TicketManager | Court Storms Show Fan Passion That Brands Should Capitalize On

My first sports event as a newly arrived student at Northwestern University in September 1982 was the football team’s victory over Northern Illinois that ended the longest losing streak in NCAA Division I FBS history at 34 games. The experience featured both the worst and best aspects of the phenomenon that has come to be known as field- or court-storming.

Following Saturday’s latest incident in which a top-level player—this time Duke’s Kyle Filipowski—was injured in an NCAA basketball court storm, sports and social media lit up with calls to find better ways of allowing fans to celebrate while protecting student athletes from bodily harm.

The discussion took me back to that day in Evanston, Ill. more than 41 years ago when the Wildcats won their first game in three years and pandemonium ensued. Having hesitated to rush the field, I watched as a fellow student, a little person, fell on the turf and came terrifyingly close to being trampled before my friend Ken, a star high school wrestler, deftly scooped him up and carried him to safety. That indelibly stamped the inherent danger of storming on my psyche.

As relief took over, I was able to witness a watershed moment in Northwestern history, as the crowd took down the south goal post, hoisted it over the top of the grandstand, carried it first to the university president’s house a few blocks away and then on to (and into) Lake Michigan. The feeling of joy and celebration among those fans was unlike anything I have ever experienced.

In thinking not only about storming, but the larger picture of fan engagement, it is no revelation to anyone who watches sports, loves sports and/or is in the business of sports that fans crave closer connections to what is happening on the court or field. When it comes to celebrating monumental victories, that desire manifests itself in not wanting to be confined to their seats, but to share the same space as the athletes, coaches and others involved in the moment it happens.

The necessary conversation happening right now is whether that desire can be accommodated safely for all involved.

But fans’ thirst for interaction is not limited to the moments immediately after big wins. To borrow ABC Sports’ famous phrase, we want to be up close and personal with the stars whose exploits fuel our fandom. While this has been true for centuries, athletes’ use of social media to tell their stories has only intensified fans’ wish to be closer to them.

In college sports, some programs—such as Seton Hall and Florida Atlantic—purposefully hold autograph signings and meet-and-greets following games so that fans willing to stick around after media availabilities and coaches’ debriefs with the team can congratulate, console and mingle with their favorite players.

For teams that don’t do this, and where incentives are necessary to spur involvement by players and staff, a golden opportunity exists for brands to step in using their sponsorship, endorsement and NIL dollars to help establish such traditions.

Marketing partnerships cannot solve the storming dilemma. But enabling interactions between athletes and fans, especially young ones, is a perfect way for brands to deliver on the promise of improving the fan experience through their sponsorships and drive real value for their consumers and for their property partners seeking to cultivate and grow their audiences.