April 4, 2015 • Athletic AdministrationBasketballCoaching

Women’s basketball coaches discuss attendance challenges

Attendance in women’s college basketball has climbed steadily over the last decade, but most programs continue to struggle filling their arenas. That’s a problem coaches are determined to fix.

IMG_1142The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association held its second annual “It’s Our Game” Marketing Symposium on Friday, offering strategies to address what coaches call one of the game’s biggest dilemmas. A variety of solutions were offered, most involving fan engagement and the team’s responsibilities in providing a memorable experience for everyone who buys a ticket.

“You’re the ambassador of your program, the face of your program,” said Jody Conradt, former Texas women’s coach and Hall of Famer. “There will never be a situation where that’s not your responsibility. You’re the leader of the SID, marketing, event staff. You must engage yourself.”

The five-hour symposium featured seven different speakers, including head coaches and marketing professionals who themselves have increased attendance at their schools.

Here are a few of the ideas:

Fan interaction: Gary Blair, head coach at Texas A&M, talked about the value in having players and coaches engage with fans. That means hanging around after games to sign autographs, shake hands with fans and personally thank them for coming by. “Quit hiding, get out and meet the public,” Blair said. “Stop running back to your locker room.”

Community engagement: Stephanie Menio, associate athletic director at Army, talked about making everyone feel important, from the volunteers that staff your games to the residents at the local nursing home. Getting out into the community and meeting people can help put fans in the seats. “You can’t rely on wins and losses to fill the stands,” Menio said. “You have to build a foundation.”

Humanize the team: At Texas A&M, the Aggies put a lot of effort into marketing their players. That means putting their faces on posters and telling their stories to make fans feel a more personal connection to them. Help the fans recognize and relate to the players.

College basketball and WNBA analyst Debbie Antonelli said increasing interest in the game all comes down to scoring more points. She even recommended that athletic directors provide an offensive incentive for coaches. Instead of rewarding them for increased attendance or academics, provide bonuses for benchmarks in shooting percentage.

“If your players spend twice as much time in the strength room as they do shooting, then shame on you,” she said. “Scoring is what’s important.”

She also suggested that women’s basketball should embrace the gambling culture, allowing Las Vegas to host the Sweet 16.

“That gives us an opportunity to shift the way we market the game,” she said.

For more tidbits from the WBCA Convention in Tampa, follow our sister publication Winning Hoops on Twitter.

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