We're thrilled to hear you've been hired as a consultant and advisor by the NCAA for women's basketball. Improving marketing and overall attendance is said to be one of your priorities. We have some thoughts to share on that.
Admittedly, we're not the audience you're trying to market to. We follow this sport, go to games, write about the story lines and have interest in the outcomes. We find fun nuggets in box scores, and when we hear the Final Four, we have to kick ourselves to remember that other Final Four -- the men's one.
In doing all this, there are times when we feel we toil and enjoy this game in oblivion. It is not unusual for us to be in gyms so empty, we can hear every word the coach is saying. Often we can do our own head count. And while we take a statewide approach to our teams in the Commonwealth, we find that to be one that few fans embrace. They love their team and only their team. While it's easy to find a Virginia fan or an Old Dominion fan, it's not so easy to come by a fan of women's basketball. That's most evident during the NCAA Tournament, when empty seats are more the norm than the exception especially for the early rounds but too frequently at the regional level as well.
To be fair, the sport has enjoyed commendable growth over the three-plus decades that the NCAA has been involved. But the game can only sell itself to a point, and it appears as though we've reached that point.
So what should you do about this? Our thoughts:
*Find more creative ways to get fans in the door. Think out of the box or sometimes think simply. Hot dog night drew in excess of 10,000 fans a couple years ago at John Paul Jones Arena. Years ago, we attended a charity event by tennis player James Blake that combined the music of John Mayer with the tennis of James Blake and Andy Roddick. Fans of two completely separates interests combined to enjoy one gala event. We wonder, might Victoria Justice get a few fans in the door?
*Women's basketball needs students in the seats. Students can get inside the head of other students. Let student clubs, and on campuses where Greek life is do the marketing for you. Get a pool of the top student clubs at each university and ask each club to be responsible for promoting one game. Incentivize it. The club responsible for bringing in the most fans receives something of value -- simple recognition isn't enough -- at the end of the season.
*Women's basketball players are largely excellent role models. Engage women's leadership organizations to partner with women's hoops players. Pursue sponsorships with those groups. Tailor your marketing to different professional groups as well. Make one night a "Music teachers night," another a "Dental hygienists night." Give discounts.
*Use your alumni base. Schedule alumni events at games and theme the games around those events. If it's classes from the '70s, include some KC and the Sunshine Band over the PA.
*Schedule a skills camp after an afternoon game and market to middle school, high school and recreational teams. When the kids are there, make sure the players are fully engaged with them.
*Contests, promotions, giveaways -- everybody likes to get something for very little.
*Make the experience memorable for the fans who do come. Too often women's games lack atmosphere. While it's hard for every school to match the mirth that goes on during timeouts at Thompson-Boling Arena, too often there's nothing at women's hoops games beyond the game. Make every second fun; involve kids in on-court contests.
*Buy one, get one. Buy three, get two. Make a dollar night. It's a bad economy. Make it easier -- and cheaper -- to go to the games.
*Use your players to build a grassroots presence in the community. Almost every school has its players engage in some type of community service, but that's not enough. Players need to be visible around campus recruiting fans in dining halls, dorms, outside of classroom. Make women's basketball cool.
*Should the rim be lowered? We hear advocates in support of that, and while we don't think lowering the rim a few inches would cause Armageddon, we're not sure it would have much impact on attendance. Again, this goes back to one thought: The product -- and we stress it's a product we love -- doesn't sell itself in this case. You've got to find some other way to get them in the door.
*Social media is the rage. Use it as a marketing tool and engage the players in social media, too. We know how overloaded players are with priorities during the season, but we also know that the cell phone rarely leaves their hand. Increasing attendance isn't just a marketing issue. It's an issue that affects the future of the sport, and the current ambassadors of the sport are its coaches and players.
*One more thing. We don't have all the answers. In fact, we might not have any of them. So ask questions. Engage the marketing staff to ask those who don't go to women's games why they don't and then ask quite simply, what would it take? We might all learn something that way.
We wish you great success in the position, Val. We'll be rooting for you.