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How Penn State Increased Former Athlete Engagement And Fundraising

"We couldn't be more excited about the Athlete Network partnership. Their software tools have helped us raise the bar for our Varsity 'S' Club in so many different ways. We have seen an immediate impact in a few short months with overall engagement of our former student-athletes. Our services, programs and overall relationships have all been enhanced by giving our Varsity 'S' Club members one convenient location to find everything. The feedback from our former letterwinners has been phenomenal, and we look forward to great things ahead."
- Joe Foley, Senior Associate AD for Advancement at Penn State Athletics



  • Within 4 months, over 1,800 former student-athletes joined the Varsity 'S' Club Network
  • 36% increase in revenue from the sale of letterwinners' merchandise in the first month after launching 
  • Received significant unsolicited gifts by engaging with letterwinners
  • More than 1,000 athlete-to-athlete connections were made within the Athlete Directory



As one of the leading athletic programs in the country, Penn State University Athletics founded the Varsity 'S' Club in 1996 to create and enhance a culture where former student-athletes could continue to be a part of the Penn State Athletics family.

While the program's foundation was in place, the letterwinners club was not able to fully engage with former student-athletes or provide a consistent delivery of services to support them after their playing days. Penn State needed to evolve the Varsity 'S' Club through technology in order to be more user-friendly and accessible.

Letterwinners were a huge priority, but as a former student-athlete, that may have not been the perception. Penn State understood they needed to be more innovative to create life-long, meaningful relationships with this critical segment of alumni, which would raise the bar for the entire athletic department.



Penn State Athletics partnered with Athlete Network to implement a branded technology platform to organize, promote, and track the programs and services offered to all former student-athletes. Their goal focused on building and cultivating relationships between the athletic department and former athletes, sharing benefits to letterwinners, and enhancing the Varsity 'S' Club overall. 

"Partnering with Athlete Network will continue to help us engage with our alumni athletes throughout the world. It offers a plan to engage all of them no matter where they are in their post graduate development and keep them connected to their University. After coding all of our databases in Spring 2013 to identify the alumni athletes, Athlete Network gave us the platform to do it better, on a more professional level, with dynamic support."
- Kirk Diehl, Director of Varsity ‘S’ Club at Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics

The Varsity 'S' Club Network was launched in 2019 with a personal invite link for former student-athletes to join the online engagement platform.



Within the first 4 months of launching, over 1,800 former student-athletes joined the Varsity 'S' Club Network. Exceeding all goals set by Penn State, 56% of those members engaged in the network and 1,019 athlete-to-athlete connections were made via the Athlete Directory within the platform. 

The demographics of those former student-athletes has been even more diverse than expected with members from 12 countries and 49 states, 131 professional interests, and 36 sports. Easily accessible data analytics also give athletic administrators insight to where athletes are employed, which services they engage in, as well as other data points specific to Penn State.

1800+ former Penn State student-athletes from 36 sports, living in 12 countries & 49 states, joined the Varsity S Club Network in the 1st 120 days

Many resources for former student-athletes have been offered, and now administrators can engage and track the usage of those resources. As an immediate win, the Varsity 'S' Club team sent an email inviting all member alums to Homecoming weekend events with exclusive registration through the Varsity 'S' Club Network. Athletic administrators were thrilled when the ticketing goal for the Fall event was reached in only three weeks. 

Penn State has also seen dramatic ROI through multiple channels. As a promotion for letterwinner merchandise sales, the Varsity 'S' Club Network notified members of their exclusive gear sale. Within the first month, the Varsity 'S' Club generated a 36% increase in revenue from the sale of letterwinners' merchandise. This success was attributed to finally having a mechanism to market, sell, and distribute letterwinners' merchandise.

Within the 1st month, the Varsity S Club generated a 36% increase in revenue from the sale of letterwinners' gear

Engaging former student-athletes with their specific sport via a "Coaches Corner" has also contributed to ROI. Following a post to former golfers by the Women's Golf Coach, generous donations were received from multiple alumni athletes to help the program. After seeing those results, the Men's Soccer Coach shared a link to a newsletter update, which quickly resulted in a significant donation from a former athlete. Future sport specific coaches' letters are planned to update letterwinners as well as invite them to re-engage with the team.

Want a quick snapshot of this study? View the Infographic.

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