Sunday, October 25, 2009

Did Northwestern Miss An Opportunity to Promote the Basketball Programs?

This weekend’s football game between Northwestern and Penn State will probably feature the largest attendance of the season at Ryan Field. It is also the only scheduled matchup in Evanston to feature a starting time in the afternoon. Back in 2005, NU took advantage of an evening start against Michigan to showcase both the men’s and women’s basketball teams in an event NU termed Halloween Hoop-la. While the event wasn’t exactly Michigan State’s Midnight Madness, it did feature NU alum Mike Wilbon as MC and was a nice way for some football-only NU fans to get some exposure to both basketball programs.

Given that NU is expected to feature competitive (and potentially very good) teams in both men’s and women’s hoops, I am surprised, and a little disappointed, NU isn’t attempting a Halloween Hoop-la type event this year. Yes, such an event would be impossible with an 11:00 am kickoff, but ESPN did NU a huge favor in scheduling this game for 3:30. Even better, the game was set for 3:30 before the season even started so a basketball preseason event could have been promoted all year long.

If there was ever a year when NU’s men’s team needed early fan support this is it. The Wildcats play a series of tough early season foes either in Evanston or Chicago. The Wildcats take on nationally ranked Butler in just their second game and the non-conference schedule also features Notre Dame (in Chicago) and Stanford at home. The Wildcats also play North Florida on national TV (I’m not sure why), but nonetheless I’d hate for those who tune into to that game on ESPNU to see a ¾ empty Welsh-Ryan. It’s embarrassing for the school and the program.

Given the need for fan support in those early games, and all the others, I am really surprised NU didn’t setup some event to try and promote the hoops squads this weekend. Yes, NU has done some nice things with giving football season ticket holders basketball tickets for both men’s and women’s games, but this is perhaps the one weekend all season when a large collection of non-season ticket holding NU fans are going to be in Evanston. That is the group NU needs to win over in order to pack both Ryan Field and Welsh-Ryan. Please keep in mind, I’m not saying NU needs to turn this people into season ticket holders. That might be impossible, but it doesn’t hurt to try and motivate them to show up to some big games. The games when NU needs the most support. I bet a good percentage of causal NU fans don’t even know that NU is hosting NCAA Tournament media darling Butler at Welsh-Ryan this year. If they did, they might want to show up for the game. They’re showing up for JoePa after all. Sure, you could just give out basketball schedules as people walk in. That would be something to at least cerate awareness. But for people to really connect to the team, it would be nice for them to see the team practice and then hear from the coaches and players as was done in 2005.

I don’t know why NU stopped any sort of preseason event. I’d like to think there was some reason. There were on campus Hoop-la events for students before 2005. They weren’t heavily attended, but they did get the team’s core fan base to interact with the squad and gave the women’s team some moments in the spotlight. It didn’t help attendance much, but more success is expected now. Maybe NU’s athletic depart thought it was a losing proposition, but I can’t really see how. If the team practices from 12-2 and the event starts at 2:30 with a scrimmage what is lost? The gym still needs to be open and the lights still need to be on, so it’s not like it costs extra for the facility. Yes, NU might need some ushers, but NU needs ushers for the football game anyway, so they’re already paying people for that day. Plus, the team still gets a full practice in. That’s the most important thing to me. All they have to do is stick around for another half hour and have people cheer for them. I don’t think many athletes would have a problem with that.

Regardless, we can all still do are part this weekend. If you see NU fans who are showing up for their one game a season remind them about the big basketball game vs Butler. Also, don’t forget to tell them about North Florida on December 16th because there aren’t even going to be student sections to make the crowd look halfway decent on that night.

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