This five-part series on Arkansas Razorbacks head volleyball coach Jason Watson will serve to introduce him to Razorback fans, alumni, and the community. We’ll cover his extensive volleyball background, his plans on how to build a winning culture, how he’ll engage the community, his vision of leading the program back to the NCAA Tournament, and building his staff. Let’s get started.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – At his coaching stops at both BYU and Arizona State University, Jason Watson was actively engaged in the community and was able to increase attendance to volleyball games by more than 20 percent during his first year.
In fact, during Watson’s final season at ASU in 2015, attendance was up by 162 percent compared to his inaugural season in 2008.
What’s his secret sauce? How was he able to attract record crowds in Provo, Utah and Tempe, Arizona and can he bring that same level of excitement for volleyball here to Fayetteville?
In short, yes. Watson said he is confident he can replicate his formula for success by reaching out to the community with a two-pronged strategy and by building bridges to the vibrant volleyball alumni in Northwest Arkansas.
“In the first part of our model, our biggest sell here isn’t so much me, but the quality of our student-athletes,” Watson said. “We have some tremendous student-athletes in our roster and they have some amazing stories to share. If we can have the community come in and interact with them, we can develop relationships that eventually will turn into support for the program.”
The other half of the equation, according to Watson, is opening up the entire program to everyone: Not just the community, but the entire Razorback athletic department and the University of Arkansas as a whole.
“We want to create relationships; we want to be inclusive, and we certainly feel like this community – both on-campus and off – wants that,” Watson said. “They want to be included but they’re just not sure how to go about it. They’re not sure they’re welcome. But now we’re going to say, ‘Come in, you’re not going to get in our way and interrupt what we’re doing. We’d love to see you.'”
Watson’s strategy of fostering stronger ties with the community as a way of boosting interest in, and attendance to, volleyball games has already worked – twice:
“We did this at ASU and also at BYU and we had remarkable crowds because of it,” Watson said. “We would like to see a similar trend happen here where we’re averaging attendance at a rate that makes Barnhill an attractive place to host a first and second round of the NCAA Tournament.”
And finally, the last piece of the outreach puzzle is building bridges to a special segment of the community: Volleyball alumni who settled in Northwest Arkansas – the pioneers who built the program in the early-to-mid 1990s.
“The first class of volleyball players came with the hope of creating something that could be very special,” Watson said. “It becomes a common theme when I talk to alumni; they feel like the Arkansas volleyball program should be built upon the hope that we can be very good on the court and do things the right way off the court.”
Watson said his job reconnecting with alumni will be similar to how he plans to reach out to the community: By letting them know they’re always welcome and that the program is appreciative of their contributions and wanting to foster stronger relationships because it’s important.
“The alumni are passionate,” Watson said. “They’re waiting and want to engage not only with me, but with the student-athletes. They want the student-athletes to know how important the program is to all alumni and it’s my hope that in time, we can reconnect these two groups.”
The next installment of Introducing: Jason Watson will explore how he plans to make Arkansas a perennial force in the NCAA Tournament.