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ND Fan Council enhances experience at athletic events

| Friday, September 16, 2016

It’s not just members of the athletic department who help craft the Notre Dame fan experience. A group of 24 passionate Notre Dame fans make up the ND Fan Council, a diverse group of Notre Dame athletics fan who work with the athletic department to enhance the Notre Dame experience for students and visiting fans at various athletic events.

Assistant athletics director Brian Pracht said the athletic department tried to choose an accurate representation of the many types of Notre Dame fans for the Fan Council, which is now in its second year.

“We had an online application system where we got to know a little bit about them,” Pracht said. “They were able to tell us why they thought they would be a good Fan Council member … and then we did the best that we could from that grouping of applications. … We’ve averaged about 600 apps the last two years, and then we combed through those applications to try to find what we felt like was a good representation of Notre Dame fans, a cross section of fans.”

Associate American studies professor Richard Pierce, a member of the Fan Council, said in an email the diversity of the Fan Council is one of the group’s most valuable assets.

“In the many committees I’ve been a member of at the University, this one is as good — or better — than any of them,” Pierce said. “The diverse perspectives add layers to and about events which I thought that I knew well. It’s been very refreshing.”

Senior member of the Council Robert Murphy said in addition to the differences between members of the group, their common bond through Notre Dame athletics helps them work together toward mutual goals.

“It’s cool because we’re all brought together under one passionate fandom, so even though some people are flying in, some are subway Domers, I think we’re able to build off each other because we all want to see, more or less, similar things happen,” Murphy said. “We want to see good teams out there, we want to see passionate fans and the ways in which, coming from different places, we’re able to add our different insights is really what brings value to the program.”

The group meets four times a year, Pracht said, but continues to be productive between meetings due to the open communication between members of the Fan Council and the athletic department.

“What we’re trying to do is build relationships with fans who maybe felt like they haven’t had a voice in the past,” he said. “There’s been … much positive [collaboration] to come from the interactions that we have between the meetings because there’s been a good, open dialogue with our fans, and these are fans that we typically don’t know a lot about other than maybe what they presented to us in their application, so it’s really been good.”

Assistant director of Notre Dame research Veronica Kozelichki, a Council member, said in an email she hopes to be able to fully take advantage of the opportunity she and the other members have been given to help improve a place they have all come to love.

“Everyone on the Council came to love Notre Dame through their unique paths in their lives,” Kozelichki said. “I was really touched hearing others’ stories of how they became fans and how much Notre Dame means to them. … As for me — I’m hoping to further ingrain myself into Notre Dame. There’s a lot more I can learn from Notre Dame and, in return, I want to make Notre Dame go from great to the very best.”

Murphy said he appreciates having his voice heard as a student and learning further explanations about decisions that affect the student body.

“I think there’s three students on the committee, and I like the idea that we’re getting a voice in the process, especially when it comes to things like ticketing process and how that works, because that’s changed a few times — at least while I’ve been at school here,” he said. “I know they’re constantly refining it, and kind of being able to hear their side of the story and their logic as well as our side — it’s good to know that there’s communication there.”

Pracht said he tries to focus on topics that have a significant impact on the fan experience at Notre Dame during the meetings.

“We generally are talking about things that have an impact on the fan experience or fan engagement opportunities that we are either considering or have recently launched, new initiatives and things that feel like could be beneficial to the fans and to the athletic department,” he said. “There’s a myriad of marketing, digital media, ticketing-type discussions that take place.”

The group also has more interactive discussions. Murphy said one of his favorite moments during the Fan Council’s first four-hour long meeting was a question and answer session with vice president and James E. Rohr Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick.

“We had basically a one-hour open Q-and-A session with Jack Swarbrick, which was probably the highlight in terms of just being able to pick his brain a bit about whatever we were interested in, and that was really cool,” he said. “Being able to see what he does and how many different things he is looking at, at the same time, was really cool and it really gave me a new appreciation for his job and the great job he does at it.”

It was these activities, as well as the liveliness and camaraderie of the group that made the meeting fly by, Pierce said.

“We had a four-hour first meeting, and it didn’t feel like four hours,” he said. “Any committee meeting where time doesn’t drag is a very good thing.”

Pracht hopes the Fan Council members take away a sense of “ownership” in the Notre Dame athletics brand from this experience.

“What I’ve said to them, and I feel like last year’s group agreed, is that by the end of the season they are truly brand ambassadors for Notre Dame athletics because they know a lot more about our operation and what we’re trying to accomplish,” Pracht said. “They know the challenges, the obstacles, the opportunities and they feel like they’re just much more educated about what we’re doing and we’re very transparent with them, and they feel like they actually have some ownership in what we’re doing from the fan experience and fan engagement side of our business.”

Kozelichki said she already feels as though the group is making a difference.

“It is a magical experience when you gather the right group of highly passionate and motivated individuals around a worthy cause,” she said. “The ND Fan Council is a catalyst for positive change and it is a true honor to be a part of such a dynamic group of people.”

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About Courtney Becker

Courtney is a senior from New York City majoring in film, television and theater with a minor in journalism, who recently wrapped up her year as Editor-in-Chief. She is a former resident of Pasquerilla West Hall and a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

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