Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bring 'em in

NCAA tournament first and second round sites are set -- for 2011. The link is below but the short version is this. Albuquerque, Auburn, Charlottesville, Cincinnati, College Park, Columbus, Durham, Knoxville, Salt Lake City, Spokane, Shreveport, Palo Alto, Storrs, University Park (Pa.) and Waco will be the hosts.

It's great to grow the game as the commercial says, but some of these are curious choices. Utah averaged 1,801 last year for a 23-10 team. Xavier had a stellar year with a 25-7 record but averaged 1,487.

I would love to see the schools market the first and second rounds starting now. Last year the site of the empty seats in too many arenas during tournament time overshadowed the basketball. Not everybody has the fan base of Tennessee (13,999 average), UConn (10,529) or upstart New Mexico (7,808). Let's be honest. Women's basketball is a niche sport and probably always will be. It needs to be marketed with dollar nights during the regular season. Giveaways bring people in the door. I recently saw my son lured to a religious ceremony with the promise of pizza and $500 cash.

If you're a women's basketball purist, you don't need anything but the game entice you to come. But most of us aren't purists. You get folks in the door and they might just come back. Market to high schools, appeal to high school coaches and as vile as it might sound to the diehards, toss in plenty of freebies as incentives.

As insane as it sounds, if I marketed the sport, I would simply go out and start talking to the people in my community one on one. Do you go to women's basketball games? What would get you to come? I'd want my building full during the national tournament. If I have to stand outside and give away tickets with free hotdog coupons -- or gas cards -- that's what I'd do. The game needs fans and fans come with exposure.

Growing the game is great. Growing your fan base is better.

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