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Creating A Killer Club: Red Thunder


Student organizations and student clubs are responsible for the liveliness of co-curricular activities in college. The organizations and clubs on campus have a wide range of interests: from academic to sports-related to cultural. You name it, it probably exists! If you can't find what you are looking for, there is a big window of opportunity for you to have an impact on your campus. You can create your own organization! This is what Tom Fabian did when he founded the Red Thunder club. Red Thunder is McGill University's sports varsity fan club and was named McGill's "Best New Club of the Year" in 2010-2011 by SSMU (Student's Society of McGill University). Here is what he shared with OOHLALA about his journey to create a killer club!

I grew up in Toronto and played sports all throughout high school. My main reason for coming to McGill was actually to play on the Redmen volleyball squad, which I did for the next four years. I majored in Kinesiology and minored in Management.

I got involved with the Varsity Council relatively early on and was voted in as President in my second year - I held that position for two years. We created a lot of new initiatives around McGill Athletics, mostly for the athletes, but we started thinking outside the box as to how to enhance the varsity experience on both sides of the ball. We noticed that there weren’t enough people in the stands for any of our teams - even the ones that did perform. I realized that sport wasn’t necessarily about the performance, but about the entertainment value. We needed way more people in the stands to give our varsity athletes the support they deserved. At the time, these athletes (who put every waking hour outside of studies into their respective sports) were getting, at most, a couple hundred people out to games.

One day during the summer of 2009, my good friend, Anthony Lukca (former captain of the Redmen football team) and I were sitting on the roof of my apartment drinking beers. We were both heavily involved with Varsity Council and all things athletics, and we got into a brainstorm session as to how we could boost attendances. Pretty quickly, we started bouncing ideas off each other until we came up with the notion of having a varsity fan club on campus! We started doing some research on fan clubs in the States and got a better picture about their organizational structures, recruitment strategies, and their relationships with the Athletic Departments.

First things first, I recruited a crack team of buddies to round out my “Executive Committee” - basically the people that would make this machine run. We realized that Athletics already had a Red & White Campaign, which was subpar to say the least, however we wanted to provide an experience to our fans and a sense of community, not just a t-shirt and drink deals. So I wrote up a proposal for Drew Love (Director of Athletics), which outlined the club’s goals and future outlook. Of course we had our fare share of obstacles, but we were able to deal with most of them:

1) Getting our proposal accepted. This in itself was a challenge, because we were proposing that members receive access to all varsity games throughout the year. In the end, they accepted because their attendances were so low that they were willing to work with us.

2) Getting our membership up and creating a community spirit. From recruitment, to our pre-game storms (tail-gates), to our promotions, we had to cover all our bases to make sure we weren’t walking into a flop.

3) Countering the pressure from the administration, the Athletics Marketing Department and their Red & White Campaign. Basically we were competing brands and after just one year, we had way more members and were a much more entertaining product. This past year we signed a long-term contract with McGill Athletics as their main “support group”, thereby eliminating Red & White and putting fan support/experience exclusively in the hands of students!

All the feedback I ever get about the club is positive. Athletes love it, McGill administration loves it, and students love it. It helps to enhance a school spirit that wasn’t really existent before and people are starting to feel as though they are part of a community. I have story upon story of reactions to Red Thunder and how it has changed the image of McGill sports. Coaches ask why the club hasn’t come out to a specific game, and athletes always give us credit for their success. I personally hope that the club keeps growing (I think it’s around 800 members now) and continues helping to create that buzz around campus. I still keep tabs on what’s going on, but in general I take a back seat to the enthusiastic young people on the exec today. I’m still there if they need any advice with how to deal with the administration (as I’ve had a good run with that side), but otherwise they are doing spectacularly! I'm just a proud papa, and I want to see my baby grow into a household name on campus!

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