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From Fan to Leader: Brandon Kaiser’s Journey as a Student Section Enthusiast

6th Grade

My journey to creating Biggest Fan began in 6th grade when my older brother was a freshman in high school. He was a member of the student section called the Toga Club, and one game, they let me stand in the front row with them. From that moment on, I was hooked on the student section experience.

I vividly remember a cheer they would do, and I would yell it out with the team: "Our Titans are what? Red hot! Our Titans are what? Red hot! Spell it out now, R-E-D with a little bit of H-O-T. Clap, clap. R-E-D-H-O-T, red hot, red hot, red hot!”

That experience left a lasting impression on me, and I became passionate about creating unforgettable game-day experiences for fans. This passion would eventually lead me to launch my own company, Biggest Fan.

High School

As a child, I was heavily involved in sports, but it wasn't until my freshman year that I discovered my love for volleyball. This opened up opportunities for me to attend various school sports events, such as football, women's volleyball, and basketball games.

When I reached my junior year, I transferred to Rampart High School with the excitement of experiencing a "big school" atmosphere. Within two weeks of my transfer, I was already in the front row of the student section with some friends, cheering on our teams during Friday night lights.

By my senior year, I was a leader of the student section. I vividly recall going all out during spirit week and getting dressed in my "Game Day" outfit at home before driving over to the games. Although our teams weren't the best, we still had a blast at football and basketball games. My enthusiasm for our teams and school spirit earned me the "Spirit of Rampart" award during my senior year, which is given to the most spirited student.

Freshman Year

In the fall of 2012, I enrolled at GCU because they had a nursing program and a men's volleyball program, although I didn't end up pursuing either. On my first day, I met some of my closest friends who shared my values, love for sports, and passion for hype.

At the time, GCU was a Division 2 school, and my buddies and I still painted our chests and went shirtless to every basketball game, hoping to see a dunk or two. The student section was called the Monsoon Section, and while it lacked structure or culture, they did provide paint and raffle big prizes like Xboxes, TVs, and Beats every game. Despite screaming in the front row for two hours, I never won anything and felt a bit frustrated that the prizes didn't seem to have much impact on building a hype student section.

Nonetheless, I still found D2 basketball exciting and enjoyed painting my face and chest to cheer on the team. Except for holiday breaks, I never missed a single GCU basketball game throughout my college years. Freshman year was a blast, but the spring of 2013 brought a big surprise. Taylor Griffin, whom I had met earlier as the mascot and prize giver, called me and said, "Get your boys painted up and come to the arena at this time." Intrigued, we eagerly headed over, not knowing what was in store for us.

It turned out that GCU was going Division 1 and had just hired Dan Majerle as the coach, and Taylor had summoned us to crank up the hype. The stars were about to align and I didn’t even know it. Later on that summer, I stumbled upon a job posting for a student section leader position and thought, “Are you kidding me? This is me.”

Getting Started

Excited about the job posting for a student section leader, I applied and was thrilled to be hired along with Justin Macari and Trevor Knotts. Although Justin kept to himself and Trevor was timid, we all shared a passion for sports and worked hard to launch the GCU Havocs, the craziest part of the Monsoon.

With no clear marketing plan or social media accounts, we stormed down the arena aisles a few minutes before tip to the beat of Animals by Martin Garrix and tried to start some traditions, banging a bass drum and wearing Spartan outfits.

The first 3 rows of the arena were reserved for the Havocs, a group of 165 students who painted up in the corner and stormed down with us. Despite having no organized structure, we averaged about 150 students per game and were growing quickly.

In the spring of 2014, Justin graduated and Trevor wanted to focus on becoming the mascot, so I recommended hiring more leaders for the following year. The director of spirit programs, Emily Stephens, agreed, and we brought on two of my closest friends at the time, Brennan Williams, Steve Hunsaker, and Josh Gee, a senior and childhood acquaintance.

The Christmas Parade with Trevor and Justin was a memorable event that showed GCU valued our contribution to the story and experience. The photo shoot we did with members of cheer and dance became a mural and big marketing piece, and the Spartan outfits became my go-to game day fit.

Junior Year

Junior year at GCU was a pivotal time for me. I had already been a part of the Havocs, the student section at GCU, for a couple of years, but it was during this time that I really started to dream big. I remember writing a note in my phone in December of 2014, "I love GCU Hoops and want to put GCU on the map". I spent hours researching student sections on Google and YouTube, but couldn't find much besides the traditional videos of the Cameron Crazies and some Utah State videos of "I believe that we will win".

