Sports marketing program to reignite interest

Quite a few students have been disappointed with the dismal attendance records at basketball games, soccer games and other USF sporting events.

“Our teams have been rebuilding, and there needs to be more attendance (at games),” senior Chris Jackson said. “It comes down to school spirit, and we are in more competitive conferences. I’ve heard a lot of excuses.”

As a result, USF’s Athletic Department is starting a campus sports marketing program. The new program focuses on encouraging more students and community members to attend athletic events, especially men’s and women’s basketball.

“(Athletic Director Doug Woolard) brought Kosha Irby in and, believing the program is important, found the money (to create the marketing program),” said Vicki Mitchell, associate director of athletics.

Irby, the new assistant athletic director and marketing and event manager, has been at the Athletic Department for approximately three months. He was hired to create and implement a marketing program that advertises the athletic activities, entertains the students and encourages them to come back to future events.

“The students are the key to how well our teams do, and people need to understand that,” Irby said. “Students are what drive all the energy at our games. If we don’t have students, our players have no energy.”

Irby knows there is a lot of work to be done though.

“It’s an uphill battle, but we have a lot of people here that are going to try to make (our marketing approach) succeed. We really think that we have great opportunities, especially since we are in the Big East. That’s what’s going to put us over the top,” Irby said.

Junior Dustin Hinkel agreed with Irby that the Big East is a major factor in attendance.

“The fact that we are in the Big East conference will definitely help bring people out,” he said. “It’s what you see on all the signs all over campus.”

The new marketing program is planning to increase the number of billboards similar to those around the Bay area. These billboards will tell fans where to get tickets and will provide information about the games. The Athletic Department’s Web site will also be revamped soon and will become an important part of their marketing plan.

The Sun Dome, which Irby described as an “untapped resource,” has already started major renovations, including brand new playing surfaces and video scoreboards capable of showing game highlights and instant replays. The scoreboards are scheduled to be ready in time for the men’s basketball team’s first Big East home game against West Virginia on Jan. 5.

Irby hopes these renovations will help increase basketball game attendance numbers.

“We get more students at football games all the way at Raymond James Stadium than we do at basketball games, where you can just walk across the street,” he said. “I think that is a travesty.”

Along with improving logistics, the Athletic Department also plans to increase the entertainment at the games, be it pregame parties, postgame parties, free t-shirts or contests with prizes valued at hundreds of dollars.

“If the students aren’t excited, the teams aren’t excited,” Irby said. “Then the teams don’t do as well.”

Despite the anticipated potential of the new marketing program and Irby’s energetic attitude, there are still some skeptics.

“We need to get students more involved in the process. I think it’s hard for adults to relate to the students,” Jackson said. “I think that’s one of the reasons Bull Mania didn’t have as good an attendance (this year), because it was run by the people in the Athletic Department who might have lost touch with their student base. Last year, it was fantastic. We had about 8,000 people because it was run by Student Government.”

Irby said the new program is based on what the students want in order to increase attendance and school spirit.

“I want the students to really understand that they are the lifeblood of the games,” he said. “You can go out and spend more money on a Blockbuster movie than it costs you to go to the game and you won’t get the free stuff we offer. If a student doesn’t come to a game, then shame on them; it’s going to be a great time. I don’t want to give away any secrets right now, but people will be really surprised to see how we are really trying to pull this around.”