More than 74,000 fans packed Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville on Sept. 11 for the Arkansas Razorbacks football game against the Texas Longhorns. Following the Hogs’ 40-21 victory, several thousand of them rushed the field.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall in athletic director Hunter Yurachek’s vicinity. Thanks to the UA’s new OTT (over the top) media platform — launched a day before the game — many Razorback fans were.
“We’re going to let ’em [students/fans] come down,” Yurachek told an Arkansas State Trooper late in the fourth quarter when it was apparent the celebration of a convincing victory was going to spill out from the bleachers. “We’ll get fined for it, but if we don’t let ’em come down, people will get hurt.”
“I don’t want that to happen,” the trooper told Yurachek. “We’ll get the Texas guys out of here and let ’em have it.”
Cameras and microphones captured Yurachek’s conversation and other field-level reactions from various angles immediately after the victory. Less than 24 hours later, UA marketers posted the two-minute video at arkansasrazorbacks.com and on social media, teasing a lengthier version that would be available later in the week on the UA’s subscription-based content streaming network.
Hogs+ is a partnership with Sport & Story. Executive producer Bo Mattingly heads up the Fayetteville company that produces documentary films, podcasts and other content.
The UA said it’s among the first college athletics departments to launch a direct-to-consumer subscription-based streaming content network. And that caught the attention of D1.ticker, a sports media company that produces a widely read daily email covering the business of college athletics.
In an interview with D1. ticker’s Aaron Matas late last week, Yurachek and associate athletic director Taylor McGillis, who oversees the Razorbacks’ marketing team, including digital, creative services, branding, and licensing, discussed the early success of Hogs+.
“We have a great cast of coaches who are engaged and are great ambassadors for each of their programs,” Yurachek said. “When Bo and Sport & Story approached us with this opportunity, it made a great deal of sense for us to create this offering of original content.
“We have a passionate fan base that has an insatiable appetite for the Razorbacks, so the timing was right.”
According to McGillis, the UA intended to launch Hogs+ closer to the start of football practices in early August.
“As with any project of this scope, you run into roadblocks and technical issues,” he said. “When we got to ‘Texas week,’ we figured we needed to get out in front of this and made the decision to roll out some free content in advance of the game. With the win over Texas, our fan base is probably on a high they haven’t been on in many years. In hindsight, it’s probably the best decision we ever made launching on that Friday [before the game].”
McGillis also discussed the balance of what’s free versus what’s behind the new Hogs+ paywall.
“Anything free previously we aren’t taking away,” said McGillis, who’s worked in the UA athletics department since 2014. “We’re not putting anything that you saw for free on social media or any podcasts behind a paywall. The free products continue to remain incredibly important because that is our best pipeline of folks to get in who will potentially be Hogs+ members.”
Hogs+ subscribers that are not already Razorback Foundation members will receive a complimentary membership, discounts on Razorbacks merchandise and other benefits. The Razorback Foundation is the private fundraising arm that raises millions of dollars supporting the UA athletics department.
Neither Yurachek nor McGillis provided subscription data for Hogs+ but did offer other insights about the response to the new service.
“I think the cool thing we found out early on in this is that 90% of our current [Hogs+] subscribers were not members of our Razorback Foundation, and 50% of those are subscribers that were not in our ticket database of thousands of names and addresses anywhere,” Yurachek said. “Right now, this is just a video content site, but what that grows in and evolves in, I think we’ve got a blank canvas that we can continue to paint on.”
McGillis said subscription numbers have so far exceeded expectations.
“We have one of the most supportive fan bases in the country when you look at the website [arkansasrazorbacks.com] and [mobile] app traffic,” he said. “As small as our state is, we punch above our weight class when it comes to digital metrics.
“What I will say is that continues to be the case here. Our expectations were pretty low, given that we know $7.99 a month is not a cheap price point. It’s exceeded our expectations. We’re going to hold it close to the vest right now regarding our membership numbers. But Hog fans have been receptive to it. I can say that.”
The service’s first goal is to create new Razorback fans and strengthen relationships with existing fans. McGillis said there are revenue projections in place for the next 2 to 3 years for Hogs+, but that’s just a bonus. He said it would be more challenging to measure how much fan loyalty increases.
“We always talk about bringing [fans] one more rung up the ladder,” he said. “Can you get them to care so much about someone’s story that they say, ‘Man, I just really need to go see them in person?’ After six months of content, they decide to come to a women’s basketball game for the first time. That will be harder to track, but we’re going to develop ways to figure out how many new [Hogs+] members we didn’t know previously. That will be interesting to see, and certainly, after the first 6 to 12 months, we’ll have some better ways to track that increase of fandom.”
You can watch Yurachek’s and McGillis’ full interviews with D1.ticker in the video below. Yurachek discusses how much say-so UA coaches have on what content makes it to Hogs+. McGillis imagines the service’s growth opportunities during other seasons of the UA sports calendar, particularly men’s basketball — “Our fans absolutely adore [Eric Musselman] — and baseball — “Our baseball fans are as fanatic as they come and as loyal as they come.”