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Berry Tramel: OU, OSU must capitalize on free previews

The recent winter weather forced the Bedlam brothers to open their doors for home basketball games. What they found out: Fans still care about the programs.
by Berry Tramel Modified: February 13, 2011 at 6:01 am •  Published: February 13, 2011
A couple of times in the 1990s, rain forced Wimbledon officials to play on the middle Sunday, a session that was not scheduled and therefore unticketed. Which left open to commoners tennis’ royal tournament.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Frey described the wild Sunday in 1997 this way: “They wore dishwasher detergent boxes perched on their heads and tennis balls made into earrings. They did the wave, sang football chants, and frequently failed to fall silent on serve. They cheered in midpoint. They cheered double faults.”

In the last 11 days, commoners have come to Lloyd Noble Center and Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Oh, “commoners” is the wrong word to describe the newest patrons of Sooner and Cowboy basketball, courtesy of the wintry weather.

But the three free-admission games in the last 11 days has given OSU and OU precious insight into their fan bases and what draws people into their gymnasiums.

As snow and ice made travel treacherous, OU opened its doors for free on consecutive Wednesdays, for games at 2 p.m. against Baylor and 8 p.m. against Texas.

That first Wednesday, OSU let down the ropes for an 8 p.m. tip against Missouri.

The Sooners drew crowds of a rowdy 6,000 for Baylor and a standing-room-only 13,000 for Texas.

The Cowboys drew 10,000 for Mizzou. All three crowds generated more atmosphere than has been the norm in Stillwater and Norman this season.

What did the Bedlam brothers learn?

The Cowboys discovered their students haven’t forgotten the route to Gallagher-Iba.

The Sooners learned that interest in OU basketball, despite lethargic attendance and consecutive mediocre seasons, remains healthy on some fronts.

“It proved that there’s still a great deal of enthusiastic interest in Oklahoma basketball,” said OU athletic director Joe Castiglione. “I think it’s great to have those two examples to determine that interest does exist.”

The Sooners’ eternal problem has been getting fans in the door. Even in so-so seasons, OU basketball television ratings are solid, and until this season the Sooners’ season-ticket sales hadn’t dipped.

But the Sooners long have been plagued by no-shows. They had plenty of shows for Texas and, considering the tipoff time, Baylor.

Castiglione referred to an old phrase, “the magic of free,” which he said is especially notable “when attached to something with value.”

Clearly, those games appealed to fans and families who either were economically unable to buy tickets or just didn’t want to spend the money.

But it’s not like OU basketball is a high-priced ticket. The Sooners have done a very good job of keeping their product affordable: some $10 tickets for adults and $5 tickets for kids 12 and under.

Still, seeing those turnouts at Lloyd Noble gives the Sooners pause to figure out how to capitalize on that interest.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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