Sports teams are known to give away all sorts of items — from schedule magnets to t-shirts to bobble heads, just to name a few — as inducements to entice fans into attending their games.
All that stuff is nice and people seem to like it. But when it comes to promotions, the best of all is one no marketing whiz can ever top no matter how creative he or she might be.
And the East Carolina basketball team is well on the way to proving it.
The resurgent Pirates are in the midst of a stretch that has seen them win six of their last seven games, with all the victories coming at home and two coming against American Athletic Conference competition.
The payoff for that success could be seen at Minges Coliseum on Saturday, where the crowd of 4,014 that attended the game against SMU was the biggest since the second home date of the season back on Nov. 16 against Liberty.
Even though that’s still only half the arena’s 8,000-seat capacity, the crowd is still a major improvement in the estimation of star sophomore Jayden Gardner.
“I remember last year, barely anybody, barely making any noise (at home games),” he said. “It’s just us working hard, practice every day and it’s finally translating to wins. Pirate fans want to see wins so we’re here for them and they’re here for us.”
There’s a tangible cause and effect to that synergy.
The more people that are in the stands, the better the atmosphere is at the games. The better the atmosphere, the more intimidating the homecourt (or homefield) advantage.
It’s an equation may have had a direct result on ECU’s most recent and by far, most dramatic victory of this rapidly improving 2019-20 season.
Down by 11 at halftime, coach Joe Dooley’s team battled back to take a 68-66 lead on pair of Gardner free throws with 30 seconds remaining. SMU answered with two free throws of its own to tie the game 18 seconds later, setting up a finish that might have blown the roof right off Minges had the place been filled to the rafters.
After a timeout, the decisive final play began with Tremont Robinson-White rushing the ball up the far side of the court. The sophomore guard picked up a nice screen from Gardner at around the 3-point line and made a beeline to the basket.
As he drove the baseline, three SMU defenders converged on him, leaving teammate Tristen Newton spotted up and all alone in the opposite corner for the game winner.
“I thought the guys responded at halftime. We rallied, we just chipped away,” Dooley said after the game. “We had some guys make some big plays, obviously culminating with Tristen’s shot. But there were a number of guys before that that got us in that spot.”
And the sixth man did its part, as well.
The win improved ECU to 8-8 overall and 2-1 in the AAC, marking the first time since joining the conference in 2012-13 that it has had a winning conference record after three league games. Seven of those eight victories have come at Minges, including the last six in a row.
That’s the Pirates’ longest home winning streak in four years, They’ll have a chance to make it seven on Wednesday when Tulsa comes to town.
Given the exciting brand of basketball they’ve been playing and the results they’ve produced of late, there’s a good chance there will be more than 4,014 fans in the stands for the game.
And perhaps at some point this season, if the victories keep coming, those other 4,000 seats might eventually be filled, too.
Because when it comes to sports promotion, there’s no better inducement for drawing a crowd than winning.