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Riot Squad adapting to virtual fan experience

The official student section of Rutgers athletics continues to be actively engaged during the global pandemic.

Minnesota v Rutgers Photo by Benjamin Solomon /Getty Images

As Rutgers football is set to kick off the 2020 season in less than two weeks, the fan experience will obviously be far different this fall. For long time alums and fans who have tailgated for years, doing so remotely was a new activity that some have tried even before Big Ten football was officially returning. Now that school is in session, students are adjusting as well, including the Riot Squad.

The official student section for Rutgers Athletics is adapting to new virtual experiences that now are becoming part of the new normal. Fans are not allowed to attend games this fall and the Riot Squad is adjusting.

President of the club, Parth Patel, explained how they plan to cheer on Rutgers football this season. He said, “Enjoy the game virtually. We plan to have zoom meetings while watching the game to talk, react and enjoy the game together.”

Not having students on campus is a challenge in regard to growing membership and Patel said this type of experience will be open to all. “We are trying to open things up so more people can get involved and get more feedback from students at Rutgers. It is about all of us together,” Patel said. “We do want to continue to do things with everyone. We want to open up zoom watch parties with non-members to give people a chance to still join our club. We don’t want to exclude anyone.”

Treasurer Ryan O’Connor also stated that “Since we can’t obviously attend games right now, the focus is trying to grow Riot Squad. Also identifying who is truly active and who can potentially play a bigger role in the future.”

O’Connor explained that “there are not many obligations. It’s more about going to games, being active in our group chats, showing interest in general. One thing we are looking to do for active members in the future is hosting a panel with coaches and others from Rutgers Athletics. We also want to create identification cards that you can show at the RAC that allows entry into the first two rows of the student section.”

Gabriel Vinogradov, the club’s social media manager, spoke about past perks and how they are evolving this year. He said, “Last season, we were able to attend a men’s basketball practice and got to shoot around on the court with them. That was really fun. We can’t do that type of thing right now obviously. If we can get on a zoom call with coach Schiano or coach Pikiell or coach Goodale, that would be an idea that we’d love to do.”

Patel echoed the sentiment, stating “we do want to increase our active members and have perks for them. Active membership includes people who are consistently going to games and talking about Rutgers sports. Coming to our watch parties and meetings. People that are more engaged than the average Rutgers student.”

Another goal of the Riot Squad during this time is being more visible on social media. Vinogradov stated “we are also trying to expand our social media presence. I run our Twitter account and Michael Dalton runs our Instagram. We are using those platforms to spread the message about the club, continue posting content, being active, and things like wishing recruits good luck in games. We want to make sure people know the club is still active and trying to do as much as we can during these difficult times.”

O’Connor added that the club reaching out to recruits who Rutgers is targeting is a focus now more than ever. He has done the same with the recently formed Chop Crew, another student fan club which was formed in collaboration with the athletic department after Greg Schiano returned to Rutgers this past winter.

“I do a lot of that already with the Chop Crew and think there is a lot of potential to do more with Riot Squad as well. A lot of what we are doing is directly helping the football program. I have a lot of contact with Robert Roselli from the athletic department. I have that connection with him and discuss the Riot Squad and how they can help as well.” O’Connor continued, “Wishing a recruit who Rutgers is targeting good luck before a game can go a long way coming from the official student section. It means something. Getting active members to participate in that has potential too.”

Vinogradov added, “Not only are we mobilizing our active members, but we are getting fans and alums interested in recruiting as well.”

The Riot Squad took a notable trip last winter when they traveled to Kean University for the Union County men’s basketball title game to cheer on Roselle Catholic’s Cliff Omoruyi. The top 50 national recruit ultimately chose Rutgers and Patel said it’s the type of thing the club looks forward to continuing. “Once we are able to attend games again post-Covid f, we want to make trips as a club to see top recruits. We did that last winter for Cliff Omoruyi and we like to say that was a contributing factor in him coming to Rutgers.”

The club continues to be engaged remotely during this time. Vinogradov stated “We have been active in communication with the athletic department about their plans for spreading a positive message about Rutgers sports.”

While the way that Riot Squad connects and supports Rutgers athletics has changed during this global pandemic, their passion and commitment remains as strong as ever.