2011 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship: Check out NCAA.com coverage
Marist used a Superhero theme to sell out its game against Niagara.
By Greg Johnson
The NCAA’s “Pack the House Challenge” for Division I women’s basketball showed growth again this year, with 178 participating schools drawing 554,934 fans to designated games this season.
Marist was selected as the overall winner for drawing a sell-out crowd of 3,200 to the McCann Field House in a game against Niagara on Feb. 4. It was the fourth consecutive time that the Red Foxes sold out their “Pack the House” game.
America East – Binghamton
Atlantic Coast – Duke
Atlantic Sun – Florida Gulf Coast
Atlantic 10 – Rhode Island
Big East – Louisville
Big Sky –Sacramento State
Big South – Gardner-Webb
Big Ten – Michigan State
Big 12 – Kansas State
Big West – Pacific
Colonial – Old Dominion
Conference USA – Houston
Great West – Utah Valley
Horizon – Green Bay
Ivy – Pennsylvania
Metro Atlantic – Marist
Mid-American – Central Michigan
Mid-Eastern – South Carolina State
Missouri Valley – Wichita State
Mountain West – Air Force
Northeast – Central Connecticut State
Ohio Valley – Eastern Illinois
Pacific-10 – Oregon
Patriot – Army
Southeastern – Auburn
Southern – Samford
Southland – Texas State
SWAC – Jackson State
Summit – Oral Roberts
Sun Belt – Western Kentucky
West Coast – San Francisco
WAC – Louisiana Tech
Independents – Longwood
The four-year-old initiative encourages institutions to target a select regular-season game to draw a large crowd. The competition-driven idea attracted more than 550,000 fans, which is a 9 percent increase over the previous season.
Duke, Louisville, Michigan State, Baylor, Pacific, Oregon, Army, Navy and Gonzaga also enjoyed sell-out crowds. NCAA staff members selected a winner from each of the 31 conferences (as well as one from independent institutions) with the best marketing plan based on creativity and increased attendance from last year’s top crowd.
The Red Foxes used a promotion centering on a Super Heroes/Villains theme to spice up the event.
“We partnered with a sports and public relations class on campus,” said Frank Lombardy, the assistant athletics director for external affairs at Marist. “There were like 30 kids in the class, and it was their job to promote and market the event to their peers. We market that game on a peer-to-peer level. It is a practical learning experience for the students.”
Fans were asked to come to the game dressed as their favorite super hero or villain. Lombardy said there were plenty of Superman and Batman costumes in the crowd that day.
“We had somebody who painted himself all green and came as the Incredible Hulk,” Lombardy added. “Our cheerleaders dressed up as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
Since Marist has had so much success with its “Pack the House” games, it has become a popular event on campus through the years.
“Everyone kind of knows about it,” Lombardy said. “At the beginning of the season, there is a buzz about it, and people are wondering which game it is going to be. People know it as the ‘Pack the House’ game. We’ve had great success with it from our community and with our students.”
At Duke, which was chosen the winner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the marketing plan hit a range of target audiences, including the Duke student body; faculty and staff (35,000 total); Duke athletics fans and supporters; local and regional youth girl basketball teams; and groups from retirement homes, corporations and alumni. It led to a sell-out crowd of 9,890 for a game against rival North Carolina on March 6.
“Our biggest demographic for women’s basketball at Duke are families,” said Whitney Neil, the assistant director of marketing and promotions at the university. “This is a family-friendly environment. We did a lot of things throughout the game where we try to get the kids to the game.”
To attract employees of Duke to attend women’s basketball games, the school held a season-long competition called the Dean’s Challenge.
“It was to see which graduate program could have the highest attendance,” Neil said. “We’ve tried this approach in past years and decided to bring it back this season. In the ‘Pack the House’ game alone, it brought in about 860 faculty and staff members.”
The Blue Devils also had about 30 former players, managers and practice players attend the game.
Louisiana Tech, the Western Athletic Conference winner, saw its “Pack the House” attendance rise more than 45 percent with a “FAIRwell to Fresno State” promotion Feb. 5.
The game, which featured a carnival-like atmosphere, drew 7,123 fans to the Thomas Assembly Center to see Fresno’s last appearance as a member of the WAC (Fresno State is joining the Mountain West).
Leah Beasley, the assistant director of marketing and game management at Louisiana Tech, had a brainstorming session with an intern to choose the game and theme for the designated game.
“I was playing around with different words and in the middle of the night it popped into my head,” Beasley said. “I typed it in my phone, and we ran with it. I wouldn’t say it was dream, but I woke up and we went with it.”
Beasley contacted a company 45 miles from the Louisiana Tech campus, and they turned the arena’s parking lot into a fairground.
“We had one of the largest Ferris wheels in the nation; it was 70 feet high,” Beasley said. “That was the highlight. The company we were working with came up and said we could do more. We had a giant slide, a tilt-a-whirl and a roller coaster. We had plenty of room in the parking lot for this and roped it off.”
Due to cold weather, some of the tailgating activities took place on the concourse of the arena. The local zoo also helped by bringing in animals for people to see up close.
“They brought chinchillas, small alligators, snakes, a parrot and a goat,” Beasley said.
She also went to the Greek houses on campus to personally invite those students to the game.
The environment produced a fun atmosphere, and the fans were treated to a good game as the Lady Techsters won, 90-84, in overtime.