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November 21, 2013

Initial Findings from M.B.A. Students' Survey of ODU Football Fans Indicate Strong Support of Program

topstory2-lgFans cheer on the Monarchs at Foreman Field. Photo by Chuck Thomas
topstory2-lgBA fan in the stands greets a Monarch player as he heads to the locker room. Photo by Ricky Thomas
By Brendan O'Hallarn

If the initial response is any indication, Old Dominion football fans are at the very least very interested in the goings-on of their team.

A survey sent to Monarch fans as part of a partnership between the College of Business and Public Administration and ODU Athletics received more than 1,100 responses within a week.

The survey responses are undergoing a businesslike analysis by a small group of M.B.A. students under the direction of Kiran Karande, professor of marketing at ODU. But the process of how this first comprehensive study of ODU football fans was launched is a unique one.

"I am always looking for hands-on opportunities for my students," said Karande, instructor of MBA 698, the Corporate Field Project.

Last year, Karande's class did an analysis for the Virginia Stage Company, making suggestions for how to run that business more efficiently. Looking for another project this fall, Karande mentioned to Senior Associate Athletic Director Debbie White that he would love for his students to do a study involving the popular, and relatively new, ODU football program.

White relayed the unusual query to ODU Athletic Director Wood Selig. Selig, who has a Ph.D. himself, saw the value of such a study immediately.

"Business and marketing decisions grounded in research and backed by concrete data generally yield better results than strategies based on hunches and anecdotal information," Selig said.

"This research effort represents the first study conducted by ODU Athletics in an effort to help shape strategy and learn more about our ticket-buying and game-attending fans. The results should help us better market and sell ODU football while also delivering a better game-day experience for all of our ODU football fans."

The four students in MBA 698 conducted a focus group with ODU fans in September, and used that information to distribute surveys to a mailing list of past and current ODU football ticket-buyers. The response to the survey was overwhelming.

"We know that there is intense interest in the team, that's for sure," Karande said.

The results of the survey are being analyzed, but initial findings show that the fans are quite happy with their game-day experience. "For example," said Karande, "we asked fans to describe their experience in one word and the most highly quoted words were 'awesome, exciting, fantastic, excellent, great and fun.'"

Among the comments from ODU fans on the long-form answer section of the survey were these:

n "What can I say???? We love ODU athletics, but football has been an entirely awesome experience. Our lives revolve around ODU football, both home and away games."

n "ODU has done a remarkable job with creating an exciting, enjoyable, and safe environment for attendees. Even the people at the gate are overly pleasant and welcoming and that means a lot to our team spirit. ODU is a class act ... and it shows."

Karande believes that ODU Athletics will be pleased that fans view the football experience so positively.

Interestingly, the team of researchers that conducted the study this semester wouldn't fit any stereotyped, football-centric image.

Karande himself is a former marketing professional from India in the snack food industry, who was first exposed to American football while pursuing his doctorate at the University of Houston. Andre Ware and David Klingler, respectively, a Heisman Trophy winner and finalist, were quarterbacks at Houston during his stay there. "I distinctly remember the excitement at the Astrodome when the UH Cougars would put up points within minutes with their run-and-shoot offense," Karande said.

Karande's student research team includes a former nonprofit employee from Wisconsin (Kara Coates), an accountant from Ukraine (Natalie Hetman), an ODU information technology specialist (Candice Goodin) and a Navy lieutenant and biomedical engineering graduate (Wyatt Beyer).

Beyer is the group's outlier as the lone fanatical football fan, having spent time as the Cavalier mascot while studying at the University of Virginia. But all four members of the class, as well as Karande, have found their football interests soaring this semester.

"I'm learning so much new. We don't even have football in Ukraine," Hetman said. "It's actually inspired me to find out everything I can about this game. It interests me because people feel so strongly about it."

The M.B.A. students have been regulars at ODU games this fall, and not simply to do fieldwork for their class. As a real-world learning exercise, the class has been invaluable.

"The biggest thing has been the little things that we've learned, such as how attached fans are to the cannon (the military howitzer that fires when ODU scores)," Beyer said. "We wouldn't have guessed that in a million years. It's great training for anticipating the unexpected in business."

The survey findings will be presented to ODU Athletics during the first week of December.

Karande said it would be incredibly flattering to his students and their hard work to see recommendations from the ODU football fan study be incorporated into the football program's planning in future seasons.

"It's the underlying rationale for doing this type of research in the first place," he said.