With the start of the Women's National Basketball Association season a few weeks away, both the Los Angeles Sparks and its performers, the Ole Skool Dance Crew, are hoping to take things to a new level.
It will be the first season for the Sparks under its new management. Last year, the franchise was sold for $10 million by Lakers owner Jerry Buss to an investment group led by high school teacher and former entertainment executive Kathy Goodman and O'Melveny & Myers LLP attorney Carla Christofferson both longtime Sparks season ticket holders.
Last season the Sparks drew about 8,000 attendees per game, which is near league average, but the owners feel that can be improved upon.
Being in the second largest media market with a team that's won the league championships twice and has been in the playoffs every year since the Sparks' second season, "we really thought we could do better," Christofferson said. The new owners hope to increase attendance to 14,000 a game over three years.
To achieve that, the owners will try to lure new fans, particularly families, young professionals and downtown-dwellers, by relying on entertainment and event-driven marketing. That's where the Ole Skool dancers a group of 12 women over 40 will play a key role.
"We want to work with them as much as possible. We were always big fans, and they really are a crowd favorite," Christofferson said of the troupe.
Most members of the group are in their 40s, and the oldest is 63-year-old Pat Hagler, a former Marine. They build their routines around "old school" tunes from the 1970s like those from James Brown, Parliament, Sly & the Family Stone and Evelyn "Champagne" King.
"It's a lot of fun; what we do brings people back down memory lane with dances like the cabbage patch, the electric slide and all of those kinds of things," said Traci Hawkins, a 44-year old mother and the group's director.
The dancers were contracted to perform at five games last year, but based on their growing popularity, they will perform at as many as 10 games this season.
Overseen by Johnny Buss, former Sparks president and son of Jerry Buss, for the first three years of its existence, the troupe spun off and incorporated as the Ole Skool Crew Dance Co. Inc. last summer.
Hawkins said she and the group are looking for five new dancers to join this season to bring the total number back up to 12 dancers.
When the season opens on June 8, there will be themed nights for some of the games, like "girls' night out" or "family night." Sparks players and the Ole Skool dancers also attend promotional appearances, pep rallies, community events and meet-and-greets with fans, part of a greater outreach effort to the local community.
For Ole Skool crew's part, Hawkins said a goal is to land more endorsements, other forms of exposure and other dance work, too.
"We're definitely trying to make it a successful business," Hawkins said. "And it's certainly not about the money we make $70 per game. That's gas money and McDonald's, that's it."
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