A quick scan of Twitter on National Signing Day earlier this month showed that recruits value longevity and stability. They talk about entering into a #family and making a 40 year decision, expecting to build relationships that last a lifetime and prepare for life after the whistle.
But in college athletics today, turnover is the only constant. The record for transfers is being broken on an annual basis. More than one in five teams will have a new Head Coach this year, and 64% of coaches have been at their current institution for three years or less.
The result? A dwindling minority of athletes actually finish their college career playing for the coach that recruited them with promises of a family for life.
This new reality introduces a variety of problems: alumni from different coaching eras struggle to build lasting connections, athletes have a hard time finding mentors, and coaches are constantly trying to prove themselves to a new community. Programs around the country are desperate for continuity as they work to build a legacy that lasts.
In this time of consistent change, it is imperative that schools invest in the only permanent part of their program as part of the solution: alumni athletes.
The Alumni Solution
While everything else about a program- coaches, players, facilities…everything- will likely change every few years, alumni last forever. They are the foundation that holds a program together, but only if they stay engaged.
Countless studies have shown that athlete alumni are disengaged, and usually for reasons that are well within a program’s control:
- Communication: Athlete alumni are no more informed than the general public about their team, relying on social media for news just like the average fan.
- Experience: Athletes who feel a lack of support during their college experience are less likely to feel a sense of loyalty when they move on.
- Authenticity: Alumni athletes want to feel an authentic connection to their team. They don’t just want to be told they are part of the family, they want to feel it.
Fixing this problem- and capturing the benefits of engaged alumni in key areas like fulfilling recruiting promises and creating fundraising opportunities– is something that we have covered before. NextPlay works with schools across the country to create exclusive platforms for communication, private spaces for mentorship, and an opportunity for alumni to engage authentically.
But fixing the problem is not always as easy as it seems.
Challenges for Coaches
Staff and player turnover are only part of the challenge in creating a connected alumni community.
For one thing, the process takes a considerable amount of time. Alumni expect genuine, authentic engagement to build lasting relationships, but coaches are swamped with day-to-day responsibilities that hardly leave them with enough time to sleep, much less type out emails to former players. Time saving tools are a must for effective engagement.
Not only are existing tools inefficient, but they are also impersonal. With hundreds of emails hitting our inbox every day and thousands of fans following team Twitter accounts, these do not make good forums for exclusive, personal engagement.
Finally, we hear from coaches that even if they had the time and the platform to build these important relationships, they still wouldn’t know where to reach their alumni. Largely due to staff turnover, historical databases tend to be woefully out of date.
These are all legitimate roadblocks to alumni engagement. Fortunately, they are all problems that can be solved with modern alumni engagement technology.
Build The Bridge
Let’s revisit the three key reasons why alumni disengage and consider how a branded engagement platform can make an immediate impact.
- Communication: Give control back to alumni. Allow former players to connect with long lost teammates. Allow current players to seek out a mentor. And ensure they can do it all without having to ask for permission or get contact information from a middle man.
- Experience: From the moment they set foot on campus through the rest of their lives, equip athletes with a robust network, abundant job opportunities, and a consistent flow of career development content. Give them the support that they deserve and watch their loyalty build.
- Authenticity: Every time a former player opens their phone, they feel like part of the family. Tools like blast messages, live videos, and private groups efficiently deliver the type of exclusive, personal engagement that alumni are seeking.
The Time Is Now
One last dose of reality: the problems outlined above will only get worse if they go unaddressed. Disconnected alumni continue to drift further away. Contact lists get less and less accurate as they sit stagnant. Relationships feel less authentic with every passing day.
Alumni are never going away. It’s time to get them involved.