Western Athletics gets creative to engage fans virtually as sports resume
By Hayley McGee
Western Washington University athletics is back in action, but fans aren’t in attendance. Instead, they are at home cheering on their favorite collegiate teams.
Before COVID-19 took the world by storm, seven out of nine Western sports teams secured Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship titles — one of the most successful years for the athletics department.
“We really didn’t know if this was going to be for the rest of spring or what,” said Jeff Evans, Western athletics’ director of communications. “I had to update what was happening from the conference level, but the other side was just keeping our story alive.”
Evans explained that even though there were no competitions occurring, it was still important to publicize what was happening to keep student-athletes, families and fans up to date.
Western Athletics created more content such as video interviews, Wallpaper Wednesdays and This Day In [WWU] History for their social media platforms, Evans said.
“When we were able to pick back up a year later, it felt like there wasn’t a stop and restart, we just kept going,” Evans said.
Nicole Ebersole, marketing and special events director for Western athletics, said that keeping a good relationship with student-athletes, donors and the community is important now more than ever to keep the human connection in such a virtual world.
“We are working on a project right now where our student-athletes are sending videos to our donors and doing a special thank you,” Ebersole said. “Since they can’t be involved in person with these folks, [it’s] how we can keep that personal touch — keeping the human form.”
Although fans are not permitted inside the venues, that does not stop them from giving support by liking, retweeting and sharing posts on social platforms such as Instagram and Twitter.
Evans also said some fans have even shown up to watch outdoor sports such as soccer and softball from outside the fences.
“We’ve been trying to innovate,” Evans said. “We have always had a really good webcast, VikingsTV, but I feel like we really stepped that up with no fans allowed inside our venues, providing a visual for parents and others to watch these events.”
Amanada Johnson, a third-year student, has been watching the livestreams of the sporting events since she can not attend in person.
“I used to go to all the games before the pandemic,” Johnson said. “I wish I could still go to them, but I’m happy I can watch the livestreams so I can still feel the game day excitement.”
It is still unknown when fans will be admitted into games and events, but when they do, both Evans and Ebersole said they are looking forward to seeing the athletic interns, game day regulars and Western students in the audience.
When it is safe to do so and fans are allowed back in, they hope that the Western community will come out to home events with school spirit and support for their Vikings.
“For now, we are just trying to keep our story alive,” Evans said.
Every home game is available via webcast on YouTube to watch.