Promotions are nothing new
More originality is needed
Come on, who doesn't love bacon?
Answer: Nobody (who has ever tried it; and selected cardiologists).
That's all it took to turn the everyman delicacy into a giveaway promotion at the Kansas State women's basketball home opener last month. And it worked, luring 3,284 people hungry for a cup o' bacon (300 pounds in all) to the Wildcats' eventual victory over Tennessee State -- twice as many fans as last season's average.
Against UTEP two games later, attendance was down to 1,061, and for the SMU game on Nov. 28, it dipped to 235.
This food idea was not without precedent. Several years ago, K-State offered $1 hot dogs at a women's game and ran out before halftime.
More recently, Louisville coach Jeff Walz offered a free beer to the first 2,500 fans (of legal drinking age) to attend a preseason NIT game between the No. 4 Cardinals and LSU. More than 8,000 people showed up.
And Kentucky is offering part-ownership of a racehorse as an enticement to attend its Dec. 22 game against Duke.
Is it somehow unfortunate that schools have to resort to such gimmicks to draw fans? No. 14 Colorado drew more than 2,000 students to its Nov. 20 women's basketball game against Iowa by offering tickets to the men's game against Kansas, which might appall some. But those fans were rewarded with a 90-87 Buffaloes win, no doubt most of them witnessing their first women's game, and some of whom will return for a future contest.
Promotions much weirder than bacon and beer have been dreamed up to draw fans. Minor league baseball teams have been doing it for years. One team once touted "Speed Dating Night." Another had "Mike Tyson Ear Night," where plastic ears were handed out.
And the big leagues also have gotten in on the fun. The White Sox Disco Demolition Night in 1979 was expected to draw maybe 20,000 fans to Comiskey Park, which would have doubled their average attendance at that time. More than 50,000 showed up, and a full-fledged disaster ensued as the outfield was destroyed, police with riot gear had to clear the place and the Sox had to forfeit the second game of their doubleheader.
But hey, they're still talking about it.
The first time, it was clever.
The second time, still fun, and the third time, cheeky. But every time after that? Sorry, but now it feels clichéd and desperate.
I'm talking about the string of promotions, some craftier than others, offered this season by women's college basketball programs in an attempt to lure additional fans into the seats.
This trend seems to have started last spring, when the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA issued their "Man Up" challenge, offering all men free tickets to a game. Now, in the first two months of the college season, we've seen Kansas State offer free bacon, Louisville give away free beer and Kentucky about to raffle off -- get this -- part ownership in a 3-year-old filly named Patinka. (No clue if the horse is good enough to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby.)
My alma mater, Colorado, provided another example of enticing fans to a women's basketball game, but with a giveaway of a different kind. In order for students to secure highly coveted tickets to the men's game against Kansas, they had to attend a women's game -- in its entirety. Note that no one ever said they had to "watch" the game -- just be physically present inside the arena.
This last example, in particular, sets up the idea that watching women's basketball is like eating your vegetables, while the men's game is like dessert.
My overall issue with these types of promotions is that they've become derivative, just copying what you've seen elsewhere. ("Hey, did you see Kansas State gave away free bacon? What if we give away a horse?")
This is not to say they don't create a small amount of buzz -- always good during one of the busiest sports seasons of the year -- but that buzz feels to me like a sugar high. Women's basketball teams develop fan bases by connecting with the community, by doing public appearances, by proving themselves as worth supporting, year after year.
These one-hit promotions for a women's game need to be clever and original -- always. Ideas quickly go from fresh to stale. So instead of the marketing folks figuring out a way to copy Kansas State, they should be asking themselves, "How can we come up with something different?