NIU basketball attendance increases: Morris White, NIU draw fans to basketball games with promotions

Junior guard Travon Baker (5) plays in a Feb. 7 game against Bowling Green at the Convocation Center. Morris White, assistant athletic director for marketing and game experience, is hoping an enhanced game-day experience will lure more students to men’s and women’s basketball games.

By Steve Shonder

Morris White, assistant athletic director for marketing and game experience, is hoping free trips to Hawaii, promotional giveaways and charitable donations will bring more students to men’s and women’s basketball games at the Convocation Center.

White, who’s in his first year at NIU, has seen progress in attendance, and he and his staff are attempting to find ways to enhance the game-day experience and get students to the games.

White has focused on helping to create a more energetic atmosphere with in-game promotions and having the band play in the student section while trying to draw more students in through field marketing and promotional giveaways.

Q: At the halfway point of the basketball season, how would you grade yourself on how you’ve done?

A: I think what I would have to do is … grade our team because there’s nothing that I can accomplish without my graduate assistants, my assistant director and my student interns. From a promotional standpoint and game experience standpoint, right now halfway through the basketball season I would grade us at about a ‘B’ or a ‘B-plus.’ More students are starting to trickle in and come to games, and our efforts have increased. We’re starting to see a direct result of that.

Q: How do you deal with attracting students, fighting their apathy?

A: One of the things that we do every week, and what we’ve been doing more recently, is my team goes out and distributes … handbills. They cut them and they go to the residence halls. They go to a lot of the campus buildings and catch students on campus, catch them coming out of class to encourage them to come to the games.

Other things we do: We utilize what we call our ‘A’ frames. We have our signage that we put out and that we put out throughout the course of the year, promoting games, as well. We focus on those high-traffic areas. Earlier this year we began promoting basketball at some of the fall sports last semester. We put it right outside the [Chick Evans] Field House because there’s a lot of students that walk up and down Lucinda.

We’ve attended meetings, so we’ve gone to hall councils meetings this year. We’ve also gone to meeting for [Interfraternity Council] and National Pan-Hellenic, as well. We’ve just tried to get that in front of the students. We’ve sent a number of emails to student leaders, working with the Student Association and [Student Involvement and Leadership Development]. Just making sure that, for as much as we possibly can, students are aware of what’s going on.

Q: Do you feel like you have a little more difficulty getting people out to the women’s basketball games?

A: The unique thing about college sports is that you can never tell what the season is going to tell until it actually starts. For us, it’s not so much difficult as much as it is different. The women’s basketball game is a lot different than the men’s game. For that reason, we have to be creative and unique in our approach to our women’s games. Nonetheless, we still promote them as much as we possibly can if not more than we do for the men’s.

Q: How do you think promotions have helped?

A: The one we know is students like free stuff. Although we try to provide as much free things and items as we possibly can for the students, the thing that we focus on as well is the fun aspect of it, the environment, the engagement pace to it. I think that our promotions and our giveaways have been great throughout the course of the basketball season. We’ve been giving away an opportunity to win a week’s stay in Hawaii. We’re also taking care of — the students’ that win — their airfare to Hawaii at the end of the semester here.

We’ve had DJ Toxic in the student section at our games … which has been tremendous for us; that only enhances it, as well. We’ve had residence hall challenges. We try to get them involved and ask them to come out in full force to show their support and represent, as well.

I think that in-game promotions we try to make them fun and exciting and just keep things fun because the one thing we realize is there’s a lot of different activities students can participate in, so we want to make sure that you feel bad when you miss a Huskie athletic event, whether it’s soccer or basketball or football.

We want [to] provide such an environment that you have no choice but to want to go because you never know what kind of cool things we’re going to be doing.

Q: What sort of plans do you have for the future in basketball?

A: For basketball, we’ll continue to push hard on our Hawaii trip giveaway, and we have a very cool premium giveaway that students are going to be really excited about on Feb. 28 when we have our blackout game. There’s an item that we have under our sleeves that, literally, students will want to be there for.

The other thing that I want students to know, especially for our Greek community, for everyone that’s in a fraternity or sorority — I told them because I know how important their philanthropies are — that when they come to games and they’re wearing their letters and filling up the student section, is that I will personally write a check to the organization that best represents at the remaining men’s and women’s basketball games. I will personally write a check to their philanthropy.

I think a lot of the organizations are excited about that, and I hope they take advantage of the opportunity.

Just this past week we held our residence hall challenge for the women’s game. There were students that when they visited our promotional tent upon entering the game had the opportunity to watch the game from the Nelson Suite. That’s an exclusive space and that’s an exclusive opportunity.

Those students who were there were rewarded with pizza and drinks — I think it was lemonade — and had the chance to watch the game from the Nelson Suite. Moving forward, we’re going to continue to do as much as we can to make things exciting for the students and for all of our fans.

Q: With the Hawaii trip, why is it just a trip for one?

A: There’ll be a winner from the women’s game and there’ll be a winner from the men’s games, but they can take someone if they want. A lot of it comes down to financials. We will reward that NIU student, but if he or she wants to bring mom or dad or someone else they can, but that other person will have to find their own way to get there.

Q: Have you considered providing the big heads for the student section?

A: We have considered bringing out the big heads, but my rule of thumb is: We’ll bring the big heads out once we have a good student section. Right now, it’s been a little bit sporadic. Students are starting to come out, but we want them all to sit in that east end zone. Once we start to fill in those seats we’ll bring the big heads out.

Q: How do you think you can build a little more consistency with attendance?

A: Finding ways to be creative. We’re hitting campus, so to speak, when we promote our games. We’re making sure that for all the different outlets that students have access as it pertains to knowing about games, we’re trying to get into all those nooks and crannies and get the word out. Excitement and the energy is what we want to focus on. We can’t give free stuff away every game, but it has to come from the students. The students have to be the ones that want to be there. They have to be the ones that want to create those traditions and be the catalyst that we need them to be.