September 29

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Lessons from Leaders – Eric Nichols

David Millay

September 29, 2021

customer experience, fan engagement, fan experience, fandom, innovation, sports biz, sports business, sports marketing

We’re already done with two weeks of football. We’ve crossed the starting line, now it’s time to start thinking about how we can get better.

“Be better” happens to be the parting advice Eric Nichols gives in our latest conversation. Eric is the Senior Associate Athletics Director for Marketing and Branding/Chief Marketing Officer at the University of South Carolina. At South Carolina, Nichols oversees Marketing, Digital and Social Media, and the University band and spirit programs as well as serving as the primary liaison for Licensing, merchandise sales, and outsourced entities including Learfield for multimedia rights and Learfield Ticket Solutions for outbound sales.

Here are three key takeaways from the conversation:

Make choices based on story, not budget
In SC’s new Cockaboose Club, Eric describes the space as if “a train station and a brewery had a baby.” Each new club has their own story, and their own target market, with the Cockaboose Club built for the Average Joe. Our former Disney colleague, Joe Rhode, the Disney Imagineer largely responsible for creating Disney’s Animal Kingdom, was famous for saying “make design choices based on story, not budget”. Keep that in mind as you map out your fan experience and you’ll win in the long run.

Position underutilized assets creatively to drive engagement and revenue
This is the first year SC will have 100% capacity and beer sales. But adding a high-demand product means you need more points of sale, and there’s only so much room in a concourse. So Eric and his team got creative with an underutilized space between concession stands. They made the area walkthrough convenience store-style for fans to grab drinks, then they branded it a “beer cave.” What you’ve got it’s your job to get creative and spin it to turn into an experience.

Scaling empathy
“We want to make the relationship with the Gamecocks almost like a girlfriend/boyfriend relationship where it’s really difficult to break up with us… you’re gonna feel bad about leaving.” Eric highlights the importance of human relationships here. It’s a lot easier to leave a logo and a physical building than it is to leave another human. Fans (and employees) who are emotionally connected to your organization are more loyal through tough times and are less likely to churn.

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