After a year in which Cal State Long Beach saw its athletic deficit grow to $3 million, athletic officials knew that t needed to find ways to bring people back to games in a post-lockdown world.
The director of marketing for the past seven years, Kelli Gill left in August to become a development manager at the Rose Bowl Legacy Foundation, prompting a search for a new marketing leader.
Richard Loza was hired in September to lead the athletic’s marketing and advertising departments. Loza was the director of marketing at UC Santa Barbara for the last 12 years. In 2010 Loza helped redesign the UCSB Gaucho athletics brand. While there, he helped in a complete overhaul of the color scheme, fonts, and mascot.
The department hired Loza to help bring fans back to games, especially after a significant loss in ticket revenue last year. Loza didn’t want to come in overambitious and instead wanted to plan out how to entice people to fill the stands.
“Anytime you start anywhere new, I tend to believe that you don’t want to make any real wholesale changes from the get-go,” Loza said. “It’s important to respect what has been established there and what the traditions are. It helps to get a better understanding of the campus and the community.”
This year the department has been trying to focus on giveaways and promotions to their target audience. Loza admits that targeting college students has been one of his biggest challenges of the semester.
“I’m not an expert in college culture right now, so I have to lean on the people that are,” Loza said.
The marketing staff consists of just Loza and a few student interns. Loza relies on the student’s input to get a sense of what the community would want to see at giveaways. This has led to giveaways that have included shooting sleeves and raffles of a customized ping pong table.
“My students will give me ideas that they think are going to be great,” Loza said. “I’ll go ‘You guys are crazy,’ but sure enough they were right.”
Sponsored giveaways also help the marketing department to get people interested in going back to games. The department has promotions with places like Dominos Pizza as they will give out free boxes of pizza throughout games to a lucky set of fans attending. Loza’s team has also worked with companies like Chick Fil A, in which gives students an opportunity to win free sandwiches during basketball games if the opposing team misses two free throws.
During the men’s basketball game against Loyola Marymount on Dec. 4, the department gave out four suite tickets to an LA Kings game to two groups of fans.
Loza says a giveaway is always great to bring fans to games, but it is also their job to keep people entertained while they are there. They do not want to see fans show up for a giveaway but not stay for the game.
“These days, people want a unique experience,” Loza said. “They want something that maybe they can’t see or get anywhere else.”
Loza has made efforts to make a game more of an interactive experience for fans. The department has had DJ Cast -who has played at Coachella- perform before a few games and emcee during the match to keep the crowds energy levels up. This is to go along with the school’s usual performances put on by the spirit team and pep band.
One selling point Loza believes to be instrumental are the teams themselves. The women’s basketball team is undefeated, and the men’s basketball team features exciting players like Joe Hampton. It also helps when big-name opponents like UCLA come to the Walter Pyramid.
There is no data on 2021 ticket sales but athletic director Andy Fee said that just looking at early sales from women’s volleyball and women’s soccer, the department is “pacing ahead financially.”
A major focus for Loza and his department is spreading awareness about games going on. The marketing department works with housing, the 49er shops, and ASI to put up flyers advertising the game.
“I never want to go up to a student and ask if they are going to a game on Saturday and they respond with, ‘What game?’” Loza said.
To promote men’s basketball, Loza has had players from the team walk around campus, playing cornhole with students and giving out free shirts. Loza believes this helps the fans feel connected to the players and in turn want to cheer them on.
“Sometimes we tend to put our athletes up on a pedestal to see them larger than life, which can cause a disconnect with the campus,” Loza said. “In many ways they do things that can be larger than life, but at the same time when you break down, they are just students just like most of the campus.”
Right now Loza is giving himself a personal assessment. He is going over what worked and what didn’t work in order to prepare for the spring semester. Fee has appreciated the work Loza has done in his first few months.
“He has done a great job of listening hearing our student’s voices and finding places that we can make growth in terms of pushing attendance,” Fee said. “He has pushed the needle in a positive way and I’m excited for the future. I think we’ll see growth for sure.”