By Jeffrey Swindoll
In just about every sport, Baylor excels. Every Baylor team is often in the mix of winning Big 12 championships, and spectator support is ever growing. Baylor’s athletics department is keen on establishing a winning culture on the field of play while cultivating a passionate fan base across all sports.
Last Saturday, Baylor’s acrobatics and tumbling team captivated a record-breaking crowd of 1,453 at the Ferrell Center. From the players to the coaches, there was a feeling of shock that Baylor’s A&T squad managed to draw a crowd of such a great size. There was an evident sense of extra spunk in the players’ performances and the fans cheered like it was a championship meet for Baylor.
The crowd didn’t just appear out of nowhere, though. It took strategic marketing and execution from Baylor to make it work.
Acrobatics and tumbling is a niche sport. It is at a disadvantage to sports like football and basketball, which have gameplay that is more familiar to the average spectator. Contrary to the latter two, which are engrained in American culture, casual fans are less like to understand the intracacies of an A&T meet. However, a marketing move attempted to attack the issue right at the source.
Baylor’s acrobatics and tumbling team capitalized on an opportunity for exposure that, in hindsight, was perhaps the most important piece to Baylor’s plan of getting fans to support the team. They performed at halftime of one of Baylor basketball’s primetime games in front of thousands of fans at the Ferrell Center. The team basically put on an exposé of what fans could expect to see at an acrobatics and tumbling meet.
“Performing at halftime of the men’s basketball game helped us in two ways: we got to experience performing in front of a crowd and introduce this sport to a completely different fan base,” head coach Felicia Mulkey said. “Baylor always has a great following, and we’re looking to increase that even more.”
The halftime show certainly helped with getting fans to attend the meet, but getting the fans to support the team, knowing what they were cheering for was the next hurdle. Before each of the events at the meet, a video would play on the jumbotron at the Ferrell Center, explaining what the event entails and what they should cheer for. Fans were introduced to different members of Baylor’s roster in each of video, adding familiarity and personality to the videos were practical and effective.
From Mulkey’s standpoint, the fan support made a long-term difference for the team’s newbies. The fan support could be a motivating factor for the team as it is in the first stages of its season. Freshmen and veterans alike can use last weekend’s meet as an inspiration.
“I want the newcomers to walk away from [last weekend’s meet] feeling satisfied,” Mulkey said. “All of the freshmen come from highly competitive high schools, whether they competed in gymnastics or competitive cheer. I want them to do well for the team, but I also want them to enjoy the sport because this is the first taste of the sport they are getting. Whenever I talk to the new girls after a meet I ask them if they had a good time. I always like to know what they think.”
The high point of the meet was the final event, the team routine. The routine mixes choreography, music and every previous event into a highly entertaining, three-minute package. By the end of the competition, the fans at the Ferrell Center were at fever pitch. The crowd was on its feet and the players were smiling and hugging each other on the court.
“We’ve really been trying to get our name out there, and so I’m glad that what we’ve been doing has really gotten us a big crowd,” junior base Kalee Garvin said. “Having Baylor around us is the best feeling ever. It makes it so much more worth to know that Baylor is behind you.”
Across the board, the coaches and players were overwhelmed by the support and almost in disbelief of the excitement that now surrounds the acrobatics and tumbling season. Athletes from other Baylor sports, such as Baylor football’s Silas “Salsa Nacho” Nacita and many players from the men’s basketball team, were in the stands to support the team. All around, the Bears drew a crowd they probably could not have even dreamed of performing before.
“I could not be more appreciative,” Mulkey said. “Thank you, Waco. Thank you, Texas community. It was absolutely amazing. That was probably the biggest home crowd I have ever experienced. That just goes out to our marketing department and this community too.”