For fans with food allergies, a sports arena can be a dangerous place. Accidentally eating the wrong snack, or even sitting near someone who did, can land you in the emergency room. In response, marketers at the University of Wisconsin launched 2010 with "allergy friendly" games in women's basketball and women's ice hockey at the Kohl Center.
"Our first goal was to provide kids and families with an opportunity to attend a sporting event in a safe environment," says Adam Ahearn, Assistant Director of Marketing for Wisconsin Athletics. "Our second goal was to create more good will in the community. Our third goal--a distant third--was to sell additional tickets. We feel we succeeded on all three counts."
With input from the Food Allergy Association of Wisconsin, the school removed all foods with nuts from the concession stands and set aside three sections of the Kohl Center for extra cleaning. Banners directed fans to the special seats and concessionaires provided a complete list of ingredients for each snack offered. Before the events, Wisconsin created an online offer with discounts for patrons with food allergies and sent a press release to local media.
The athletic department was pleased with the turnout, which drew 100 people to the allergy-friendly sections for the basketball game and 75 to the hockey game. "As marketers, we usually think about targeting large groups of people," says Ahearn. "This was an opportunity to reach out to a new segment of the community and expose them to intercollegiate athletics in a safe, memorable way."