GRAY: Is 15th the best LSU fans can do?

Are you kidding me? The LSU Athletic Department put out a press release recently stating that the Lady Tiger Basketball team is among the national leaders in home attendance

But after I got past the headline, I discovered that the Lady Tigers rank Number 15, according to unofficial rankings provided by the University of Wisconsin weekly. 

 

The Lady Tigers have arguably the best team ever, flirting all season with the top spot in the polls and all we can put in the stands is a the 15th-best attendance? 

 

Unlike in the past, there has definitely been no grumbling about the level of emphasis on marketing the sport by coaches and fans.  Coach Pokey Chatman has been nothing but complimentary of Athletic Director Skip Bertman's "commitment to market and promote our program at the highest level."

 

But despite that, Seimone Augustus and her teammates are only drawing about 5,000 fans per game. Even our "Pack the PMAC" game only ranked as the 25th largest attended game in the nation and the third largest home crowd for LSU. When a men's team draws 5,000 fans per game, it's not a good sign and people start wanting a new coach.  But with a potential national championship women's basketball team playing every week in our city, we're shouting from the rooftops that, "We're #15."

 

That has a lot to do with the 2003-2004 season rankings.  By comparison, last year's team finished 30th in the nation in attendance, according to the official NCAA attendance figures, averaging only 3,511 per game, despite a very emotional season and thrilling, though heartbreaking Final Four finish.

 

So who are the teams and cities that are rallying around their women's sports?  Of course, everyone expects Tennessee and Connecticut, who have been annual powerhouses with a longer tradition of national championship contending teams. 

 

And at the time I'm writing this, Connecticut is leading the nation in attendance, followed closely by Tennessee.  Texas Tech, New Mexico, Purdue, Minnesota, Penn State, Southwest Missouri State, Kansas State and Texas round out the top ten.  The second tier teams in the top twenty in attendance are Iowa State, Baylor, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, LSU, Michigan State, Jackson State, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Fresno State. 

 

Teams like Southwest Missouri State have a very long history of making women's basketball a priority in their community.  Years ago, I met a group of people from Springfield who spent countless hours working to get local businesses and families to support their team.  It was a labor of love by the local radio station, shop owners and fans.  It was a religion to these people.   But it's a smaller community than Baton Rouge with a lot fewer entertainment options.

 

But despite the increased advertising, in-game promotions, more television exposure and greater commitment by the Athletic Department, we're just not able to drive fans to our games in great numbers with a stick. 

 

The answer?   Who knows?  It is the debate at almost every college marketing meeting in America for schools with good teams and poor attendance figures.   This week, I am in Seattle for a national sports marketing conference with mostly professional team attendance, and no doubt the women's NBA teams will be discussing the same subject. 

 

I say if you have ever considered going to an LSU women's basketball game and found some other reason to stay home and watch the game on television, it's time to get up, go to your car and drive to the Maravich Assembly Center for one of the remaining home games. 

 

If you want to honor the work Coach Sue Gunter has done in building this program, support the Lady Tigers on their quest to bring home a national championship trophy. 

 

If you've heard about the talent of Augustus, do not let this young woman leave LSU without seeing her play – she's better in person than on your TV screen. 

 

There is one thing this program cannot do for itself despite the money, advertising, TV time and talent the coaches and administration have put behind the sport of women's basketball at LSU.  And that is to make this a community that loves women's basketball. 

 

In that instance, the power is with the people.   Can we make this team a leader not only in the national polls but in hometown support as well?

 

As my mother would say to us kids when we asked for something big, "We'll see."

 

---

 

Rannah Gray is a featured columnist in Tiger Rag Magazine. She can be reached by e-mail at Rannah@cox.net.


Tiger Blitz Top Stories