Monday, May 11, 2009

Share wrestling with a friend

Tom Carr has been the wrestling administrative assistant at Michigan State University since 2007. Prior to that he was an assistant coach at Central College in Pella, IA and before that he was on the staff of the Buckeye Wrestling Club. Part of Tom’s work at MSU is developing marketing and promotional programs. He read last week’s “sales letter” from Mark Palmer and wrote a lengthy response which explores the concept of “sharing” wrestling. Here is Tom’s response.

“I think that there are two sides to selling wrestling though. Your responder attacked it very well from the practical side of things in selling it to ADs. But as you said we have to get John Fans butt in the seat!

Because of the decline in male students I believe that small schools are going to add more teams in the next few years in order to attract enrollment. I know from my experience when I was the head assistant at Central College in Pella that there was a huge emphasis on recruiting. Our AD of course wanted good wrestlers. Our Dean of Enrollment just wanted us to have 40 kids in the recruiting class.

At MSU it is about the experience.. We are responsible for having an experience for our athletes and our fans and that is the part of my job that I love the most! I love wrestling and I wouldn't say it is easy for me but when I sat down and made our marketing plan I looked at who we could invite in to be new fans. We reached out to students, local youth wrestlers, and the community around campus.

I talked to a local MMA promoter to ask him how he got thousands of people to come watch amateur MMA fights and one of the things he said that stuck out to me was that he puts his picture on all of the posters because he has people come to the shows because they know him from coaching youth lacrosse, running a charity tennis tournament or his job working for the state.

In promoting and drawing a crowd it is the coaches that are good at inviting other people into the mix and sharing their passion for the sport that are able to build boosters and a fan base. This comes at a price because anytime you invite people in you have to make sure there are barriers that ensure NCAA rules and the athletes life as a student are respected. If you look at the coaches at schools that draw well they have all done a great job of sharing their passion. Brian Smith, Dan Gable, Rob Koll. If you hear these guys talk wrestling they have a passion that gets you excited to watch wrestling. Whether you are a fan or not.

It is like fund raising. No one wants to hear about Muscular Dystrophy but Jerry Lewis is passionate about making an impact and finding a cure. His passion is so contagious that he is able to pull others in. Singers, athletes, politicians, and every imaginable type of celebrity have been pulled in and appear on his telethon. Their star power is huge but more than anything it is Lewis and his will to bring more people into the cause that has allowed them to raise over a billion dollars.

It was the passion of the Magic Johnson (Go Green!) and Larry Bird rivalry that took college basketball and made it a revenue sport. The passion of two of the greatest wills in sports colliding in a little arena in Utah lit the sports world on fire. When it took off the coaches ran with it, reinvested in their programs and fans, and look at it now. At MSU it always amazes me that Magic Johnson didn't play in a 20,000 seat arena. He played in the same 5,000 seat arena we wrestle in! Thirty years later MSU plays in a Final Four in a football stadium that draws close to 70,000 fans.

My father is from Mississippi, a state that until recently had no amateur wrestling. When I was in college my uncle came to visit us and he saw a Dan Gable book I had. He doesn't know what a headlock is but he knows who Dan Gable is and he knew about Gable's passion to compete and 30 years after Gable's Gold Medal he sat there and told me about how hard it was for him to follow what was going on in Germany but he checked the paper every morning to see if Gable had beaten the Russians.

I want to turn this around and ask people. Instead of selling wrestling… How do we share wrestling? I know wrestling has a passionate fan base that will travel anywhere in the country to see the NCAA tournament. Next year the tournament is in Omaha. In a region that supports the sport. How do we get those fans to bring their friends? How do we get an office worker in downtown Omaha to convince his coworkers to go watch some wrestling instead of going out for a beer on Thursday afternoon?

We have to answer that question if we want to grow the sport. A few winters ago I took my girlfriend to an Association of Volleyball Professionals tournament; if they can sell thousands of tickets for a beach volleyball event in Columbus, Ohio in February we can find a way to share wrestling.

One more note. Some places put a lot into the production of their matches. We have to make sure that we do more for the fans that do come so they enjoy themselves and come back. Just putting out a mat and some chairs doesn’t really do very much I could write a lot about this but I will leave it at we don’t have to sell wrestling. We have to share wrestling!

If you want an AD to ad a program bring him to the Iowa/ Minnesota dual in Carver Hawkeye Arena, Bring them to the MYWA Championships, or take him to the Ohio, Iowa, or Pennsylvania State Championships. Share the passion of wrestling with them, invite them in and help them understand the sport. Be positive, don’t talk down to them. Don’t talk about hard work and cutting weight! Talk about the legends, the scoring, and OK maybe a little about how hard the sport is. That is how we can sell the sport and grow the fan base.

Now that we have wrestlers going on to be celebrities in MMA how do we get them to bring their fans to the events? At MSU we definitely get people come check out a match because of Rashad and Gray. We try to capture and keep them. What MMA guys are going to host fan parties in Omaha next year?

So now, here is my challenge before I go back to work. Next year everyone reading this can see a marquee match… A high school or college rivalry, state tournament, or the NCAA finals. Who are you going to share the sport with?"

You can visit Tom's website at

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