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September 30, 2004

Colleges Turn To Value-Added Promotions To Fill Seats


FROM THE sell–the–sizzle–not–the–steak school of hype, hoopla and razzle-dazzle comes an out-and-out glut of value-added crowd-pleasers that are being adopted one after the other by college athletics programs.

Potential athletics spectators are faced with a burgeoning array of alternate entertainment choices these days. Schools not blessed with winning programs as a draw are scrambling to figure out ways to bring new spectators into their venues.

Then, once the spectators are there, the challenge is to entertain them sufficiently even if the home teams loses and / or the game is unexciting.

Major and minor pro teams have staged decades of experiments, refinements and iterations of seemingly every nuance and tweak to before-during-after game promotions. Thus, there’s basically nothing new out there.

However, schools with marketing staffs savvy enough to understand their target audience can pick from decades of learning from pro team promos and tailor them to their needs.

A 4 page, 4000 word, 13 picture feature in the latest NCAA News lists dozens of examples of value-added promotions designed to keep existing fans and attract new ones.

Among the best, worst and most bizarre of college promotions are the following:

• Music entertainment: Ten high-school bands performed with the Kent State band. Jackson State brought in an R&B; group for pregame, halftime and postgame entertainment.

• Alternate entertainment: fireworks, laser shows, skydiving team, hot-air balloons, etc.

• Giveaways: Magnetic schedules, pocket footballs, T-shirts, etc.

• Chance-to-win freebies: a semester's free tuition, a free computer, cash, book vouchers, tuition vouchers.


Of course, a skilled scoreboard operating crew and a good sound system can go a long way toward entertaining fans during down times of the games on the field or court. Creative video, copywriting, music and narration can engage the crowd and rattle the visiting team. All you need is a million dollar scoreboard and a crew of a half dozen.

Many schools continue to do well with not much more than the low tech beach balls in the stands, T-Shirt rifle shoots into the crowd, frisbie tosses into the stands, human waves, energetic mascot maneuvers, face painting and kids zones.

Football, of course, is the focus of attention, and the goal is to consistently to fill the house. "There's nothing that makes a better atmosphere at a game than a full house," said David Brown, Ohio State University assistant AD.

Only a few teams can count on consitently winning seasons sufficient enough to fill the stands. The rest are obliged to engage in many of the activities listed above to bring people into their house.

Says Gail Moseley, Kent State Marketing Director, "We have to do all of these kinds of things to get people to come. As our program improves, we hope people will come to a football game just for the football."

Hmm.

Or, how about: “I went to a concert and a football game happened.”

That’s entertainment.

(this 485 word excerpt—with attendant commentary—was distilled from a 4000 word Center Piece feature in the NCAA News of 9-27-04)