A little thirsty? No time for breakfast? Need a ticket to the big game?
Come on out and see the women play.
From free beer and bacon to in-demand ducats, women’s basketball programs across the country are finding creative ways to attract bigger crowds this season.
The hope is, once more fans check out the action they’ll want to keep coming back. And while it’s too early to tell if these unusual promotions have hooked any rooters for life, there’s no doubt they’re causing quite a stir.
Louisville coach Jeff Walz offered a voucher for a free beer or soft drink to 2,500 fans legally old enough to drink when the fourth-ranked Cardinals faced LSU in the preseason NIT. It was a Thursday night game and Louisville had more than 8,000 people show up.
“I thought it worked out very well,” Walz said. “It was a promotion to say thank you to all our friends. I never dreamed it would turn into such national attention. I was trying to say, ‘The first drink’s on me. Thanks for coming out and I appreciate how loyal you are.’”
Kansas State gained attention a week earlier when the school offered 300 pounds of free bacon to students who attended the women’s team’s season opener. That promotion also worked, bringing in twice as many students as last year’s average. Each student came away with five strips of bacon, and the Wildcats walked away with a victory.
The Wildcats had tried a similar promotion nine years earlier when the school offered $1 hot dogs during a basketball game against Rutgers. So many fans took advantage of the promotion that Kansas State ran out before halftime.
Not this time.
No. 14 Colorado had its own idea of how to draw more students to its home game against Iowa on Nov. 20 — offer men’s basketball tickets for the game against Kansas. More than 2,000 students showed up and saw the Buffaloes win a 90-87 thriller.
“To have the fan support we did was pretty awesome,” Colorado coach Linda Lappe said. “They got a great show and helped us. It was a real advantage having the students there, which made it feel more like a college atmosphere.”
Lappe knows that a loud student section can have a greater impact at a women’s game.
“Men’s teams see it all the time, whereas it’s a lot rarer in women’s games,” she said. “When we first got here we had maybe five students, now we get like 200. The students make it a fun environment for everyone else. They are funny, have great sayings and dress in funny costumes. It’s more entertaining for everyone and definitely adds to the overall experience.”
All three promotions prompted some backlash, whether it be for promoting drinking or making a mockery of women’s sports.
But that comes with the territory, according to Walz.
“There’s always going to be someone complaining,” he said. “I’ve reached out to a few of them and called them. Once they understood what we were trying to do, they wished me a great year.”
Colorado faced criticism that offering men’s tickets at a women’s game was selling its own program short.
Walz didn’t think so at all.
“I thought it was a great idea. We just want fans to come one time and see how good our game is,” he said. “Hopefully, some of them will be impressed how talented the women are and want to come back again.”
Even top-ranked UConn, which consistently is one of the top draws in the country, uses giveaways to try and get more students to come.
Sometimes the teams themselves can be a promotion. Seventh-ranked Kentucky opened its season with games at Marist and Wagner. Both games drew huge crowds.
“It was good,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “I was excited to see a good crowd. To walk into two gyms here in our time in New York — Marist had a packed house, Wagner had a packed house. It’s terrific for us that people wanted to watch a good women’s college basketball game.”
When Louisville played the preseason WNIT final at Oklahoma, fans were treated to a thrilling overtime game. It also served as a chance for a lot of Native American fans to see Shoni and Jude Schimmel. The pair signed autographs for nearly 2½ hours after the game.
“It wasn’t a promotion, but nearly 2,000 Native Americans came out to watch them play,” Walz said.
Other future promotions being discussed around the nation include tacky sweater day and cupcake day.
Hey, bacon is hard to beat.