With attendance limited to 20% at Notre Dame Stadium, the Fighting Irish have built a digital alternative for supporters looking to create new gameday traditions.
Dubbed “Rally House,” the school’s online portal is meant to be a supplement to the TV feed, offering a pre-game show and the ability to video conference with fellow fans during the action. Notable alumni will be watching together in one view as well as dropping in on select virtual watch parties throughout the game. People can also elect to be matched up for a brief one-on-one encounter with a random fellow app user.
Fan reactions in the app may also appear on NBC’s broadcast of the Irish’s game against Duke, as the broadcaster and ND have collaborated on the platform’s rollout.
“We told them we want to be their petri dish. We want them to try stuff out here before they move it to Sunday Night Football,” Notre Dame athletics executive producer for innovation and design Jodain Massad said.
The experience is free for many of the school’s donors and season ticket holders, while the public can purchase a season pass for the six home games for $49. A single game’s virtual ticket costs $15.
Rally House provides a substitute not only for the in-stadium experience but also for the in-person watch parties that are nearly as sacred to countless fans and alumni around the country. In New York, it has not been unusual for hundreds of Notre Dame fans to gather at bars affiliated with the school’s alumni association on fall Saturdays.
This Saturday, however, the Notre Dame Club of New York City’s gathering is reservation only with limited attendance to follow local guidelines. Club president Marco Zuccarello will be among the many who instead will try out the Rally House offering. “These things are starting to take root and folks are starting to get more comfortable with this idea of together apart,” he said.
Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick put together a “Fan Engagement and Entertainment Working Group” this summer to respond to the likely restrictions put on in-person attendance. Previously, Notre Dame had worked with engineering agency WMT to re-engineer its website and bring it in sync with the school’s Fighting Irish App. Virtual event vendor Hopin also helped bring Rally House to life.
“This was an opportunity to finally utilize everything WMT had already created,” Notre Dame digital platform manager Fred Villarruel said. “It also let us think outside the box and have an excuse to break away from, Hey, this is how we cover a game or recap a game.”
Notre Dame is one of several schools beefing up its online experiences amidst the pandemic. Last week, Georgia Tech announced a watch-party feature of its own, with influencer-led chats and gamification elements after partnering with WMT and tech firm LiveLike.
For the Fighting Irish, going virtual also provides increased flexibility when it comes to generating sponsorship revenue. The team is strict about keeping partner signage out of view at Notre Dame Stadium, but its app experience will include a section for sponsored content.
Colleges are following pro teams in building out their own media environments in the crowded race for fans’ attention—and loyalty. WMT founder Andres Focil said schools are increasingly using their platforms to attract recruits, drive campaigns, and gain insights about their fans. Villarruel said his department is looking into building “a Netflix for Notre Dame. That’s the plan. This is just the introduction.”