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How Rice Athletics Achieved Early Success With Athlete Engagement Platform

"It is not enough to simply offer access to the resources. We have a goal of ensuring that the resources are integrated into the student-athlete experience in a meaningful way. In supporting our student-athletes’ transitions in, through, and beyond Rice University, the SOAR Network encourages engagement that allows our department to better equip our student-athletes on their path to becoming self-actualizing, proud alumni who are engaged and eager to pay it forward to the next generation of Owls."
JP AbercrumbieAssistant Athletic Director, Student Athlete Development at Rice Athletics

 

HIGHLIGHTS

  • 508% increase in membership from month 1 to month 2
  • 65% average engagement over the 1st quarter after launch
  • 100% of Varsity Sports represented with 745 members in the 1st year
  • 3,028 engagements with career resources within the network

 

CHALLENGE

In April 2019, Rice Athletics released Vision For Victory, a strategic five-year plan outlining the athletic department’s priorities. One priority within the plan is the Student-Athlete Opportunities for Advancement through Rice Values (S.O.A.R.) program, which includes supporting academic excellence and providing opportunities for professional and personal growth.

While extensive services and resources were already available for student-athletes, administrators needed a way to centralize those offerings, make student-athletes aware of resources, and track what was being utilized. In order to determine if Rice Athletics was successful in launching S.O.A.R., they would need reporting to analyze engagement with their student-athletes while on campus as well as during their transition to life after Rice.

 

SOLUTION

Rice Athletics partnered with Athlete Network to implement Unite software, branded as the Rice Owls S.O.A.R. Network to organize, promote, and track the programs and services offered to all Owl student-athletes. Their goal focused on supporting student-athletes while in school as well as during the transition out of athletics and beyond Rice University, ensuring Owl student-athletes and alumni athletes are equipped to prosper.

"The Rice Owls SOAR Network is a critical tool to connect and engage our letter winners, providing resources and opportunities for mentorship, professional growth, and career transition. We've seen dramatic growth in signups and utilization in the first year of deployment, and we look forward to continuing that trend over the coming year. The greatest strength of Rice Athletics has always been the quality of our people, and the Rice Owls SOAR Network provides new ways for our people to connect across sports and across decades."
- Shannon Wright, 'R' Association President, Women's Track & Field '04

 

RESULTS

The Rice Owls S.O.A.R. Network was launched in May 2019 with a personalized email invite campaign for current student-athletes and alumni athletes to join the online engagement platform. In addition to the email campaign, athletes spent time during summer orientation learning about the network as well as during academic, compliance, and team-specific meetings at the beginning of the school year. Follow up texts and early event registrations through a network form also assisted in onboarding.

The Rice Owls S.O.A.R. Network quickly exceeded multiple milestones by centralizing their resources and services through Unite software. In the first two months post-launch, membership grew by 508%, and within the first year, 745 current and alumni Rice athletes had joined. Those athletes represent all 16 current varsity sports and reside in 35 U.S. states and across 18 countries.

In the first quarter after launching, on average 65% of members engaged with a resource in the network. The S.O.A.R. Network ranked in the Top 3 of all Unite networks for highest engagement in 2019, which includes Olympic committees, athletic associations, and collegiate athletic departments representing NCAA Division I, Division II, Division III, and the NAIA, with the Owls' highest month of engagement reaching 75% of their members.  

Multiple strategies were used in order to reach this early adoption rate. Prior to launching their network, the Student-Athlete Development team reached out to multiple campus partners and athletic student services departments, including the Center for Career Development, Diversity & Inclusion, Compliance, Sports Medicine, Strength & Conditioning, and a variety of others. By sharing their goals and asking for input, the athletics department gained significant buy-in from campus partners and stakeholders. Student-athletes can now interface with those departments through the network and those departments can also see what Rice Athletics is sharing with student-athletes. The coaching staff also have access to share resources and information, which not only increases communication with their team, but also assists with recruiting efforts by showing Rice’s commitment to athlete development on and off the field.

All current Rice student-athletes are strongly encouraged to create their S.O.A.R. Network profile. As a SaaS platform, athletes have 24/7 mobile and desktop access in one central place (the Resource Center) to navigate campus-wide resources, not just athletic department resources. Through this strategic implementation, the student-athlete development office is able to teach student-athletes how to quickly find resources during their time on campus and ensure they have access to it beyond their time at Rice. It also ensures the athletic department will never lose contact with their athletes.

Additionally, the versatility of the Resource Center within the S.O.A.R. Network makes it easier to communicate information to athletes and get their feedback. With over 870 engagements, the "Volunteer Hours Logged" resource card has been the most used resource to date with the "Request A Tutor" card following with the second most engagements by athletes. 

Over the first year, network members had access to 34,194 job and internship postings. A few examples of other resources within the network included the following:

  • Athletic specific career events
  • Impromptu employers coming to visit campus
  • Access to Handshake and other platforms
  • Financial literacy training
  • Compliance information
  • Leadership development
  • How to declare a major/minor
  • Sport specific videos by coaches 

Based on a recommendation from a student-athlete, a "Nutrition Menu" card was added since hours change frequently and athletes want to know what’s coming up next on the menu. Athletes have also reported serendipitously finding resources they didn't know were available, like college-specific programs, such as pre-med and engineering.

Many of these campus resources are also available to alumni athletes, but were previously underutilized without a way to connect with those alumni and no way to share access to those resources. Through the S.O.A.R. Network, these relevant resources, like career opportunities and Coaches' Corners, are now being shared with alumni athletes in a meaningful, consistent way.

For example, on the day the S.O.A.R. Network was launched, a letterwinner from Ohio saw the press release and joined the network. The individual had not been back to campus nor highly engaged since 1986, but was now thrilled to be part of Rice Athletics again. The individual even asked how to get involved more, specifically with career preparation for current Rice student-athletes.

By utilizing built-in reporting, administrators are able to see who engaged with specific resources as well as drill down to see how members are using the S.O.A.R Network. With this data, the administrators and other departments are able to offer more of the resources both current and alumni athletes want and need.

Unknowingly, implementing and launching the S.O.A.R. Network prepared Rice Athletics when COVID-19 hit in March 2020. With student-athletes already conditioned to log in for information and updates, administrators were ahead of the curve as they could quickly communicate by adding resources and sending notifications through Unite software. Health and wellness resources specific to the pandemic, as well as pandemic-specific nutrition resources, alongside career assessment and preparation resources took center stage from March to present.

 

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

For more information, visit www.athletenetwork.com/colleges-universities or schedule a free overview to see how you can unleash the power of your athlete network.