The “Salute To Service” initiative the NFL will stage this week, along with all the efforts that MLB put on in and around the World Series and the PBR NASCAR and others have done is beyond praise for the men and women who not only do so much to keep us safe, but who are amongst the most passionate and biggest supporters of sport on the planet. They are also the most loyal, remembering what brands, teams and leagues gave them hope when they needed it, and repaying that loyalty tenfold not just today, but down the line as well. It has become even more of a flash point as the “Take A Knee” debate rages on, which has very little to do with disrespecting those who serve and is more about protest for injustice, but the lack of listening there is another story for another day.
For years the military families were amongst the most underserved constituents and consumers tied to sport, and as Veteran’s Day arrives, it is nice to see them get their due.
One area that is sometimes over looked in terms of loyalty is on the college side. Putting the Service Academies and a few select Universities aside, the engagement of local military families is sometimes forgotten as a key marketing and engagement strategy by colleges.
In recent years IMG College and college football fans have joined to say “thank you” to those who sacrifice so much for our country more than ever before. Again this year, fans this year were encouraged to purchase tickets to a Military Appreciation game. The seats were then donated to active or retired military members.
The participating schools include Penn State, which began the program in 2012 and donated more than 5,000 tickets, Akron, Arkansas, Auburn, Boston College, Colorado, Duke, Florida, Georgia State, NC State, New Mexico. Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, South Carolina, Southern Miss, Temple, Tulsa, USF, UTSA, Utah State, West Virginia and Wyoming.
While the effort by these elite schools on football is great, the outreach should extend down to the smallest schools with distressed tickets looking to do good as well. Military families big and small are in every community, and the positive spin coming off such an activation will pay dividends and should be a “must do” vs. an alternate opportunity. Many of these families of returning young veterans have young kids who can become instant fans of a local school they knew little about; heroes can be made of stent-athletes and coaches who connect with the vets and their families right away, and those bonds can grow over time, with a spillover effect that won’t just put butts in seats, it can lead to jobs, life lessons and even sponsorship as these new vets get back on their feet and work with growing businesses in the community. The effort shouldn’t stop just on the college level either. High schools, now seen by many as the next great marketing frontier, especially in the digital space and with hyper local sponsorships, should also look to engage their local military vets, and fond ways again to make these heroes even bigger heroes through sport.
We have come a long way on every level in recognizing and engaging the military to say thank you through sport, but we still have a great way to go away from the brightest of lights on NFL Sundays and during the World Series.
That start has been amazing, the next steps can be even greater, and the payoff both in loyalty and brand value, will continue to be immeasurable. The challenges remain the same and have been even more polarized in recent weeks as disrespect and a call to action seem to be getting more and more mixed into a political football.
Hopefully as we hit this Veteran’s Day Weekend there will be more discussion and action as those who protect us around the world get more of their due without key injustices going by the wayside.