When the world’s best golfers tee off at the U.S. Open June 17-21, not all of the action will take place on the rugged Puget Sound landscape of Chambers Bay. A coordinated “Open For All” Fan Experience in Seattle’s Lake Union Park will offer big-screen viewing of the championship, games, activities and official merchandise, a “Learning Science through Golf” exhibit, local food trucks, and an opportunity to see the famed U.S. Open trophy at the end of its cross-country tour.
The event—if not the trophy—will bear the fingerprints of Foster School undergrads.
In winter quarter, the United States Golf Association and its broadcast partner FOX Sports challenged students in Abhishek Borah’s social media class to brainstorm event ideas and promotion of the fan fest viewing party. Their target demographic was a familiar one: Millennials, the legion of 20-somethings raised on technology though not necessarily on golf.
“The executives from FOX Sports and the USGA wanted my students to provide research and analysis to support a location for the event, and a plan to create social media buzz that would get young people excited about it,” says Borah, an assistant professor of marketing at Foster.
Golf in the city
The projects, conducted through the FOX Sports University program, became the real-world capstone to Borah’s course.
Four teams presented. The winning “Golf The City” team—Yen Phung, Tyler Ronish, Supo Techagum, Nap Poshyananda and Coral Lee—delivered outside-of-the-box creativity in a coherent and professional presentation that most impressed the USGA and FOX Sports executives.
“The kids came up with a variety of great ideas, presented with real professional polish,” says Greg Ross, manager of branded and special events at the USGA. “Since we’re not from the Seattle area, it was a great eye-opener to see what options are there, what the younger demographic would think was cool and fun.”
Golf The City proposed a network of mini-golf installations around the city, encouraging social sharing of pictures and recommended hashtags. They outlined an advertising campaign featuring local celebrities. For the Fan Experience, they envisioned photo ops with wax figures of famous golfers from Madame Tussauds, specialty golf-themed cakes and a virtual swing analyzer. They recommended favorite food truck vendors and popular local bands.
“Since we were the target audience, we thought, what’s interesting to us? How could we be convinced to go?” says Phung, a senior at Foster who is president of the school’s American Marketing Association branch.
“The winning team had great ideas—along the lines of our original thinking,” Ross adds. “But they went the extra mile and presented budgets, projected impression numbers. Information we weren’t even asking for.”
Next generation entertainment
Their reward (beyond an excellent grade and a valuable resume booster) was an all-access pass to U.S. Open media day in May, and VIP status for the Fan Experience.
The students have seen how such an event is promoted and executed, and how well their ideas dovetailed with the USGA’s plans. Their mini-golf notion resembles the “Epic Putt Challenge” that has challenged fans at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (and continues at the Fan Experience) to match some of the greatest putts in championship history. Their swing analyzer has morphed into a golf simulator that allows fans to virtually play the signature 15th hole at Chambers Bay. And there will be food trucks galore.
Alas, no golf ball cakes or waxed U.S. Open champions.
“The students didn’t know what the USGA was planning for the Fan Experience,” says Kaitlyn Beale, manager of marketing and strategic partnerships at FOX Sports. “So to be so in sync was pretty exciting. It was great for us to be able to tap into some great minds at the University of Washington, and for the students to be so engaged and invested in this project.”
They certainly learned a lot. Apart from Ronish—an avid golf fan who will intern with the USGA this summer—nobody on the winning team knew the first thing about the sport at the outset.
“Coming into this class, I didn’t know anything about golf, and not a lot about the power of social media,” says Phung, who will join Hitachi Consulting after graduating this June. “But I did know something about marketing. It was so interesting to see all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into a big event and social media campaign. And it was an incredibly valuable challenge to apply what I’ve learned in school to an unfamiliar industry, something I’ll be doing a lot in my career.”