Resilient Isenberg Students Propel Supercuts SoccerFest

May 3, 2013

By all accounts, Supercuts SoccerFest 2013--the largest annual campus event organized by Isenberg students--was an unqualified success. Held on April 27 on fields adjoining McGuirk Football Stadium and coordinated by a 24-person student management team, mostly from the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management, SoccerFest reigns as the largest grassroots soccer tournament in Western Massachusetts.  This year, with ideal weather, the day-long event attracted 81 teams and nearly 3,000 attendees, including local residents, students, and their families.


It also gained crucial support from 26 partners/sponsors, including local businesses and corporate partners like SuperCuts, John Hancock, and Puma. And it channeled 5% of team registration fees and onsite food and beverage sales to One Fund Boston in support of Boston Marathon victims. SoccerFest, noted McCormack M.S. degree candidate Kole Huang, and the event's marketing team manager, differentiates itself from other soccer tournaments via its Fun Zone, a sort of midway that includes game booths, inflatable obstacle courses, and--this year--a mechanical bull and live bands to appeal to an increasing collegiate demographic.


The academic touchstone for SoccerFest is Sport Event Management, a two-semester course taught by Dr. Mark McDonald, an associate professor in McCormack and faculty advisor to the project. In the fall semester, the course devoted considerable attention to sponsorships, an essential ingredient in an event of SoccerFest's size and scope. At the same time, the course's 24 students formed separate functional sub-teams devoted to marketing, sponsorships, tournament operations, registration and hospitality, management of volunteers, and finance. "Above all, the course demonstrates McCormack's commitment to academics with hands-on practice," observed McDonald. While that entails judicious planning and execution, it also requires students to respond decisively to unexpected challenges, he added.


Students Ace the Grade: "A" for Adaptation. For the SoccerFest management team, shifting gears on the fly, in fact, proved a hallmark of this year's initiative. It all began last fall when the student managers learned that Amherst Youth Soccer League, which for seven years had fielded 20+ teams (24 last year), would not participate in this year's event. The prospect of significantly fewer teams coupled with the memory of adverse weather at last year's tournament made it more challenging to sell sponsorships, noted Skylar Ritwo '13, marketing partnerships manager for the event. "By necessity, we had to do creative problem solving; we had to rethink our strategy," he emphasized.



To that end, the students hatched a new plan to spread their risk geographically and demographically. They expanded eastward and northward by fielding three new marketing teams from Bentley University in Waltham, Athol High School, and Amherst High School. That dovetailed with a strategy that placed greater emphasis on high school and college age teams, which in turn drove demographic-related changes in sponsorships, target marketing, and the Fun Zone (via a mechanical bull and popular local bands).  "It was a great learning experience for the students," observed McDonald. "They discovered that when you change one key variable, many others may follow suit; that you're essentially dealing with interrelated moving parts."


Underscoring SoccerFest's geographic expansion, a display ad for the event on a Boston tour bus gave the event two months of high-profile exposure in downtown Boston. Through a personal contact at Van Wagner Media, a facilitator of outdoor advertising, Skylar Ritwo succeeded in selling discounted advertising space on the bus to Isenberg's Online MBA Program. That allowed SoccerFest to share advertising space on the bus while securing additional revenues.  For SoccerFest and Isenberg Online, a rolling presence at iconic sites in Boston was an energizing affirmation of Isenberg's expanding footprint. With this year's SoccerFest successfully in the rear view mirror, Isenberg Online's tour bus advertisements will continue to make their Boston rounds.