Monday, August 4, 2008

Olympic Boom

USA Gymnastics is helping its’ member gyms prepare for what they call the “Olympic Boom”. Every four years, after watching hours of prime time coverage of Olympic gymnastics, parents flock to gymnastics clubs around the nation to enroll their kids. Many are hoping that their little girl will be the next Mary Lou Retton, Kerry Strug or Shawn Johnson.

They published a comprehensive marketing plan called The Olympic Opportunity. As a marketing professional, I can tell you that it is fairly well done.

Wrestling will not experience the same boom. This is true, in part, because, unlike women’s gymnastics where every minute of competition by an American athlete will be covered in prime time by NBC, it is likely that only Americans wrestling in medal matches will make it to a coveted time slot. Pre-conceived parental perceptions of wrestling may also be a problem.

I searched the internet to see what USA Wrestling or the National Wrestling Coaches Association might be doing to use the Olympics as a participation growth tool. I found nothing related specific to the Olympics. However, the NWCA has several solid tools on its’ Program Entrenchment page. One of these is a recruiting presentation called The Participation Pyramid. It, too, is a marketing plan of sorts. However, if you compare it to USA Gymnastics’, The Olympic Opportunity, you’ll see that USA Gymnastics focuses on marketing to parents, while the Participation Pyramid is aimed at marketing to potential youth participants.

Will marketing to kids, without approaching parents, successfully increase wrestling participation? I doubt it. USA Wrestling helps its’ member associations reach out to parents with The Parent's Guide to Youth Wrestling. It is well written and addresses most of the misconceptions parents have about wrestling.

Now – I have a question. Please answer honestly. Did you read all the way through The Participation Pyramid or The Parent’s Guide to Youth Wrestling? I didn’t think so. Long, rational, tomes – while well intentioned – are rarely effective marketing tools. You need emotion. You need imagery. Kids need to see the potential excitement of wrestling. Parents need to see other parents enjoying the sport.

So – when the wrestlers are home from Beijing and back in their wrestling rooms or at their coaching jobs do we let the Olympics fade away into memory? I hope not. Our Olympians are from all corners of the country. Medal or not, personal appearances at elementary, middle and high schools will have a lasting impression. This past March I watched as about two dozen kids stood in the lobby of the Cedar Rapids US Cellular Center as Olympic gold medallist, Ben Peterson, passed around his “hardware”. To say they were rapt is an understatement.

In December the Iowa State Cyclones will come to Carver Hawkeye Arena for the annual battle with the Hawkeyes. There are likely to be at least 14,000 fans attending – many of who will be attending their first college wrestling meet. Yes, the meet will provide plenty of excitement. But – why not make it an even bigger event? At the very least there are likely to be four Olympic gold medallists in the building, anyway. Why not invite every living gold medallist from Iowa and ISU to be introduced during the halftime break?

You could do something similar at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

If you love the sport of wrestling – you don’t have the luxury of being a passive fan. We all need you to be an active supporter.

Here’s your first assignment. Invite one non-wrestling friend over to your house (preferably one with kids) and watch Olympic wrestling together. Be the expert commentator. Show enthusiasm. Get us a new fan – and maybe a new wrestler.

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