Here’s some Black Friday advice for the amateur wrestling community from a real-life advertising professional.
You see, long before becoming College Wrestling Examiner in 2009 – or before writing my first wrestling story more than a dozen years ago – this writer was an advertising copywriter. And my actual career background guides the way I look at and write about the oldest and greatest sport.
I got my start writing ads for a Cleveland department store, churning out copy for products for the home — everything from sofas to sheets, TVs to towels – as well as for menswear. The head of the ad department – picture a twin to Dabney Coleman’s character in the hit movie “9 to 5” — had signs placed in the copywriter cubicles which read “Are we making it easy for the customer to buy?”
I may have been the reason for the signs. The boss liked to check the ad copy before it made its way into the “Cleveland Plain Dealer.” One afternoon, he was reading copy for one of my ads, for a recliner. I thought I had done a convincing job of selling that La-Z-Boy… until he asked “What color is the leather?” I had no idea; it wasn’t on the fact sheet supplied by the store’s furniture buyer. “Mark, what about that lady in Parma who wants to order one for her husband by phone? How will she know how it will look in her living room?” Dabney Coleman’s twin asked. Even in that era long before online ordering, he wanted that shopper to know as much about the item as possible, so that it would be easy for her to buy with confidence, sight unseen.
I continue to hold that lesson from three decades ago… and it has transferred to my writing about wrestling. For example, as I write about one of the new, non-WWE pro wrestling ventures that incorporate amateur wrestlers and amateur-style rules, I picture that wrestling fan in Parma who wants to know all she can about the event and its participants… which causes headaches for event producers who have to deal with all my questions. But it’s all for a good cause. When I have the information I need, then I can help “sell” the event to real wrestling fans.
This background isn’t only applicable to Global Wrestling Championships, Flo Premier League, etc. The old ad man in me also feels frustration when he sees poorly attended college wrestling events, and asks himself, “What if they held a wrestling event, and nobody came?”
Sadly, something like this happens more often than it should… especially at the college level. While the wrestling media celebrates sell-out events at places like University of Iowa or Penn State, there are too many college wrestling events where the only fans in the stands are the friends and family of the athletes on the mat.
I think about the time I took a friend to his first collegiate dual meet. He marveled at the fact we had front-row seats, so close to the action, you could swear that you felt the sweat from the combatants. It was the perfect introduction for my friend, a long-time wrestling fan who followed the sport religiously online and from magazines, but had not had the opportunity to attend a college event in person until that dual… akin to a life-long football fan who usually watched on TV at home, suddenly scoring seats on the 50-yard line of her first in-person NFL game. However, for us, there was really no luck involved. We were probably the only people in the stands who weren’t related to the wrestlers. Considering the skimpy attendance, the dual meet could have been held in a small lecture hall.
These days, it’s not enough for anyone putting on any wrestling event – whether it’s a college dual meet, or a new pro wrestling venture – to take inspiration from a beloved movie about baseball: “If you build it, they will come.” You also need more than talented athletes and good coaching. You must have the advertising and marketing skills of Don Draper of “Mad Men” fame to let the world know about what’s going on with your wrestlers… to ensure your mat talent isn’t wrestling in front of empty stands – or blank TV or computer screens.
Thankfully, letting loyal wrestling fans know all about your wrestlers and their matches — and encouraging would-be fans to see why wrestling is so great – is easier than ever, thanks to technology tools. Websites and social media make it possible to reach out to tons more fans and prospective fans in a cost-effective way… while gaining the benefit of actually engaging their audience in a way that’s personal, powerful and compelling.
And, as a key component of any strategy to make it easy for sports fans to buy into wrestling, you still need to keep the press informed… whether you’re affiliated with a college wrestling program or a new pro wrestling venture. Not just local newspapers, radio and TV stations… but national sports media as well, especially the publications, websites, bloggers and online forums that focus on wrestling. Let the media do the heavy lifting of getting the word out about your wrestlers, your schedule, and your results. But don’t make the media go digging for that information. Good old-fashioned press releases before and after an event go a long way to helping a time-crunched wrestling writer to get his/her article about your event out to readers… which should pay dividends in terms of greater attendance, a higher profile among sports events competing for fan interest, and, yes, still more media coverage.
It’s not too late. There’s plenty of time for you to build a bigger fan base… and even greater success. Go ahead… print out a sign that says, “Are we making it easy for the customer to buy?” and hang it up over your desk. Then consider it your mantra and your mission… and keep it in mind in your efforts to promote your program.