When the IMLCA announced in June that it was forming a committee to address the continuing decline of Championship Weekend attendance, I was both skeptical and hopeful as to the benefits potentially earned through such an effort: It's great that the coaches are embracing this issue (it does impact their livelihood), but I think -- rightly or wrongly -- that coaches have different avenues to get their thoughts on the desks of decision-makers (especially given the tumult that the NCAA is currently experiencing).
Regardless of what I think, the IMLCA's special committee recently published a white paper detailing some of its beliefs around what Championship Weekend is/should be, and five recommendations regarding what the NCAA -- or, at a minimum, action-drivers involved in Championship Weekend -- should do to stem the attendance downturn. After reading through the white paper, the recommendations include both the valuable and the -- and I'm choosing my words carefully here -- questionable:
1. [R]educe the hosts’ financial guarantee for the championship, thus providing the hosts the opportunity to establish lower ticket prices. The NCAA should take the position that selling 1,000 tickets at $10 is better than 500 tickets at $20. Understanding that the NCAA, the host venue and host institution would need to work together to attract the incremental fan base, it would be important to promote the event as a "can't miss" family weekend.
2. Establish college-student ticket prices. The NCAA should consider allowing host institutions to create college-student ticket prices that would be valid on event day with a college ID.
3. Create site specific logos. The championship logo must be a destination-based design to help promote the “can’t miss” impression. The generic event logo the NCAA created in 2009 does not help sell the event on a continuous basis.
4. Create an in-stadium announce crew to provide live, in-game analysis and interviews that would be shown on the stadium video boards. Live interviews of coaches before the game, halftime. Analysis during timeouts and between quarters. Interviews with non-playing coaches who could provide insight as to strategies each team may try to utilize. Create content similar to what fans watching on television are seeing at home.
5. The NCAA should continue to provide resources to host institutions to create an in-depth grass roots promotional program. Lacrosse is a niche sport. As much as we celebrate the growth of lacrosse, it still is very small compared with other sports. The local and regional grass roots program is extremely important to successfully selling tickets for the championship.
Let's start with the sharp recommendations that deserve all the chicken wings the committee can possibly eat without turning their stomachs into a nuclear waste facility: Items one and five are right on the money; these are two important pieces to the puzzle that have come up time after time and the NCAA hasn't seemed to understand why they are important to the model as a whole. Now, the inclusion of these two recommendations aren't groundbreaking, but they are agenda items that the IMLCA needs to pound into the heads of decision-makers; how this is done is ultimately more important than simply putting them in a white paper that people may or may not read. If the IMLCA can create movement on these two recommendations, the committee will have found success.
After these two recommendations, the establishment of student ticket prices is interesting. I'm not sure, however, that this is hugely important item: How many students attend regular season games (where student ticket prices are on the table)? If students aren't going to regular season games at a reduced rate (or, in many cases, for free), does a reduced student ticket price get those butts in the seats for Championship Weekend, significantly impacting the attendance downturn? It seems to me that the committee's attention should have been turned elsewhere. This is a different kind of approach -- one that I hadn't seen before -- but I think it doesn't find residence with some of the bigger issues impacting attendance. It does, though, have at its core an important feature: Attempting to grow the game and the event to individuals that may not have considered it in the past. So, I think it's 70 percent off-base for the purposes of the white paper, 30 percent compelling.
As for the third and fourth recommendations (site-specific logos and an enhanced in-stadium experience), I'm not sure they drastically change the attendance problem that Championship Weekend faces (and Championship Weekend attendance needs drastic changers). First of all, if anyone chooses to attend an event because of a logo, they probably aren't smart enough to remember when the event is and/or actually show up for the event (shiny things!). Destination-based promotion in terms of event peripherals are a unique idea (like, for instance, having Baltimore- or Maryland-centric things to do in the fan festival), but focusing on logos seems to be so far down the list of attendance drivers that it exists merely in a mist. As for in-stadium production, this is consistently a problem hurled at the NCAA for virtually all championship events that it sponsors, but I highly doubt that this extraordinarily changes the minds of 30,000 potential attendees. If I choose to stay home, it's not because I can only watch Paul Carcaterra conduct a sideline interview on my television; it's for other reasons. I like that the IMLCA is trying to increase the experience of the event, but I highly doubt that is a crucial attend-don't attend driver.