Fans of the Future

02-28-15 KI0A5326

Cyclone Athletics connects kids to
ISU through the Junior Cyclone Club

Today’s kids are involved in countless activities, plugged into technology, and continually presented with a smorgasbord of entertainment options, leaving college athletics administrators everywhere with burning questions: Is there still room for good, old-fashioned sports fandom? Who will be the fans of the future?

At Iowa State, there’s reason to believe that the Cyclone fan of tomorrow is the kindergartener of today who high-fives Meredith Burkhall on the Hilton concourse after a women’s basketball victory, the fourth-grader who comes early to the spring football game so he can get  one-on-one coaching from Zeb Noland,  or the middle schooler who hosts her birthday party at a Cyclone gymnastics meet. Developed two decades ago as the “Lil’ Clone Club” by Cyclone women’s  basketball coach Bill Fennelly (L) to encourage game attendance among young families, today’s Junior Cyclone Club is one of the largest collegiate booster clubs for youth in the country, and Iowa State  is banking on the idea that this significant  investment in the future fan will ultimately pay major dividends.

“We put a tremendous amount of emphasis on our [youth] club compared to a lot of schools because we think it’s very important,” says Mary Pink (MEd ’10), ISU’s longtime associate athletics director for marketing.

When it began as a women’s basketball program initiative, the original Lil’ Clone Club attracted families by offering free T-shirts and souvenirs, priority seating, and a pizza party. Today, the Junior Cyclone Club offers, for only $59 per year, free admission to all football, women’s basketball, volleyball, wrestling, gymnastics, soccer, and softball events, as well as priority to purchase student seats for men’s basketball games that happen during winter break. The club, which has averaged around 5,000 members over the last five years, has added special free events ranging from sports clinics to the annual Cyclone FanFest and even movie nights in Jack Trice Stadium. The goal, Pink says, is to engage Millennials and members of Generation Z by offering what they crave most: one-of-a-kind experiences.

Among the families that have embraced the experiences Junior Cyclone Club has to offer is the Tubbs family of Des Moines. Over the last decade, Joanne Wilson Tubbs (L)(’94 music) says her three children have done everything from discovering their personal passions to forging friendships with student-athletes and fans.

“It’s not just the tickets and the high fiving,” Tubbs says. “The kids get to do clinics with the coaches and do special jobs like guest announcer at a volleyball game. They are going deeper than just, ‘Here’s a T-shirt and a ticket.’ They are really trying to engage kids in new ways. Every year, there’s something new. Even college kids don’t get to experience some of these things that the Junior Cyclone Club kids get to do.”

Tubbs and her husband, Peter Tubbs (L)(’92 telecommunicative arts, MBA ’10), are the busy parents of 15-year-old Julia, 11-year-old Carl, and 9-year-old Miles, who attend nearly 40 Junior Cyclone Club events every year.

“They’ve been back in the locker rooms, they’ve been behind the scenes, and it makes them feel so comfortable,” Tubbs says. “Campus now feels like home. They see themselves going to Iowa State because of their love for campus, their love for the Cyclones. They see it as super welcoming and not intimidating.”

Her great seats for Cyclone athletics events have benefited Julia in an unexpected way. She started bringing a camera and, through hours of practice from a great vantage point, has become an award-winning photographer.

“Every year she’ll take anywhere from 500 to 700 athletic pictures at Iowa State,” Tubbs says of her daughter. “She’ll enter her best ones at the State Fair and she’s actually won some pretty amazing awards; she  even got a small scholarship from Iowa State. They saw one of her pictures at the Fair and attached an award to it.”

Creating opportunities for young Cyclone fans to have incredible experiences is fully in line with athletics director Jamie Pollard’s vision. From transitioning local golf outings into the more family-friendly Cyclone Tailgate Tour to helping spearhead the uber-popular movie night events, Pink says Pollard (L) has been integral in expanding the Junior Cyclone Club’s reach.

“He’s really seen the value,” Pink says. “He was the one who actually said, ‘Let’s offer the Iowa game for football and make it a whole package.’ He was the one who brought up the idea of doing a pregame tunnel on the field. He always wants us to be more engaging of a broader range of families and kids.”

Offering prime seats for men’s basketball is another way Junior Cyclone Club stands out from its peers nationally, Pink says.

“We were really surprised and appreciative of what they’re doing with men’s basketball,” Tubbs says. “They can fill that place up and could have taken a step back [with Junior Cyclone Club benefits], but they didn’t. We were in the second row for Okie State. Crazy!”

18318357_10212291854429476_2133812422_oCrazy is one word Tubbs says she might normally use to describe her decision to let two young boys stay up to attend an 8 o’clock basketball game on a weeknight, but the experience was one her sons will never forget. They even made a sign (pictured at right), which received lots of TV attention, praising their mother for letting them “stay up late.”

Ultimately, Tubbs and Pink both agree, it’s those experiences that will become enduring memories and therefore the foundation of a lifetime relationship with Iowa State.

“It’s now more important than ever to engage kids with your brand at an early age,” Pink says. “You have a lot of competing forces for their attention and their  attendance, so we’re just always finding new ways to work with how kids and families today operate to engage them with Iowa State.”

Learn more at www.jrcycloneclub.com


This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.

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