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California wins ‘Pack the House’ women’s basketball recognition


By Greg Johnson

The NCAA’s “Pack the House” promotions drew 431,436 fans to women’s basketball games during the 2011-12 season.

California was chosen as the overall winner for drawing 7,864 fans to Haas Pavilion for a game against rival Stanford on March 4.

The 5-year-old initiative encourages institutions to target a regular-season game to draw a large crowd with the hopes of exposing more fans to women’s basketball. More than 2.6 million fans have attended “Pack the House” games.

Army, Baylor, Canisius, Delaware, Georgia, Green Bay, Kansas State, Maryland-Eastern Shore Navy, Sacramento State and Stanford drew sell-out crowds for their promotions this year.

NCAA staff members selected a winner from each of the participating 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 Golden Bears’ winning effort was a team-oriented approach, as the entire marketing department set the goal of breaking the program’s “Pack the House” attendance mark. In the past two seasons, California drew about 5,000 fans for this promotional game. They easily met their goal of surpassing that level this time around.

“Everyone came up with parts of our plan,” said Lauren Carey, California’s associate director of marketing and fan experience. “We had a strategy for our website; we had a social media plan and a group outreach plan. We mapped out everything that way and made sure we were reaching as many people as we could to create a buzz around the game. We wanted people to talk to other people about this women’s basketball game being held in the Bay Area.”

Since the game was the last of the regular season, the Bears used a strategy to attract senior citizens to come to Haas Pavilion. Normally, the last regular-season home game is a time to pay tribute to the seniors on the team. But this year’s edition of the California women’s basketball team had no seniors on its roster.

“We positioned it as, ‘Come be our seniors for senior night,’ ” Carey said.

The marketing department reached out to senior citizens communities near their campus to let people know about the game.

“We recognized our senior citizen fans during that game,” Carey said. “It was a something different that we thought we could do.”

The Bears also held a Cal Kids Day promotion, which is a standing promotion for weekend home games. The plaza in front of the arena is filled with items such as an inflatable bounce house and a pop-a-shot game. Professional face painters also are in the area.

The marketing team developed a television commercial and also used the digital board on the Bay Bridge to inform people about the promotion.

At Louisiana Tech, the marketing staff continued a theme from last year: “FAIRwell to Fresno State: The Rematch.” The athletics department staged the parking lot of the Thomas Assembly Center like a fair, including a 70-foot Ferris wheel.

“This year we added the type of trailers you would see at a real carnival,” said Leah Beasley, assistant athletics director for marketing and game management. “We had target shooting, one-on-one basketball and dart games. We also had places where you could get food you would see at a carnival like funnel cakes and turkey on a stick.”

Attendance was 7,034, which helped Louisiana Tech be named the winner of the Western Athletic Conference for the fifth consecutive year. It was the second straight year that the “Pack the House” game drew more than 7,000 fans.

At Kansas State, the marketing plan called for getting the word out early and often. The result was drawing a capacity crowd of 12,528 to Bramlage Coliseum. It was the first sellout there since a 2006 WNIT game and the first in the regular season since 2004. It helped that the opponent was top-ranked Baylor.

“We had it on our pocket schedules, and we contacted season ticket holders through emails and direct mail and told them to invite their friends to the game,” said Sarah Laha, a graduate assistant on the fan experience and sales staff.

Part of the plan also called for a partnership with nearby Fort Riley Army Base.

“We sent some ads and posters to Fort Riley to share with all the units,” Laha said. “We sent a postcard to some former single-game buyers, and some of our donors for the athletic scholarship fund.”

Kansas State also did plenty of in-game advertisements at men’s and women’s games preceding the “Pack the House” game.

“In the month leading up to the game, we also used banner ads and a link to the ‘Pack the House’ game on our website,” Laha said. “On our ticket website when you purchased a men’s basketball ticket, you were asked if you would be interested in purchasing a ticket to the ‘Pack the House’ game.”

Local businesses also advertised the game on their marquees to help build up for the sellout.

“We wanted to use as many different avenues to get the word out,” Laha said.

Conference winners

America East Vermont
Atlantic Coast Virginia
Atlantic Sun Florida Gulf Coast
Atlantic 10 Massachusetts
Big East Marquette
Big Sky Sacramento State
Big South Winthrop
Big Ten Iowa
Big 12 Kansas State
Big West Long Beach State
Colonial Athletic Association Delaware
Conference USA Memphis
Great West NJIT
Horizon Green Bay
Ivy Pennsylvania
Metro Atlantic Canisius
Mid-American Central Michigan
Mid-Eastern Morgan State
Missouri Valley Missouri State
Mountain West Air Force
Northeast Central Connecticut State
Pac-12 California
Patriot Bucknell
Southeastern Kentucky
Southern Georgia Southern
Southland Sam Houston State
Southwestern Southern
Summit Oral Roberts
Sun Belt South Alabama
West Coast Portland
Western Athletic Louisiana Tech
Independents Longwood