Hawkeyes
May 16, 2016
Vanessa Miller

If you see a Big Ten Network food truck roll up outside a Hawkeye home football game this fall, you can credit a group of University of Iowa business students tapped this spring to help the company, along with Fox Sports and Mediacom, stay relevant to millennials.

A group of 16 students, through the UI Tippie College of Business’ Marketing Institute, worked with “Fox Sports University” on the project aimed at identifying ways young people consume media and using that information to better market the networks’ “TV everywhere” streaming services like BTN2Go and Fox Sports Go.

Through their research, students confirmed viewers ages 18 to 35 are moving away from cable subscription and more often viewing sports via mobile devices and applications.

“And a lot of the people who have not cut the cord on cable are really doing so just for the sports channels,” said UI junior Connor Simmons, 21, who was involved in the project.

If new sports-specific streaming services emerge, apart from the cable networks, those companies could experience big losses, Simmons said.

“The biggest issue for them is trying to find ways to adapt to the way people are watching TV,” he said. “They want to evolve and keep up with the current trend.”

They have, Simmons said, by rolling out services like Fox Sports Go and BTN2Go, a digital extension of the Big Ten Network aimed at offering live games and on-demand programming via the web, smartphones, and tablets. But not everyone knows those services and applications exist.

“Those who use them are well satisfied,” he said. “But it’s a matter of getting the information out there and getting our age group plugged into the services that are being offered.”

That’s where the UI students came in. The 16 business majors broke in to four teams to create separate proposals for how to spread awareness of “TV everywhere” services offered by Big Ten Network, Fox Sports, and Mediacom.

“And it was really cool to work with the Big Ten Network and Fox Sports. That was the most rewarding part of the project — being able to do real life work for such a well-known company.”

Simmons’ team won the “friendly competition” with ideas like dispatching a traveling food truck to the Big Ten campuses during conference football games. The truck, which would feature plenty of promotional material about the BTN2Go app, would offer regional food favorites and perhaps host a tent only accessible to those who’ve downloaded the application.

The UI students suggested promoting Mediacom’s “Xtreme” service — which enables subscribers to access shows on laptops, tablets, or smartphones — with live campus events involving projectors streaming football games, for example.

And they suggested using Snapchat to push awareness of Fox Sports Go — possibly with some type of promotional contest asking for fan photos using hashtags and Geofilters.

“The major theme that we kept in mind when we made these was the use of social media,” Simmons said. “All the groups really hit on the use of Snapchat as being an underused social media tool that many haven’t tapped into.”

The students presented those recommendations April 20 to Fox Sports and Mediacom executives who flew into town. They also shared findings from their research, which started in February and involved sending a questionnaire to every member of the UI campus community in the 18-to-35 age range — including students, faculty, and staff.

Of the 22,000-some surveys disseminated, about 2,000 responded, according to Peggy Stover, UI director of the Marketing Institute who oversaw the student research.

“We were using the university as our testing lab,” Stover said. “We asked everything from what do you currently watch to how do you watch to how long do you watch to do you binge watch?” she said.

The students met with focus groups to dive deeper, and Stover said findings — in some cases — were surprising.

“One thing we discovered that was really interesting was that millennials wanted more world sports,” she said, noting that soccer, rugby, and even cricket are in demand among today’s youth.

“A lot of that goes back to everything being so interconnected on this planet — thanks to technology and the media,” Stover said. “But we were really surprised by that one.”

The group found millennials today view multiple screens at once — perhaps watching TV while on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. And they stream entertainment through Netflix and YouTube at a rapid clip.

Many millennials, according to the UI research, also want personalized content.

“If I’m watching this, recommend other things that might interest me also,” Stover said. “Get to know me as the consumer.”

The networks are evaluating the student recommendations for possible implementation, and Stover said portions of the proposals will be featured online by Fox Sports University, a program designed to enhance the network’s partnership with the communities it serves. “This is the first time we have done anything like this,” Stover said. “And we were really thrilled we were able to partner with Fox Sports on this.”

Simmons said he and other UI students “got a ton out of working on this,” as it functioned like an internship.

“It was a good way to get real life experience while still in school,” he said. “And it was really cool to work with the Big Ten Network and Fox Sports. That was the most rewarding part of the project — being able to do real life work for such a well-known company.”