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Twisters don't pass the buck 

Like most new entertainment ventures, the Arkansas Twisters took Alltel Arena and Central Arkansas by storm. And, like those same entertainment outlets, after the newness wore off, the Twisters discovered they had to sell themselves.

Give the organization credit for doing that, and then some. Led by team president Jack Lankford, the Twisters have for the past couple of years attempted to make all eight home games special, with free tailgate parties outside Alltel Arena, free concerts along with the games on the inside, and those types of things.

They’ve worked to synergize with other events, setting up booths with their Sirens dance team at Big Downtown Thursdays shows in the River Market, visiting schools, or making sure to have a presence at Riverfest.

When it comes to marketing, we can’t imagine the Twisters could have done it much better. It doesn’t hurt that, while Central Arkansas bleeds Razorback red in its sporting support, sports fans also tend to like football best. Hockey had a first-year excitement and even two teams at one point, but died here; and apparently the pro basketball RimRockers franchise could vie for the NBA Development League playoffs field an entire team of former All-Southeastern Conference all-stars from Florida and Kentucky and still not fill a quarter of the lower bowl. (That’s sad and a column for another day; suffice it to add that they could put a lumbering overweight former Hog Oliver Miller out there and draw 9,000, especially if it was in concert with celebrating Mark Martin and NASCAR).

Give the Twisters credit, too, for lining up with causes galore around Central Arkansas. While the skeptical may say it’s all part of a marketing scheme to get their name everywhere, the Twisters have followed through with promotions and support for many worthy charities, as well as participation in dozens of community events. In 2005, the Twisters had their hands in more than 140 events, fund-raisers and visits to schools.

Prominent among those was joining up with John Daly for his Make-A-Wish work, in which the money raised goes to make a dream come true for a child with a life-threatening illness. March of Dimes, Arkansas Hospice, ARORA (the organ recovery group), Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute, Easter Seals and many more organizations benefit from Twisters appearances and game promotions.

“We’re doing it because I just believe in it, giving back to the community and helping these charities,” Lankford said. He adds that Twisters head coach John Gregory also has pushed hard for charity and community support in his time here as well as previous stops in Arena Football.

It goes without saying that former Razorbacks, such as C.J. McLain, and former Twisters, such as current NFL player Reggie Swinton, are idolized by the youngsters in this market, and a visit from them brings needed smiles.

Ultimately, though, for the Twisters to continue to draw fans to Alltel Arena, they have to put a fun, and winning, product on the field. Winning early on didn’t necessarily matter, though the Twisters in their first year won big (particularly on the scoreboard). Last year, Lankford had to overhaul the product and make the tough decision of changing coaches in midstream, parting with the popular Gary Anderson and bringing on the veteran Gregory. During the final six weeks of the season, the Twisters began to turn things around, and they finished with two wins and probably the feeling that it would have been nice to start the season again right then.

Now, the Twisters’ seventh season is here, and off to a good start with a big road win and lots of points scored last week.

That bodes well for Saturday’s home opener against Amarillo and the following 14 games, and maybe the playoffs, and it also will help the Twisters to continue to score more points throughout the community.

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