As another basketball season approaches, many small colleges and universities are looking for new ways to improve attendance at their women's games. Hope College has already found them.
Last season, Hope averaged 1,546 fans per women's home basketball game--more than six times the NCAA Division III average. This was the best in Division III by nearly 600 fans per game and fell just shy of the record mark of 1,549. Though it owes much of its ticketing success to the convenience and amenities provided by the gleaming new DeVos Fieldhouse, which was constructed in 2006, Hope has also had success in shifting its marketing strategy away from the student body and toward the local community.
"A lot of our marketing is about inviting families to come and enjoy an evening, where they can watch a game and even buy their supper," says Thomas Renner, Associate Vice President for Public Relations at Hope. "We have meal specials and a variety of foods that go well beyond hot dogs and soda. For example, we have a pulled pork sandwich that can't be beat."
There are also many kid-friendly activities. Players and coaches are available after the games to autograph team photos, and youngsters are invited before the game to create signs supporting the team or their favorite player. "Then at either halftime or after the game, we award a prize for the best poster," Renner says.
Hope advertises in the local newspaper before every home game, offering clippable coupons for promotions such as a dollar off a box of popcorn or two-for-one tickets. Renner also taps into the success of the school's men's program by offering a combined season ticket package for men's and women's games. "This has drawn quite a few fans of the men's team over to the women's game," he says.
With attendance soaring, the team's play has followed suit, with the women winning 96 of their last 98 home games. "We don't do this to generate income," Renner says. "In fact, we give a lot of tickets away to school and church groups. The efforts are to build the crowd and provide a great atmosphere for our players and fans."