BY JACK HERMAN
Daily Sports Writer
Published February 16, 2005
After a quick scan around Crisler Arena during any women’s basketball game, one thing ------— or rather the lack of one thing — stands out; there’s no student section.
The men’s team has the Maize Rage, and last year, the women had the Blunatics — which until this year was known as the Bluenatics. The group started midway through the season, and thanks to the help of free admission for students, free Blunatics T-shirts and free pizza, it had a dedicated following of about 20 students by the end of the year. This year, the Blunatics failed to stay intact.
The marketing department looked to start the group early in the season. It had an organizational meeting before the team’s first home game, but not enough support carried over, and it fell apart.
“Women’s basketball faces a challenge,” said Bess Tortolani, director of marketing for the women’s basketball team. “Our basketball fans are obviously also men’s basketball fans. So our students are looking towards the action and excitement of the men’s basketball games.”
Tortolani estimates about 20 students started off the season attending games, but now that number has whittled down to about five or 10. She attributes this to the fact that most students don’t know that attendance and parking at women’s basketball games is free with an Mcard.
“We’ve had a very difficult time reaching out to the students,” Tortolani said. “(Free tickets and parking) are the two hardest things to get across to students. It seems that students are really unaware that this is the case.”
The attendance averaged at 2,715 last year, but that figure has dropped to 2,143 this year. And, the highest attendance of the season, 4,123, came against Michigan State — who brought along a large group of Spartans fans.
Without the Blunatics the marketing department has taken alternate steps to try and increase attendance. Rather than focusing on all the students at Michigan, it has targeted specific student organizations to come to games.
Part of this program has included having various student musical groups perform the national anthem before each game. For halftime, it has brought in different student performance groups to entertain the crowd, such as a breakdancing group and the music-making “Groove.” The Greek system and Dance Marathon have both teamed with the department for upcoming events.
Also the department has looked to bring local residents out to games. It brought in local school bands to perform at the Penn State game. The team sponsored National Girls and Women in Sports Day along with local Girl Scout troops on Feb. 6 and brought in 3,625 fans in the loss to Minnesota. Due to their success, both these events will return next year.
Autograph signing — which also occurred after the Minnesota game — has proven to be effective. When the team signed autographs for fans after the Indiana game, it drew a crowd of 2,348 despite a very heavy snowstorm the day before.
“Our student athletes on our women’s basketball team are absolutely amazing about going into the crowd afterwards and really taking the time to introduce themselves to the fans,” Tortolani said. “We’re still trying to build our fan base, and we’re trying to get people to interact with our student athletes because that’s what women’s basketball is all about.”
Other attempts have been made to get the fans closer to the team. The department created posters of all the players, which are given out as scorecards at every game. It also distributes trading cards of all the players, an idea that Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett suggested.
“When you have pictures of athletes when they were in college, it creates a feeling of knowing this person,” Tortolani said. “We have an athlete like Tabitha Pool, who has a really excellent shot at making it in to the WNBA, so now people have this connection to Tabitha Pool.”
Although many of the recent efforts are aimed at drawing in the local community to games, the team still hopes that a student fan section can be created.
“We would love to have a group of enthusiastic Michigan fans come and say ‘Hey, we’re going to make it our goal to start up the Blunatics this year,’ ” Tortolani said. “Once we’re able to get a group (of 100 to 150 students), we’ll have the T-shirts printed off, we’ll have events with the team, we’ll have events with the coaches at practice.”