December 5, 2007

Where are all the Women's Volleyball Fans?

I don't know whether to laugh or cry when volleyfolks wonder where all the fans are for the NCAA tournament. It is painfully obvious - not at the match!

It is like somebody trying to sell a car by parking at some mall out in the suburbs with a little red For Sale sign and wondering why nobody is calling to buy the car! People do not know about it - It is the same with volleyball.

Many sports marketing studies have shown that relatively few fans come to sporting events solely for the competition being featured. They come because of the atmosphere or experience that they have been made aware of via marketing and promotions. They Go because they Know!

When you take a moment and think about it, this makes sense. At a college football game, how many of the student body is there because they are really interested in the football being played? I would bet dollars to doughnuts that 95% of the female students could not tell you what a screen pass is or a free safety blitz. But, the stands are full of students because it is a fun event - there is music, the promotions department gives out stuff, friends can hang out together and people watch.

Just look at the college basketball games that are being featured on ESPN lately (Pac 10/Big 12 challenge) where the all the fans have the same color t-shirt on - did they get a memo from the hoops coach to wear these shirts? No, they were given these shirts by the marketing department because it looks great. The promotions at basketball games are geared specifically to make it an event and provide a great atmosphere. Plus, the potential fans heard by advertisements, radio/tv, fliers, etc., that such promotions will be going on at the game.

Instead of demanding effective marketing and promotional efforts to create an atmosphere at matches, the folks in volleyball just want to rely on word of mouth about how graceful and athletic volleyball is. This mentality explains why only a couple of teams average above or near 5,000 fans a match - how embarrassing that a sport which awards 12 full scholarships and wishes to be viewed as a Flagship sport in NCAA competition will only generate a few programs with respectable attendance. It is disheartening to hear people get excited about having 1,000 people at a match!

Once again, we are being lapped by women's basketball. The NCAA just provided a significant number of grants (free money - tens of thousands of dollars per) to NCAA Women's Basketball specifically earmarked to be used for increasing the attendance at women's basketball games. In effect, the NCAA just super-charged the marketing and promotional efforts on each Division I campus for women's basketball. This means free t-shirts, interesting promotional giveaways, more posters, billboards around town, big advertisements in the newspapers, radio and television spots.

Women's basketball already enjoys the best support of any women's sport in the NCAA and has the best attendance numbers, but the coaches have decided being #1 among female sports was not good enough - they want more people in the stands, they want to create an atmosphere, an event that folks will come to enjoy - not the game of women's basketball, but the atmosphere that surrounds a game.

My hat is off to women's basketball - they are doing what is necessary to garner a larger crowd. The biggest hindrance that women's basketball must overcome is the comparisons to men's basketball - volleyball does not have this shadow - we look athletic, powerful, explosive because folks really can't compare us to men's volleyball. We have a unique standing and are not doing enough to make potential fans aware of our uniqueness.

Volleyball can no longer rely on word of mouth or the latent interest of high school volleyball bringing significant fans to a game. We have to get the word out, we have to create an atmosphere that college students, families, parents, snowbirds, anyone who can make some noise will enjoy.

One team that I think has succeeded and should be an example to all programs is New Mexico State. For a mid-major conference program, located Las Cruces, they have done a fantastic job of creating an atmosphere by committing to a marketing and promotions plan. Detractors may say that they are not in the top whatever rankings of attendance, but they are lapping major conference programs that enjoy larger a campus and community population, not to mention huge budgets.

How can other programs achieve success? We need to stop being silent. Former volleyball players/coaches that are in athletic department administrative positions need to stop being politically correct and support promotional efforts of volleyball (I know from experience, that former women's basketball coaches/players do not hesitate at all); current coaches need to sound like a very loud broken record - keep calling for support and hold athletic department staff accountable; the players must go through the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (the SAAC is at every NCAA DI-DII school) and demand more marketing/promotional support; the parents of players must be vocal in their dissatisfaction with the current fan base at home matches - they need to let the Athletic Director and Senior Women's Administrator know that their daughter deserves the same effort as the football and basketball teams; and finally, the fans that are at matches need to seek out the match administrator (there is one at every match and they usually sit near the official scorers table) tell them the Athletic Department should be doing more to promote the season to potential fans and create an engaging atmosphere.

I have heard that the modern definition of insanity is to do what you have always done and expect a different result. By this, I would suggest that so many of us are insane.

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