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Promoting Wrestling On and Off the Mat

By Matt Krumrie | Dec. 22, 2016, 1:33 p.m. (ET)

Wrestling is tough. That's why succeeding in the sport is so rewarding. Promoting wrestling can be just as as big of a challenge. But just like in wrestling it takes time and commitment, by creating and implementingsmart promotional ideas, to achieve success.

Danny Struck, head coach of the Jeffersonville (Indiana) High School wrestling team take a year-round approach. He creates a 12-month promotional calendar to help create ongoing buzz and an environment where everyone involved with the program feels like they are contributing.

"Kids want to feel like they belong in a program," Struck says. "Coming up with promotional ideas, and executing them as a team and community, these are all the types of things that help kids feel wanted and like they are part of something special."

There are several promotional ideas that clubs and teams across the country typically use: annual team posters, team yard signs, and special event nights—honoring the military or alumni—are popular choices. But there are other, more tailored options programs have used as well.

This past November, at the University of Oklahoma, the wrestling team presented an anti-bullying message to local elementary schools. Wrestlers met with the students and explained to them what we thought they should do if they were bullied, or if they witnessed bullying. The South Dakota State University (SDSU) wrestling team takes one night a week to work with more than 100 elementary school wrestlers as part of the Brookings Youth Wrestling Association and in January, SDSU will also host a youth dual tournament on its campus.

"We feel it is our responsibility to help these young kids understand work ethic and how much wrestling relates to the real world as they grow older," says Chris Bono, head coach at South Dakota State University.

As President of Sports Career Consulting LLC, Chris Lindauer provides education and instructional materials for sports business educators, primarily at the high school level. Lindauer also consults on high school marketing strategies and host sports marketing events for high school students. No matter how big or small one's program, there is one common theme to successful promotions, says Lindauer. Think like a corporation: Focus on the brand.

"It sounds totally cliché and might even qualify as an overused corporate buzzword these days, but it is important," says Lindauer, author of A Teacher's Guide to Marketing Your High School Sports, Events & Entertainment. Key questions you should be answering: What is the program's image? How do you want your stakeholders (everyone from the student body to community leaders) to view the program? "Going through a process that concentrates on brand building will ultimately help to create goals and streamline any marketing and promotional efforts.”

Promotions that can include the entire student body are important, Lindauer adds. Enlist the help of teachers and students.Can the school marketing or business class help market the event? Can the school band get involved? Can the art class help design some posters?  

"In my experience, the schools that enjoy the most success are the ones who lean on students to help inject a sense of fun and creativity in the promotional planning," Lindauer explains. "I have seen some marketing ideas that originated in high school sports marketing classrooms that have become staples in pro sports stadiums around the country. Believe, me, students are very capable of coming up with some fantastic ideas." 

Mitch Larson is partner and head of Booster Support at Spectator. His organization works closely with booster clubs in all sports, including wrestling, and helps provide clubs with tips, ideas, and best practices for booster clubs, including creating and conducting promotional activities. One popular event he has seen work is the chuck-a-duck event. Sell rubber duckies at the door of the gym before a meet, each one with a number on the bottom. At a break in the meet or tournament, have the audience who purchased a duck throw it at a target in the center of the mat (a hula hoop can be the target, for example). The person (or people) who get their duck in the target win a prize. "The kids love this fundraiser,” Larson says, “and it keeps the whole crowd engaged and having fun when there is a break in the action.”

In addition, it’s important to leverage social media in sharing and promotingyour programs activities and events, says Andres Berrios, who works in marketing for StateChamps, a Birmingham, Alabama-based organization that helps promote high school athletics and activities programs nationwide. Berrios notes that creating and using a team Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat account is an inexpensive and convenient way to promote activities, team news, pictures—everybody loves pictures—to fans, community members, sponsors and more.

"Some of the most successful events we’ve seen this year got momentum rolling with support from student section Twitter accounts, athletic Twitter accounts, and other community members," Berrios notes. "It’s a fast and easy way to relay information about the event, and with a cool image or two the word quickly gets around."

StateChamps offers clients a FanFocus program which actively builds social media ads, posts, and even SnapChat geofilters for featured schools to help build community spirit and drive attendance and excitement for games and events. These geofilters allow schools, teams, and clubs to personalize it for their team, activity or event. With a small budget, one can set up an geographical "fenced" area where fans can access a personal SnapChat filter that applies logos, text, and more over a picture taken through SnapChat. "Kids across the country love it," Berrios says.

Whatever you do, keep it safe, fun and think outside the team. How can you make the experience more engaging for those who are not normally involved with wrestling? How can you promote something the general population would find fun and want to be involved with?

"When those involved with the planning have fun and can pass that enthusiasm along to the students, that energy eventually is transferred to the event which can help galvanize the student-athletes, particularly with more fans in attendance than a typical meet," Lindauer says. "Then, everyone wins."

Struck agrees.“I love this stuff,” he says. “Promoting wrestling is fun, and something we must do to build and grow the sport. Make it fun for everyone, and you will find what works best for your program.”

Struck passes along a laundry list of promotional ideas that his team uses that others may find success with as well. Among the many:

  • Put a team shirt in the school mailbox of every school administrator, coach, teacher, custodian or support staff person.
  • Attend a boys or girls basketball, soccer, or football game as a team. Wear team gear and be loud and supportive.
  • Create a community 5K run to support a wrestling team scholarship fund.
  • Team media day: Host a chili feed or dinner. Invite the community and local paper. Have the seniors on the team talk.
  • Create a team history book and give it out at meets. Seek local sponsors who may advertise to cover costs.
  • Send a monthly email to college coaches providing updates on juniors and seniors on the wrestling team.
  • Military night: Honor local veterans in front of the crowd.
  • Write letters to servicemen from the community—whether former wrestlers or not. Struck has 14 former wrestlers who are in the military—all get letters from the team.
  • Require team members to volunteer/serve at local youth tournaments.
  • Host an annual team garage sale at a local church or community center.
  • Set up a night to have team members speak at a local senior living center. Better yet, see if any residents are former wrestlers and invite them to a dual meet—arranging transportation as needed.
  • Find ways to volunteer at those same senior living centers.
  • Send birthday cards to youth wrestlers in the program, from the high school program.
  • Send birthday cards to people in the community—boosters, supporters, and local business people.
  • Send out holiday greeting cards to fans, community members, and sponsors.
  • Volunteer to participate in a community clean-up event or service project.
  • Put together a float for the town's annual parade or festival.
  • Go to local elementary schools and talk about the team and program to local youth. Encourage them to come to a dual meet.
  • Host a kids night at a dual meet where all kids in the youth program get to step out onto the varsity mat and compete.