You Don’t Have To Win To Increase Attendance

As a marketer, it’s frustrating to hear people say winning is what brings people to the games.  While I don’t disagree that winning increases attendance, it’s not the only thing.  There are plenty of examples of teams that build a fanbase around what the team represents on and off the court, especially in Women’s Basketball.

My last 11 years working at Northwestern, we marketed a team that had a losing record.  During that time, there was a span where we lost 35 consecutive Big Ten games.  Because of that, no one expected us to have a great crowd at the games.  While it was nice to not feel the pressure of the coaches, administration and fans, it didn’t change how we approached the marketing.  In fact, it just made us work harder.  And with nothing to lose, we took more risks.

In 2007, with the help of our Purple Hair Dare promotion where we set the all-time attendance record for Wildcat Women’s Basketball, we took home the Big Ten’s SuperFan Award for largest attendance increase in the conference.  We took a chance with a big promotion and it paid off.


We sold the roles models on the team and the fun factor of being at the game.  Oh, and our personality of coach who was willing to dye her hair for that day, and many weeks after it turned out!


Of course our fans loved to see the team win, but what we found is the result didn’t matter as long as they gave everything they had each game.  Our research showed that older fans were most proud of the integrity of the student-athletes to win the right way and the younger fans just wanted to hang out with the student-athletes.  During the autograph sessions, I always overheard them talking about being friends with our team, which is testament to the time they spent getting out into the community.

The accessibility of women’s teams is one of the things that makes this sport so marketable regardless of wins and losses.  Grassroots efforts can make a difference when you get everyone on board to accept the challenge.  I would love to hear about your community efforts, promotions that generated attendance during a losing season, a risk you took on a big idea and how you get your team on board to canvas the community.

Tracie Hitz has 16 years of experience working in the sports industry, which includes college, professional, agency and association.  If you want to be a guest blogger, email her at, and join the conversation on Twitter (@TracieHitz), using #WBBmarketing throughout the year.


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