Survey directs Tech fan improvements

Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich is not one for hunches. As a result, his marketing department will devote more dollars to radio ads, and fans attending Thursday’s season opener against Western Carolina will be able to buy angus burgers and fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Ultimately, Radakovich hopes that data acquired in an extensive fan survey that led to those changes and others will solve Tech’s everlasting challenge to fill up Bobby Dodd Stadium.

“It’s not important what I think and it’s not important what” other Tech administrators think, Radakovich said. “It’s, What do our people tell us? That’s what’s important.”

Those people told Radakovich and his staff through a survey of almost 1,300 randomly selected fans who bought single-game or season tickets in the past five years. Of that, 381 fans responded, a large enough sample size to provide a 95 percent confidence level in the data.

The survey was conducted by Stephanie Herbst-Lucke, a five-time NCAA champion as a distance runner at Wisconsin in the mid-1980s and a top masters runner. Herbst-Lucke is the principal of her own marketing firm, MARK IT Consulting.

The 49-question survey sought data to help Tech improve its marketing strategy and game-day experience. Fans were asked questions about parking, food, ticket prices and a litany of other topics.

Associate athletic director Wayne Hogan said that decisions in the past were based on assumptions about the market, which often prompted the analytically minded Radakovich to ask, “Well, how do you know?”

Said Radakovich, “I think [the hard data of the survey] eliminates doubt.”

Among the findings: Fans unaffiliated with the school account for 11 percent of the ticket-buying pool. The average customer is 50 years old. Fans could barely recall Tech’s advertising campaigns and gave an overall customer-satisfaction rating of six on a nine-point scale. (Tech’s on-field product last season might have factored in that score.)

“Whether or not that’s high for a school, we don’t know because we don’t have enough other schools’ data to look at,” Herbst-Lucke said. “What we can say is it’s not high enough. Compared to a business, it would be completely unsuccessful.”

Completed in June, the survey has spurred a flurry of improvements and plans for this season. At games, signage directing fans to parking has been improved. Concessions have gotten a makeover, including a wider variety of offerings and an overdue transition to enable credit-card purchases. Coaches and athletes from Tech’s other varsity teams will be around the stadium to greet fans. The school contracted with Atlantic Station to permit fans to park there and take a shuttle to the stadium.

On the marketing side, the department will spend more to sell tickets through radio ads and direct mail to expand the fan base, which the survey indicated faces a reduction.

More than a third of Tech’s fan base is between 51 and 65. From that group, the analysis projected a decline in ticket sales and spending in coming years. The survey identified families as Tech’s greatest potential for increasing revenues.

“They spent more time at the game; they spent more money at the game,” Herbst-Lucke said. “They also bring with them a younger generation.”

To that end, Tech commissioned another survey to be conducted this fall, this one to sports fans who don’t attend Tech games. Long in the shadow of Bulldog Nation, Tech could use some solutions.

Despite the odd-year home schedule that brings Clemson, Virginia Tech and Georgia to Atlanta, the season-ticket base fell to about 23,200 from 24,675 in 2010. It was about 26,000 in 2009.

“We’ve had a fairly sizable attrition over the last two, three years,” Hogan said.

Herbst-Lucke, perhaps not surprisingly, believes Tech’s administrators will find answers with the help of their data.

Said Herbst-Lucke, “You’ve got a lot of people in there that are saying, ‘We’re going to run this like a business. We’re going to find a way to make this program successful.’”

One angus burger at a time.