Engaging Youth, NFL-style

The Atlanta Falcons host an event each season taking all the great aspects of high school football and the pros, putting it into one unforgettable night. Friday Night Lights has been around since 2008 and the idea originated with head coach Mike Smith, a coach who has close ties to high school football. Each year during training camp, the Falcons travel to an area high school for a Friday night of football for the community. The event is free and the Falcons throw quite a party, giving the fans an up-close-and-personal view of the players they watch on Sundays. The sixth annual Friday Night Lights was held earlier in August and it was another success, drawing a record of more than 14,000. Fans come for a practice session, not unlike a day of training camp, and the event closes with a scrimmage, sort of like what college football programs do with its spring game. It’s a fan favorite and a perfect way for the Falcons organization to get closer to its fans. The most impressive aspect about an event like this is how the Falcons manage to still cater Friday Night Lights to a youthful audience. In some ways the Falcons are working from an advantage because they’re an NFL team and have a fan base with deep connections. If Falcons players are publicly appearing somewhere, there’s a good chance a large crowd will follow. But the Falcons organization understands the only way to build a raving fan base is to ensure there’s something for everyone, including the little ones. Almost every player signs autographs for the fans following the event, and that’s exciting for a young fan. As a child, I collected autographs and any chance I got to meet a professional player and have him sign something for me was a really big deal. The Falcons brand, like all good brands, wants to be a permanent part of its customers’ memory bank. The thrill for a child is in the anticipation of getting a superstar like Matt Ryan’s autograph. Even if that child doesn’t get Ryan’s signature, he’ll be leaving with more than a few signatures. The Falcons also make sure there’s plenty of food around and other distractions for the kids. There are plenty of vendors on hand to give away free things and most kids love taking home a few treasures. Of course Friday Night Lights ends with a fireworks show and what kid doesn’t love that? Your event may not have the ability to offer superstars or pyrotechnics, but you can take some of the things that make Friday Night Lights engaging and ensure you reach a youthful audience. Kids like to have their hands on one thing and move on to the next. Take a close look at how playgrounds or kid-centric amusement parks are set up. There are zones of fun everywhere allowing kids to be involved in something and then on to the next thing. Friday Night Lights has a larger-than-life feel, while remaining grassroots because of the environment. It captures the imagination of the child and that’s really what you want in an event aimed at kids. Give your youth attendee things to do in addition to things to see. Asking them to sit and stay engaged in a public speaking address is too much like school, which as you can imagine would be a turn-off. If you have a speaker with a wow factor, provide access to that individual and opportunities for engagement. Photo opportunities can be a big win for you and your event, another way your attendees can make lasting memories keeping your event relevant.   (AP Photo/Jaime Henry-White)