Thursday, June 18, 2009

Highlights of the Week - Uni Loonies Wildcats Marketing Juggernaut

It was a simple idea, but a marketing stroke of genius in sporting history. We're talking about the Uni Loonies, the Perth Wildcats rent-a-crowd supporters who took up complimentary front row tickets to the Perth Wildcats games in exchange for a menacing and contagious presence in the stadium.

Australian Luc Longley, playmate of Michael Jordan and former owner of the Perth Wildcats brought back the idea of the Uni Loonies to Perth when he saw raucous and parochial fans in the US college basketball scene. University students with little to lose would be encouraged to encourage mob mentality against visiting teams in the Perth Entertainment Centre. The result -
  • a massive increase in crowd attendance for the 1999/2000 season,
  • 12-1 win rate for the Wildcats at home,
  • a national award for a television story done on the Uni Loonies
  • free radio and press coverage of Wildcats games
  • and of course, the championship celebrated appropriately on home turf.
Admittedly, I think the Uni Loonies supporters idea was a great strategy because I got free season tickets to the Wildcats and I was involved in coming up with most of the ideas that the Uni Loonies did that season. Surrounded by likeminded fans who would look at you if you weren't chanting with them, rather than the other way around, we egged each other on and made the Entertainment Centre a fearful place for teams. It became a little embarrassing for lukewarm fans too.. imagine three rows of people pointing in your direction because you weren't standing up to support the team.

How to kill a good idea? Get greedy. The Wildcats administration decided to charge us a nominal price for season tickets the next season. That immediately had a massively dampening effect on the enthusiasm of the Uni Loonies. They became like other fans, bandwagon jumpers - cheering on the team when they were doing well, waning support when the team needed the support most. The Wildcats may have received around $4000 in ticket sales from us, but lost the immeasurable effect of turning the Loonies into crowd-pleasers.

Why did it work? The Uni Loonies were given complimentary tickets with the condition that they support the team vocally. This gave the fans more ownership of the team than ever before. If the team lost, these fans would realise they had a part to play in the loss. As a "sixth man" on the court, the Loonies would do anything to help the team win and bring in the involvement of the rest of the crowd. Without perceived ownership, fans become just spectators.

I've decided to post some articles on the Uni Loonies separately as this is getting long, so you can read more about what the press said about the Uni Loonies here. Photos will be posted soon as well.

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