College kids clubs promote admissions

Maybe it’s the free tickets to college sporting events. Or the T-shirts. Or perhaps it’s the dream of someday painting your face maroon and yelling yourself hoarse.

Whatever the reason, college kids clubs – which offer free admission to athletic events, team paraphernalia and other goodies to those in 8th grade or younger – have become as common on campuses as beer pong tables in frat houses.

“It works probably twofold,” says Patrick Schultz, director of marketing and promotions at Loyola University, where the Rambler Kids Club is in its second year. “One, we want to get them as Rambler fans right away, to start them out as Rambler fans. And maybe someday, if they come to our events, when they’re choosing a college they’ll have good memories of Loyola, and that might help our admissions as well.”

Relationships between colleges and youngsters are nothing new, according to Robert A. Sevier, senior vice president, strategy, for Stamats, a higher-education research, planning and consulting company with offices around the country.

“There’s an old saw in marketing [that] the best time to reach a high school junior or senior is when they’re 14 or 15, or 12 or 13,” Sevier says. “And what you’re really trying to do there is get your name, get the college on the radar screen for these students before everyone else does.”

Often, though, sports isn’t at the forefront.

“They have all sort of different origins,” he says of the clubs. “Sometimes they would be the young sons and daughters of alumni.

“Or … if you were a college in a town that’s very diverse, you would reach out to young kids in the neighborhood to keep them in school, to encourage them, to get them used to the idea of going to college, not necessarily that college.”

He cited the Family of Schools program at the University of Southern California, which is a working relationship between USC and a group of neighborhood elementary schools. And Beloit College in Wisconsin has Help Yourself, an after-school educational support program for children in grades 4 through 12 in the Beloit area.

“Other colleges, their reasons are a little more self-serving,” Sevier says. “Not only do they want them to think of college, they want them to think of a certain college.”

As for the sports-related programs, a nominal fee gets a kid all kinds of things to keep a college’s name front and center. For $10, Ramblers Kids Club members get a T-shirt, a membership card, autographed posters of the school’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, free or reduced admission to games and other perks.

At Northwestern University, the Wildcat Kids’ Club gives a T-shirt, a birthday card from Willie the Wildcat, NU schedules, magnets and posters other treasures to its 300 members, who can join for $15.

“We’re averaging a pretty good increase every year,” says Beth Cunningham, a marketing assistant in NU’s athletic department.

Other schools trolling for young fans and future applicants include the University of Illinois (whose club is distinct from the one at the University of Illinois at Chicago), Eastern Illinois, Notre Dame and Marquette.

“You have to figure, the kids are going to start coming to games,” says Loyola’s Schultz, “and they’re going to bring friends, and they’re also going to bring their parents. So we’ve got more butts in the seats, so to speak.”