UB offering chance at free semester of tuition to basketball fans

UB and other schools turn to free tuition raffles to boost game attendance

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Athletic programs around the country give away rally towels or T-shirts to get students to come to games, but this season UB is giving away a free semester of tuition.

Maybe it seems off-tilt, but UB isn’t the first athletics program to experiment with such a gimmick to get students in the stands. Because universities around the country struggle to fill student sections, they’re trying out new tactics.

The Athletic Department will be offering a semester of free tuition to a random student who attends men or women’s basketball games this season in an effort to increase student attendance. Each time a student enters Alumni Arena for a basketball game, his or her name will be automatically entered into the raffle.

Other schools have tried similar promotions with some success. UB is hoping this year’s marketing will increase attendance from the average 3,009 fans they pull in per game. Alumni Arena holds 6,100 people.

"We’ve tried to focus on the student body from a game-day marketing standpoint,” said Athletic Director Danny White. “I’m a firm believer that the game-day experience starts and stops with the student section. We need a vibrant, electric student atmosphere.”

White thinks this year’s line of giveaways will bring students into the stands. On Tuesday, a GoPro and local concert tickets were raffled off to patrons that attended the game.

The semester of free tuition promotion will count as 12 in-state credits, worth roughly $6,800. All students are eligible for the prize. White said the money for all of the promotions is coming from private donations to the Athletics Department. International students will receive reduced tuition for fall 2015 and the department is looking into possible cash compensation for graduating seniors.

The lottery will be drawn at the last home men’s basketball game and the winner must be present at the game.

Tuesday’s 77-71 victory over Western Michigan pushed the team’s record to 13-6 for the season and was the largest attendance of the year to date with 3,931 fans.

Akron University, also in the Mid-American Conference, executed a free tuition giveaway to three students at the beginning of the 2014 football season to get them into the seats of their blackout game against Bowling Green.

"We were on a pretty big streak at that point. We wanted to get another incentive to get our students excited,” said Eric Stoller, Akron’s director of marketing. “Every student that scanned their ID when they came in were automatically entered into a raffle. All you had to do was come before the game and stay until the third quarter when the drawing was.”

In an effort to sell more student season tickets, the University of Iowa raffled off free tuition for the entire year to five students. Students who bought season tickets before the season started were automatically entered to win the prize.

“We did it leading into football season in an effort to sell more student season tickets,” said Lisa Pearson, Iowa’s Marketing Director. “We gave away free tuition for a year to five students. That was our biggest prize among the other ones we offered.”

Pearson said the promotion didn’t hugely affect their numbers.

Other prizes included an away game viewing party in the stadium’s press box, gift cards to local stores and free books for a semester.

“We’ve seen a slight decline in our student attendance in the past two seasons, so we’re starting to work on things that will get students to get tickets for the game,” Pearson said. “Before we did this promotion, we were behind on our student output.”

Pearson said they’re starting get ahead, but their student attendance is still low overall. She said it was unclear if Iowa would use the same promotion next football season.

Will Nagengast, a junior civil engineering major, is hoping to snag the free semester. Nagengast, a member of Bulls fan club True Blue, has attended nearly every home basketball game this season.

“One of my friends who doesn’t even like basketball is now coming to the games,” he said.

Students like Tom Marino, a junior finance major, doesn’t expect the giveaways to have a huge impact on attendance.

“I don’t think it will get more people to the seats,” Marino said. “They need to do something, but I don’t think that will do it.”

Austin Trainor, a junior marketing major, thinks these promotions will bring more students to the game.

“I’m not going to complain about a free semester of tuition for going to a basketball game,” Trainor said. “But smaller giveaways or tickets to something in the community would be ideal. I’ve personally enjoyed the free giveaways like the scarves or the blackout T-shirts. It’s about getting students to the game, not just True Blue.”

On Friday, the men’s basketball team will host a blackout game against Kent State that will be aired on ESPNU. The first 1,000 students will receive a free True Blue tuxedo T-shirt and one fan will be eligible to win a pair of Beats by Dr. Dre headphones if they check into the game using the UB rewards app.

There will also be a $10,000 ‘series shootout’ at halftime. One fan will be selected to win the prize if they can successfully sink a lay up, a free throw, a 3-pointer and a half-court shot in under 25 seconds.

“I love that they’re giving a lot more products away,” Trainor said. “It’s getting more people into the seats.”

There will be a tailgate in the LaSalle parking lot from 8 – 9:30 p.m. under heated tents. Tipoff is set for 10 p.m.