In the current economy, teams across all sports have had problems filling their arenas and stadiums. It's even tougher when you aren't winning.
If you don't believe me, ask the New Jersey Nets.
At 5-51, the Nets are playing historically bad basketball. It's not history any team wants to make, and it's devastated already shaky attendance numbers.
This is especially bad timing for a team looking to relocate to a very expensive new arena in Brooklyn.
However, you still need to run the team and still need to pull in money.
Wacky Triple A baseball promotions?
Or free pizza with every ticket?
The Nets have chosen to combine the traditional with the non-traditional.
What's interesting to me about this contest is that it's as much about building an online community via social media as it is about filling seats in the stadium for games.
For those who follow things like trends in social media, this plan of attack is something that is becoming increasingly common. Teams (and quite a few corporations) are looking to build their fan-bases online as frequently as off-line. Further, they are very interested in interacting with those fans more closely than ever.
By forming a fan page on Facebook and connecting (and more importantly talking directly) with their fans on Twitter, the team is also connecting people together who have a common interest: the Nets.
If done well, that social network will build and grow stronger as fans will see the team respond and interact with people just like themselves. If the organization show fans they care, that will build loyalty to the team, which can last a long time.
On top of that, if you build a solid base for an online community and tend to it well, that community will eventually grow into something which can nearly sustain itself.
For a team like the Nets, this is about building a brand for the future, not just building attendance now.
A team that presents a strong brand can withstand difficult times and long droughts when it struggles to win. People are passionate about teams that are brands; they bleed with them, scream for them.
A team that is just that—a team—loses on the court or field and then loses its fans.
The New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Lakers are brands; they draw fans almost regardless of record. Their fans are long-time, hard-core individuals who have stuck with them no matter who is on the field of play.
The Los Angeles Clippers, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Florida Marlins are teams. They've failed to connect with their fans on a basic, brand level. Their attendance waxes and wanes based almost exclusively on their wins and losses.
The New Jersey Nets currently reside in the latter category; their goal is to move into the former.
By emphasizing the online and social interaction with and between their fans, the Nets are trying to build a brand that will be solid for the foreseeable future.