus, visits to your campus’ art gallery, cultural centers and residence halls.  These are ideal ways to have your graduates engage with students while reminiscing about the good ol’ days.
  • Wine tastings, cocktail parties and luncheons are also fun ways for your campus to showcase your catering department’s accomplishments.  Chefs can take this opportunity to prepare items that aren’t the usual campus fare, an opportunity that is usually well-received.
  • Have activities for children.  A bouncy castle, petting zoo, rides, and appropriate learning opportunities are important elements to a successful homecoming and encourages alumni with children and grandchildren to attend.

This listing is not meant to be exhaustive, but only a start.  The bottom line is that you’ll engage a large and diverse group of alumni if you have many reasons for them to attend your big event.  And, once your graduates enjoy their experience, they’re more likely to attend the following year and will bring more attendees.  For many, your homecoming may become their annual visit back to campus….for your alumni Super Bowl.