Then I came across the Kennel Club at Gonzaga and was impressed with how organized they were. They had a student exec board, 1200 students every game in a 6000 seat arena, and they had Zombie Nation, an epic pregame tradition. I cold emailed their Prez and VP with a few questions, and they were gracious enough to respond. We had a very in-depth email conversation about all the systems and processes that go into running a student section.

I shared my dream with them - to have every student be a Havoc, to have every student standing and engaged, and to have a student section that was nationally known. All of those things happened a short year later.

National Collegiate Student Section Association

In the spring of 2015, I came across an organization started by Jacob Pauly and Austin Jacobs called the National Collegiate Student Section Association. When I heard of it, I practically begged to become more involved. It felt like me. They were hosting a convention in 2015 at Indiana State in Terre Haute. Trevor and I went. It was fun to meet leaders from Gonzaga and University of Arizona to Ohio State and Syracuse. We shared about best practices, what worked and what didn't. We went over how each student section was structured and a few presented on marketing, game day and operations.

I loved it. After the convention, they brought me on the board as VP of Memberships and Sales, to coordinate Zoom calls and recruit schools and leaders to come to the convention the following year.

But I couldn't have done all of this alone. During this time, we realized that we needed to replace Josh as he was graduating, and we knew the importance of having females on the leadership team. So we interviewed and hired five new leaders the following year. Karsten, Andy, Jake, Abbie, Taylor - they were all instrumental in helping to build the culture of the Havocs.

Getting Serious

In the fall of 2014, we started to have more formal pre-game meetups to describe the culture. The Havocs had 500 spots and were still part of the Monsoon. For marketing, we would just set up tables, hang flyers around campus and do pep rallies with band cheer and dance on game day where we would hand out free tickets and practically beg students to come to games. Our pregame paint up event was outside the arena in the loading dock. It was cool. We'd check in Havocs and then we'd have flood lights, music, paint, and signs. Then before tip, we'd walk to the back of the arena and run down to Animals. More bass drum.

We started to see how much work this was going to become, and we needed to drop the name Monsoon. In the spring of 2015, we decided to just roll with Havocs. Every student was a Havoc.

The summer of 2015, I made the decision to stay in Phoenix and take two summer classes. I also asked if I could work in the Havocs office for 15-20 hours a week and luckily, Helen, the Senior VP of Events, and Emily agreed. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to work for the organization that I was so passionate about. However, I wasn't exactly sure what I would be working on at first.

Then, in May of 2015, I received another surprise. GCU had planned a major press conference and I was invited to attend since I was working on campus that summer. It turned out that they were announcing new 4-year contracts for baseball coach Andy Stankiewicz and basketball coach Dan Majerle. They had also secured a new deal with Nike for all 22 athletic teams. As I sat in the audience, listening to the speakers, I never expected what came next.

President Mueller began his opening remarks and said, "I want to introduce the most important person in the room today. It might surprise you, but he really is the most important person. We have the most energetic student body in America and it has to do with the President of our Havocs, Brandon Kaiser." I was in disbelief. Here was the President and CEO of a university acknowledging me, a crazy hype guy student section leader, and saying how important I was. It was a truly humbling experience and it meant the world to me.

Even with this recognition, I knew that there was still so much work to do. We had a long way to go, and I was more motivated than ever to continue pushing the Havocs forward.

Senior Year

During my time at college, I switched my major from nursing to exercise science as I found myself more interested in the latter, and it didn't interfere with my commitment to the Havocs. Although it was the closest major that allowed me to graduate on time, it came with two summer classes. During that summer, I had the opportunity to work in the office five days a week and focus on the student section, and I had big ambitions. I spent time sitting in empty air-conditioned classrooms or in the arena, dreaming and working on the student section.

Getting Scalable

When I started the Havocs, we were using only Facebook and Twitter for the Monsoon. We were still running down the aisles before tipoff and only filling a few rows in one or two sections. However, I was determined to make every student a Havoc, fill the sections with 2,500 students, and put GCU on the map. To achieve these goals, I knew we had to establish an organized leadership structure. I started by creating an org chart with titles and roles for each position and assigned each leader a role. This included the President, VP, Dir. of Marketing, Dir. of Game Day, and Rookie Leaders. I also showed the need for our own Havocs office to meet, store equipment, and have office hours. I requested a game day golf cart that we could paint purple, designed an upgraded brand and logo, and worked with the marketing staff to create them. I built the Havocs website copy and pages with the university marketing team and planned out our weekly meeting schedule and office hour structure. We met on Mondays at 2 pm with the student leader exec team and our advisor, followed by all leaders at 3 pm. We also scheduled office hours based on class schedules and had multiple leaders in at the same time to work on marketing and game day.

