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Student Section Case Study: UCSB Surge

When thinking of University of California Santa Barbara, one might picture surfing, sunshine, palm trees, and a slower pace of life. Now, thanks to the partnership between Biggest Fan and UCSB Athletics, one may also think about an electric basketball atmosphere. UCSB is entering their third year working with Biggest Fan, and it shows through increased attendance, a palpable buzz on campus, and recognition from alumni and the community.

So, how did they do it?

When Biggest Fan arrived on campus almost three years ago, the team immediately realized the immense work that needed to be done. Tom Hastings, Deputy Director of Athletics/ External Affairs, gave us the tour of the Thunderdome and a rundown of what a game day at UCSB is like. UCSB is partnered with Biggest Fan at the production level, which means we have helped take their overall game day atmosphere and in-game experience to the next level by working with their staff, DJ, band, cheer, dance, administrators and students.

Biggest Fan took careful notice of both the student section and the behind-the-scenes work that happens to have game day run smoothly. Initially, there was no real production: Awkward silences, videos being played on the video board with no sound, outdated songs, very choppy and unprofessional rundown organization, music played too soft, and disengaged fans and students. The student section, formerly called Gaucho Nation, had no leaders and no structure. Running the student section was a responsibility of the marketing team. This was met with apathetic crowds: no students standing or engaged.

Seeing all this, Biggest Fan’s first priority was to identify and establish student leaders. After a thorough interview process, Ben and Jonny were selected as student section leaders. They had the passion we needed, understood the vision, and were willing to put in the work. At times, those two guys were the only students in the stands. After looping these two into the Biggest Fan system, the name “Surge” was selected to represent the coastal surfer vibe of Santa Barbara. Eventually, two more student leaders, Audie and David, were added to the mix and those two spearheaded the Surge social media presence and all things creative.

The Surge has become part of campus life at UCSB, after a successful brand launch that students are proud of, cultivating unique experiences only found in the Thunderdome, hosting multiple games where it was the “loudest and craziest it’s been in years.”

The results speak for themselves.

In two seasons of working with Biggest Fan, UCSB met key goals established for the team, including:

  • Exceeding their attendance goal

  • Established a student section brand students are proud of

  • Grew the brand to over 2,000 students in two years

  • Cemented their presence on campus

  • Several sold out games with overflowing stands

  • Created a newly passionate student fanbase at games

  • Building a lasting legacy that will benefit UCSB for years to come

The best part? They're just getting started.


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