Gopher women’s basketball tries to bolster attendance

Big Ten womenâÄôs basketball is getting personal. With Gopher womenâÄôs basketball season starting on Sunday , the University of Minnesota is starting to use grant money awarded last spring to improve attendance and promote the sport. The NCAA awarded a $75,000 grant to the Big Ten Conference that will be aimed at getting more people to come out and support their womenâÄôs basketball teams. âÄúI think weâÄôve grown a lot over the years but thereâÄôs still another growth spurt that we want to go through,âÄù Gopher womenâÄôs basketball coach Pam Borton said. The Big Ten Conference also committed $55,000 for its womenâÄôs basketball teams to use on marketing and promotions. For each school to qualify for this money, it must participate in the Big TenâÄôs new, âÄúGet to Know HerâÄù program, which is designed for people to see the non-basketball sides of student-athletes, Andrea Williams, associate commissioner for basketball operations at the Big Ten, said. Elements of the âÄúGet to Know HerâÄù campaign include theme nights, a weekly newsletter, Big Ten Network -produced public service announcements and a Facebook page. Senior guard Emily Fox was featured in one of the public service announcements displaying some of her famous cup-stacking talents. The TV spots will run throughout the season. Seeing players behind the scenes will help fans relate to the team, Fox said, and hopefully that will bring more people in to watch the games. The Facebook group is a great tool to make students aware of it and hopefully that will garner even more support, she added. Minnesota, which renewed 87 percent of its season tickets from last year , consistently ranks very high in attendance because it has offered similar promotional events in the past, Deborah Diamond, assistant director of athletics marketing , said. The University will finalize its marketing plans with the Big Ten in the next couple of weeks, but because the University has typically had good attendance figures, it was difficult to find a new approach, Diamond said. âÄúThe toughest part is getting people who come to one Sunday game to come back a few more times,âÄù Diamond said. Some incentives for fans might include T-shirts, facility tours, free tickets and luncheons with the team. The University will be able to track fans by having them sign up with the âÄúGet to Know HerâÄù fan club. Part of the money has gone toward software for wireless scanners that allow fan club members to scan their card and receive points for each game they attend. To apply for a membership, fans must submit some demographic information, which will help each program find out more about their fan base, Williams said. The Big Ten, which ranked second in attendance by conference last year, was one of five conferences awarded the NCAA grant. Another 12 schools were awarded grants as well. More than 70 conferences and schools applied for the grant and the NCAA awarded approximately $750,000 among the recipients. âÄúWe want to grow the game of womenâÄôs basketball at the grassroots level,âÄù NCAA Division I WomenâÄôs Basketball Vice President Sue Donohoe said. âÄúWe hope these grants will give schools and conferences the extra resources they need to enhance their womenâÄôs basketball program.âÄù