During the school year, GCU gave us a seat at the table, and Steve and I would sit in weekly athletics marketing meetings with the President, C-suite, Senior staff, executives, and athletic staff.

With the right people on board and the right organizational structure in place, I knew we could build a successful student section. We were given decision-making power and autonomy, and we were part of discussions on student ticketing, event operations, facilities, and capacity. We had top-down support, a dedicated space and office, and a weekly structure for our leaders to succeed.

Getting Systemized

That summer, I focused on building systems that would help us achieve our goals. We had already dropped the Monsoon Section and decided on a new logo, so we needed to build a brand. We chose the tagline #getWeird, which was a perfect fit for our group. We also created a content strategy for Instagram, which we launched in August 2015. By the end of my senior year, we had grown our followers to over 10,000. We leveraged the game day golf cart to make signs and bedsheets to hang around campus, and we did dorm storms to spread the word.

I also wanted to reward and capture our most dedicated fans while still including everyone in the Havocs. I had seen other student sections offer memberships, but they lacked brand cohesion, clear perks, or demand. That's why we created the All-Access pass. We offered 1,250 spots, even though there were 2,500 student tickets available, to generate demand and exclusivity. We priced the pass at $25 and offered guaranteed tickets, priority entrance, a jersey and socks, and other perks. We sold out in minutes, generating $31,000 in revenue. I designed this model to be scalable in both quantity and quality, with three tiers generating six figures of revenue annually. Initially, students were required to come to all the games, and we removed those who missed more than three games.

As we prepared for the upcoming games, it became clear that our student section would be overflowing with fans, sometimes reaching over 2,000 per game. This presented a challenge that required us to restructure our entire operation, from pre-game routines to ticketing, security, and more. The previous chaotic routine of running into the arena and down the aisles before the game was simply not scalable. We had to tighten up all aspects of our operation to ensure a smooth experience for everyone.

Our planning involved every detail, from organizing the tailgate outside the arena, to check-in for all-access members, to tailgate activities, ticketing download, and check-in process, to student section selection and line organization, to a staggered entrance to prevent a stampede. We worked closely with the arena staff, security, ticketing, events, athletics, and spirit programs, including band, cheer, and dance. We even arranged for a pep rally and performance in front of the students and the arena before the game.

As student section leaders, we were responsible for setting up the tailgate, bringing all the game day supplies, and returning them after the game. We met at the office at 4:30 pm to set up the tailgate, which started at 5 pm, and entered the arena at 6 pm. We also coordinated various distractions, including free throw distractions, trash talk sheets, and rosters on the seats. We were grateful for the collaboration between the university and the spirit programs, including the cheer, band, and dance teams.

Our goal was to create a cohesive operating unit, with cheer, band, dance, mascot, Havocs, and game ops all working together. We coordinated meetings with the captains of each group and made sure our communication system was always in sync. The cheer team sat on the north baseline, with the students in the G-C-U section, and the band in the south end zone opposite cheer. The dance team was directly in front of the band on the baseline, with one more section of students between the band and the visiting team.

Game Day Coordination

One of our biggest challenges was in-game coordination. After some trial and error, we established the most effective cheering systems, with cheer, leaders, band, dance, and students all doing the same thing at the same time. Every possession was accompanied by a cheer, and every minute was programmed to create student hype and energy. We had vetted hundreds of songs, and we had selected the best ones that would become our pre-game trigger moments.

One day, Taylor texted me with an idea. He wanted all the students to jump up and down and point at the other team when the beat dropped to "Springen" by MakJ. The "Point" was born. We coordinated our other songs, including "Tremor," so that tifos would drop at specific moments. We knew when the team would run out, when to jump, when to boo, and when to turn around. It was a coordinated effort that brought everyone together, creating an unforgettable game day experience.

Getting Seen

As we continued to evolve the in-game experience, Taylor and Emily couldn't help but feel inspired by the Indiana Timeout. Emily and Taylor took it upon themselves to organize the Purple Pre-Game Party and asked for our opinion. As a joke, I suggested a silly arm movement with a sideways hip thrust, and to my surprise, it caught on like wildfire. We had created a new tradition, and it felt amazing to be a part of something that brought everyone together.

My passion for the student section continued to grow, and I spent countless hours building systems and understanding the ins and outs of game production and spirit programs. I knew we were onto something special, and I was excited to see where we could take it.

Expanding our base of Havocs felt like the next logical step, and I was confident that we had successfully reached the incoming freshman class. We worked hard during the previous summer, speaking on stage, building relationships, and hitting orientation hard by tabling.

