East Carolina University (ECU) hosted an award-winning summer camp for 20 years with 800 annual participants and many satisfied Pirate faculty and staff. The camp operated at a moderate profit margin, paid out over $40,000 in wages to hard-working student counselors, and was the heart of our summer facility use.
Parents clamored for valuable spots on our camp rosters. Some even got up at 6:30 a.m. to get in line at our front desk before online registration was available. The camp is recognized by our local newspaper as the “Best in Greenville.” Some campers also grow up to be counselors themselves while attending ECU.
Everything changed in 2020 as a year off clarified several priorities for our full-time staff and our overall financial situation. Our department saw a departure of seven staff over 24 months who had direct responsibility of camp programming, and we decided to embark on a great reinvention of our Campus Recreation and Wellness (CRW) summer offerings.
Fall 2021 saw the departure of two ECU CRW camp directors and a shift in staff responsibilities. The financial situation resulting from decreased student fee support forced a clarification of priorities and an assessment of our programming.
Our goal ultimately was to serve our student users. To meet that outcome, we decided human capital should be focused on the 10 months students occupy our campus. One thing we could not compromise on was the decrease in revenue our traditional summer camp produced annually. We embarked on a focused recruitment during the spring 2022 semester to find new summer revenue streams and develop lasting partnerships without compromising the “bandwidth” of our existing full-time employees.
One of the most important factors for filling your recreation center during the summer is knowing your market. Most likely, there are smaller nearby summer camps clamoring for fun activities at a low cost to entertain their participants.
Many of us have climbing walls, basketball courts and pools open during summer with few students coming through our turnstiles. Pick a price point that fits your revenue lines and reach out to these camps. ECU’s Eakin Student Recreation Center was filled to the brim with campers from all over the Greenville, North Carolina, area playing in the pool, climbing the wall and enjoy the air conditioning of six basketball courts. The revenue raised from these groups is extremely profitable as minimal extra staff are required for most reserved activities.
Cheer, dance and band camps are prevalent nationwide and probably already exist on your campus. These groups nearly always contract with your housing departments for residence hall rooms and dining. Reach out to see if you can “value-add” to their existing package with pool reservations, climbing wall packages or open recreation time. Some of these same groups are looking for additional court or field space to rent as those maintained by athletics may not accommodate larger groups. Your facilities are normally wide-open and can easily meet their needs. Talk with your campus band director or cheer/dance coach and find out what their plans are next summer.
Remember academic departments also host several camps in the arts, science and mathematics disciplines that need a play break. A simple $5 to $10 addition to a camper fee can bring significant revenues during the slower summer months.
One thing many of us “lifers” in recreational sports know is we often get stuck in our ways. We cannot fathom changing the time of year we play a particular intramural sport, the time of day we offer cycling and our building’s opening time on a Saturday morning.
We must push ourselves to think outside the box and meet a changing staff and participant demographic. Offering intramural sports trivia at a local pub in the summer months, hosting disc golf Fridays and trying faculty/staff summer sand volleyball are all new and exciting offerings your campus may find successful. If we rely on what we’ve always done, we won’t find the next big thing in campus recreation.