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One of the more popular events during breaks of Penn basketball games are the halftime games between local youth basketball teams. 

Credit: Son Nguyen

The game within the game.

The old sports expression usually refers to coaching strategy and decision making, but for Assistant Athletic Director of Marketing and Fan Engagement Denise Fitzpatrick and Associate Director of Marketing and Creative Services Emily Jakimowicz, the expression takes on a different meaning. 

It's their job to plan the promotional games and activities that take place during timeouts at Penn men's and women's basketball games.

“It’s the fun part of our jobs,” Fitzpatrick said.

Although the activities are quite literally fun and games, there is still an immense amount of planning that goes into planning for these breaks in the action.

“Emily for men’s basketball actually sits down and plans out the whole season and kind of puts it together like a tetris game,” Fitzpatrick said.

“For some of the bigger themes that we have for games, we try to get that nailed down at the beginning of the year as soon as we have a basketball schedule,” Jakimowicz said. “We work with our sponsorship team from there to figure out what new sponsors we have on board, what returning sponsors we have, and where their promotions will fit in with those particular games. We have some who have promotions at every game and we have others who have promotions at just one or two games.”

One of the most important considerations that needs to be made when planning these promotional events is the differences between men’s and women’s games.

“[For] men’s and women’s we do have two slightly different philosophies,” Fitzpatrick said. “On the women’s side, we have a little more flexibility in our promotions because they aren't all sponsored, so we often try out new things there,” Fitzpatrick said. “On the men’s side we often are working in conjunction with our sponsorship team on a sponsored promotion, generating ideas and thinking about what our fans are going to like."

“We have to work with time constraints too. In women’s basketball the timeouts are so much longer, so we have so much more flexibility,” Fitzpatrick added. “For the men, we have about 45 seconds to execute our promotions, so most of them are based on a time window.”

While staple events like the layup/free throw/three point contests and the tricycle race are not going anywhere this year, the team has been preparing for a number of new activities for the upcoming season.

“Zavino is a new sponsor this year, so we are doing a dizzy delivery. We started that during football season and are looking to bring it into basketball,” Jakimowicz said. “We are also doing a Jimmy Johns meal assembly relay race — that we haven’t quite figured out yet.” 

Credit: Son Nguyen

When developing new activities they often look for inspiration from other teams and leagues and combine it with their own creativity.

“One of the ones that we really want to try is Hungry Hungry Hippos. If you remember those scooters from elementary school, you kind of have one of those and a person is sitting on top of it they have to use their arms to collect all the balls in the middle of the court. I’ve seen a lot of professional organizations do it,” Jakimowicz said.

“The other one we want to try that we’ve seen professionals do is the giant tic-tac-toe, where you have to make a layup and then you are playing tic-tac-toe against someone else,” Fitzpatrick said. “One of the other ones we’ve looked at is getting a rotary phone and trying to see if a student can actually make a call on it. We look for inspiration in lots of places.”

In some cases the sponsors that they are working with play a role in developing what the activity looks like. 

“Sometimes they come to us and say this is exactly what we want to do and other times they just say, ‘We want to have a promotion and give this prize, you come up with whatever it is,’” Jakimowicz said. 

“For the most part we have a lot of creativity in the process,” Fitzpatrick added.

Once game day arrives, one the most important parts of the process is finding students who are willing to participate in these promotions. 

“We have a group of work studies, interns, and volunteers from Temple that work for us on game day, and they just go into the student section before the game and pick the students most rowdy and excited because they are going to be the most entertaining when they are out there,” Jakimowicz said.

While fans go to the Palestra hoping to watch Penn basketball take home a victory, Jakimowicz and Fitzpatrick are hard at work behind the scenes trying to make the experience between between the game play as fun as the game itself.