Thursday, March 24, 2011

NCAA Tournament: Just the game isn't enough to pack the house

It was easy to find a seat at JPJ on Tuesday night.
We took a peek at the attendance for the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and here's what stood out to us:

Who drew the best? Knoxville, Tenn (Tennessee) – 9,007 (Tennessee 79, Marquette 70)

Wasn't it Maya's last game in Gampel? Storrs, Conn. (UConn) – 5,729 (UConn 64, Purdue 40)

Blue Devils fans can't do better than this for No. 2 seed Duke? Durham, N.C. (Duke) – 3,644 (Duke 71, Marist 66) 

Who drew the worst: Charlottesville, Va. (Virginia) – 1,362 (Oklahoma 88, Miami 83)

Some thoughts, and since we're a Virginia blog, we start with our state. James Madison lost in the first round. We get that. No doubt a second-round game featuring the Dukes would have been a lot more appealing to fans in this state than Oklahoma vs. Miami. But 1,362 is paltry. These sites are announced years in advance to promote them, so we thought. So minus a Virginia school, nobody was interested, right? The numbers don't lie, and indeed a Tuesday night at JPG without the Cavaliers isn't exactly a grabber unfortunately.

It is worth noting that the Constant Center in Norfolk drew 4,832 for last year's second-round between UConn and Temple. And lest anybody forget the sold-out regional there in 2004 between Duke and Minnesota. We know Virginia can do come up with some monster promotions (remember hot dog night?), but clearly the JPJ's first attempt at this was a colossal failure.

Geno himself expressed ire at Husky fans not turning out in droves to see Maya's last game at Gampel. But the fans have responded, noting high ticket prices despite the slumping economy; upper tier seats while the lower ones remain empty; $8 to park and bottle neck congestion along I-84 that means leaving before 5 p.m. on a weeknight to see a 7 p.m. game. All that plus these folks are admittedly spoiled and likely to spend their bucks at the region in Philadelphia. Seems like legitimate stuff to us. And while we're at it, a Sunday noon game for the first round? Yeah, the Huskies are a religion to some, but that tipoff pretty much snubs the churchgoing crowd.

We love this sport, and you love it most likely if you're reading this. Not everyone does, and it seems to us that the NCAA doesn't do the sport any favors by making this tournament strictly about basketball -- no giveaways, no halftime shows, not even a military color guard to sing the national anthem. Pardon us for being crazy, but how about a juiced up musical act to liven things up pregame or postgame? Half price food? Let's not fool ourselves. This sport doesn't sell itself as much as we'd dearly love it to.  Maybe if we can get folks in the building, we can build a stronger fan base, but just putting women's basketball on the court and expecting folks to show up, especially when their team isn't involved, isn't working.

Baylor gave away free tickets to the first 1,000 students for the second round. People love free stuff. They love even the chance to win free stuff. Contests. Giveaways. Raffles. Could each university work with student clubs and challenge each to bring in the most students to an event like this with a prize going to the most successful club? 

Would any of this work? We don't know. What we do know is unless you're in Knoxville, Waco, Hartford or a handful of other women's basketball hotbeds, what the NCAA is doing now doesn't.

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