Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What Nick Saban can teach you about embracing your evangelists

When the University of Alabama hired Nick Saban to be its head football coach in January of 2007, everyone knew Bama was getting a great coach and recruiter. But as it turns out, Saban is a pretty savvy marketer as well.

When Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, he immediately began preaching that everyone had to work together to build a successful football program. And that 'everyone' included Alabama's rabid fanbase. Saban quickly spelled out to Alabama's fans that they could support the football program by attending the spring A-Day game that annually caps spring football practice. Fans answered Saban's call, and 92,000 fans showed up to watch a spring football practice in April of 2007. That stunning turnout got the nation's attention, and played a role in Alabama landing a top recruiting class in 2008. The next year, Alabama welcomed over 70,000 fans to A-Day, and this year the number was up to 84,000. This year's event was also broadcast live by ESPN.

Last week I wrote about some of the ways that a company can build community, and one of those ways was by reaching out to, and embracing your evangelists. If you think about it, this is exactly what Nick Saban has done at Alabama. Previous coaches hadn't really reached out to the fans, but Saban has made a point to spell out to the fans what their 'role' is in Bama's success. In the weeks leading up to this year's A-Day game, Saban was spelling out how important it was to have a big turnout:
"I think from an image standpoint," Saban said, "and the fact that this year's game's on ESPN, it would have a tremendous national exposure image-building probability for all of us if we had a great showing at the spring game again.

Saban also understands the importance of the A-Day as a recruiting tool for the football program, and the school. Essentially, Alabama got a 2-hour commercial on ESPN when they broadcast the A-Day game. And Saban also understands that the turnout was a result of him empowering Alabama fans and spelling out to them what their 'role' was, and how they could help Alabama succeed. Instead of treating fans as people that passively support their program, Saban empowered Alabama fans by giving them a 'job', and telling them what role that job played in the overall success of the program.

Which is what every company and organization should be doing. Evangelists are people that WANT to see you succeed and WANT to take an active role in helping make that happen. You should be finding your evangelists, embracing them, and empowering them to help you succeed. It doesn't matter if you work for a Fortune 500 company, a mom and pop grocery store, or a university. Everyone has fans, and you should be giving yours something to cheer about.


Kyle Roussel said...

Hey Mack,

As intelligent and savvy as Nick Saban is, as a Dolphins fan I could care less what he has to say. ;)

I'd much rather read about evangelism from people like yourself and Chris Brogan and Amber Naslund. I'm just one person, but IMO he's a poor case study in evangelism.

I can't bring myself to believe another word Saban says - ever!

Hope this doesn't anger too many 'Bama fans!


Mack Collier said...

Kyle you just nailed why I very rarely do posts like this. Many people can't put aside their personal feelings for or against a 'celebrity' and look at the larger point. I can appreciate that Nick is empowering Bama fans to help grow the program as a whole. It's very smart, and I'd think it was smart if Gene Chizik was doing it for Auburn, or if Lane Kiffin was doing it for Tennessee.

Al Brittain said...

Mack -

Hey, I don't even like or watch college football - period - and I still like the story. :-)


Krista Parry said...

What a great way to relate what companies should really be doing to engage their evangelists.

It's not about what company or football team is doing it, it's that they are doing it. And this is coming from a Utah fan!

Stuart Foster said...

I have an interesting perspective on Nick Saban because of his portrayal in "The Blindside" a story about NFL prospect Michael Oher. He came off as savvy, sophisticated and a consummate gentleman. He also knew how to kick ass when he needed too. He's a master recruiter and knows what kind of a story kids can buy into.

Also love that he is a friend of Belicheck's :).