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UBC fans watch the men’s basketball team win over the Lethbridge Pronghorns.

UBC Sports unveils new plan to fill the stands with fans

Telling stories is key to the new communications strategy

By Chukwudy , in City , on December 30, 2019

The number of fans attending UBC sports team events is on the rise thanks to a new community engagement strategy that includes reaching out to neighbourhoods in close proximity to the university.

“The goal is to create peer-to-peer communication with UBC communities by setting up more face-to-face meetings and opportunities to develop relationships, and engage them to a greater extent,” said Austin Kretzchmar, the promotions manager.

The plan aims to build on the email and social media communication from prior years, but it goes a step further by reaching out to people both on and off campus.

Jeff Sargeant, who co-ordinates varsity media relations, says the department uses traditional media, like flyers, bulletins and a steady presence on CBC, to target UBC’s off-campus population and raise awareness about the games.

Jeff Sargeant, co-ordinator, media relations and communications for UBC Sports,, discusses media strategies at the War Memorial Gym.

Kretzchmar believes the plan to include the wider community is working in part due to the outreach strategies and also through a new storytelling approach about UBC sports.

“By creating an actual story behind these games, instead of feeding the audience with a quick blast of information on social media, we hope the fans feel a personal connection to the games,” Sargeant said.

Sargeant insists that humanizing the UBC sports teams through these stories is helping the Dunbar, Kerrisdale and West Point Grey communities feel more connected to the university’s sports.

“By explaining the historical rivalry between the UBC Thunderbirds and the Calgary Dinos on paper and news airwaves, for example, fans feel the need to come out, cheer and defend their territory,” he said.

The flyers and posters are also made with the hopes of providing convenient and cost-effective entertainment for fans on weekends, instead of other more expensive recreational options.

Attendance at UBC football and hockey games are way up as a result of these outreach efforts, with seasonal attendance averages going as high as 3,000 and 3,500 for hockey and football respectively. Wei Lau, the varsity events assistant, confirms an approximate 12-per-cent increase in attendance numbers but he hopes that the number will grow.

Muk Cheung and Gian Carlo Di-Luvi are UBC Sports’ target audience. The first-year students said they kept seeing the varsity sports posters in their neighbourhood, which led them to their first UBC football game.

“The [UBC Sports] posters were literally everywhere and the images made the games look like so much fun, so we decided to attend and it was entertaining,” said Cheung.

Wei Lau, varsity events assistant, talks about the community engagement strategy.

According to Kretzchmar, match-day festivals in particular have become fan favourites.

“The Homecoming and Legacy Game festivals offered fans the opportunity to celebrate UBC’s rich football history and enjoy the UBC Apple Festival, where these participants got to enjoy the best of B.C.-grown apples and 50-per-cent-off tickets to the game,” he said.

The new varsity administration is keen on continuing these human-centric stories and match-day festivals to draw and retain UBC’s off-campus and neighbouring communities.

“The hope is to develop the campus culture around the Thunderbirds as a spirit brand that the UBC community can associate with, engage with and have a positive experience with,” Kretzchmar said.