With a big name coach like Schellas Hyndman and a new stadium on the horizon, we knew that soccer would be our next big target. During welcome week, we organized the first-ever March to the Match to a women's soccer game against NAU. We won in overtime, and the energy was electric as we stormed the field. I had spent the previous summer researching soccer supporter groups, meeting with staff and captains, and learning all the chants to do during the game. I was excited to show everyone what made soccer unique, and it was a massive success. The Havocs were now expanding into soccer, and we had built a solid foundation for the new stadium that was on the way.

Midnight Madness

As I reflect on my time as a student leader at GCU, there were a few events that stood out to me, one of which was Midnight Madness. Taylor had been working hard for a year and decided on a Star Wars theme to mark our third year in D1. We had been marketing it all week, and I had no idea what to expect.

As we waited for the doors to open, the line was already massive, and over 5,000 students showed up. The adrenaline was pumping through my veins, and I felt like my head and heart were about to explode. It was an out-of-body experience, and I couldn't believe what we had created. We had built a movement, and if this was any indication of what basketball season would be like, we were in for the most hype atmosphere of all time.

The first home men's basketball game was an exhibition game, but 2,500 students showed up, and all 1,250 all-access members arrived early. The operations were flawless, and the atmosphere was epic. We were all cheering, chanting, and dancing in unison, and it was clear that we had created something special.

The team had a great non-conference record, and we were all looking forward to the big non-conference away game against San Diego State in December. As Havoc leaders, we drove out to see them play a consistent tournament team, and it turned out to be the biggest opponent we had seen GCU play in-person since going D1. We won, but our loud and hyped behavior resulted in some choice words, mean looks, and interesting hand motions from the fans. Looking back, we were probably a little annoying and obnoxious, but we were just so excited to be a part of it all.

NMSU Game Win

I can confidently say that Midnight Madness, the first game, and the victory against SDSU were all incredible highlights. However, nothing could have prepared me for the magnitude of the NMSU game.

We had targeted NMSU as a rival and were determined to beat them, even though we had yet to do so. Our team was on fire leading up to the game, and we went all out with marketing. I requested that Athletics make a huge banner to hang in the middle of campus for the week leading up to the game, and we pulled out all the stops. I even had the idea for all the students to wear white Phantom of the Opera masks during the intro, so when the lights turned back on, everyone would be wearing a Phantom mask in all black. It was epic.

Then, we won. We stormed the court, and I was exhausted. It felt like we had accomplished the impossible. The systems I had created, along with the leadership team I had assembled with the support and collaboration of administration, had built the best student section atmosphere in the country. In the following weeks, the nation would take notice, and SB Nation dubbed the GCU Havocs the Biggest Party in College Basketball.

It was an incredible feeling to have helped put GCU on the map through the Havocs. From six buddies to 2,500, from a crazy hype guy to running a nationally known student section, I felt like my life goals and purpose were accomplished.

Phasing Out

As I approached the end of my senior year at GCU, I never would have thought that I would become the President of the National Collegiate Student Section Association (NCSSA). Yet, in the spring of 2015, Austin and Jacob, who were graduating, passed on the mantle of the NCSSA presidency to me. I was overjoyed to take on this role and had the opportunity to meet many passionate leaders from other universities and share what we had achieved at GCU. In 2016, we hosted a convention with over 35 schools and 65 student leaders in attendance. During this convention, Austin and Jacob announced that I would be taking over as President of NCSSA, and I couldn't contain my emotions. All of my hard work, passion, and dedication to student sections had finally paid off.

After I graduated, I knew that the Havocs needed more structure and advisory. So, I pitched a job description to the GCU executives to become the Havocs coordinator and advisor, and they agreed. While I served in this role for a few months, I quickly realized that I wasn't needed. The systems and leaders I had put in place had created a well-oiled machine that could self-replicate each year. The Havocs could thrive with or without me, and it was time to let Steve and Karsten shine.

Although I put my heart and soul into the Havocs and felt like it was my identity, I learned that students come and go, and leaders leave. Succession planning and systems are the only way to ensure the survival and growth of a student section. It was time for me to move from being a Havocs leader to just being a GCU fan, the biggest fan.

As a fan, I got to witness the Havocs elevate to new levels. I saw my idea of a Hype Event come to fruition during Welcome Week with Lope-a-palooza. I also saw San Diego State and Louisville come to GCU Arena and experience the intense atmosphere created by the Havocs (which both Donovan Mitchell and Rick Pitino said was the toughest and craziest atmosphere they had ever experienced). I must say, it was a special feeling to look across the arena and see my legacy manifest itself every game.

My student section story is far from over. I am still the biggest fan of GCU and live for student sections. The best part? I'm just getting started.


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