September 20, 2009 • FeaturesWinning Hoops

Promoting your girls basketball program

Getting fans in the stands can be difficult for any basketball program. But getting fans in the stands for your girls basketball program may present even more of a challenge.

Patrick E. Auerbach, director of operations of women’s basketball at the University of Southern California (USC) shares some of the tactics he’s used to build a following that can be applied to programs at the high school or college levels.

While USC’s program has been able to build an identity by capitalizing on its championships and WNBA players — including Cheryl Miller, Cynthia Cooper, Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson. Auerbach said the key for any coach who wants to grow their women’s or girls program is to find or give your program an identity to sell itself.

“Once you’ve established your identity or you have something you want to sell, you can then focus on how to package it and who you’re trying to sell it to,” he said.

Selling your program

When you’re trying to establish a basketball booster club or trying to get people to buy tickets to your games, you can’t sell women’s basketball the same way that you can sell men’s basketball he explains.

Men’s basketball is viewed more as a mainstream sport that caters to males, college students and a corporate crowd. Women’s basketball predominantly caters to a female crowd, younger kids, and it’s more of a family activity. Many dads and daughters attend women’s games. There’s also a strong following of senior citizens for women’s basketball, said Auerbach.

He suggests promoting your women’s basketball games as a family entertainment outing rather than a basketball game.

Events to promote your program

There are a number of inexpensive events you and your players can host to show community pride and spirit, as well as get your program more exposure.

  • Have a booth at your homecoming football game, and have your players work the booth to interact with the community. If you have team sweatshirts or T-shirts, sell the merchandise. USC held a picnic at their booth, developed a fun atmosphere, and got quite a bit of traffic, Auerbach said.
  • Host pregame events about an hour before tipoff. Invite your boosters or parents to a catered meal and have the coaches speak about the team, things going on at the school or the progress of women’s basketball in general.
  • Sell advance purchase tickets for groups at a discount to help introduce people to your program.

Starting a booster club

If you’re trying to start or improve your booster club, Auerbach said the first step is to identify who you want to target. Get one or two recognizable figures from the community to join your boosters. Get the support of your principal, super-intendant or dean, he said.

Auerbach suggests involving members from your local colleges or universities, such as women’s studies professors or members of the athletic department. Invite them to games by writing a newsletter or letter. If you can, create preferential seating for booster members and host one or two social functions in the off-season, he suggests.

“When you’re recruiting booster members, make them aware of the benefits. For example, tell them that 80 percent of your funds go into XYZ. Make people feel like they’re joining a cause. You have to point out that it’s worth their while,” Auerbach said. “Give them something for their membership something that isn’t available to everyone else.”

Media savvy

Getting print space for your women’s basketball program can be a challenge. Auerbach suggests a few simple things you can do to increase your press coverage.

  • Proactively establish a rapport with the press. Invite them to a preseason function where they can schmooze and talk about the team.
  • Invite the press to attend booster club meetings or even join the organization.
  • Invite reporters that aren’t necessarily sports reporters, such as a business section or women’s issues reporter.
  • Create news about yourself. Get involved with the community through food drives and volunteer opportunities.

Promote your community spirit

To get your players and program known in your community, and to drum up extra support for your program, get your team involved in community events. For example, USC hosts a holiday food drive.

USC players put on an assembly at local schools and community centers to tell students about their basketball program. Players invited the students to come to the game and encouraged them to bring a can of food to get in free. “The idea behind the food drive was to get people to come to the games,” Auerbach said.

“The food drive was successful with more than 3,000 people attending the food drive games. All food was donated to various charities in the area,” Auerbach said. “This project allowed us to get people in the stands introduce the community to our program, and do something good for the community.”