NCAA tournament perfect time for a vasectomy, urologists say
■ Practices create special promotions for the procedure that sell men on the benefits of recovering while watching basketball.
As men start thinking about filling out brackets for the NCAA basketball tournament pool, some urologists are trying to get their attention by marketing March Madness as a great time to get a vasectomy.
After all, men, if you're going to do something that requires you to sit around in a bathrobe, doing nothing for two days, why not do it when there's wall-to-wall basketball on TV?
For a growing number of urology practices, tournament time has become key to marketing a procedure that many men put off or avoid out of -- shall we say -- sensitivity. And because many men meet a urologist for the first time through a vasectomy, the practices find it a great way to get their names out to new patients.
"It's gotten a few guys in the door," said Keith McLeod, administrator of three-physician Northeast Georgia Urological Associates in Gainesville, Ga., which started its tournament-related marketing in 2009. Northeast Georgia's marketing materials note that getting a vasectomy before the tournament is a great way for men "to get waited on hand and foot" while they're watching sports.
"But more importantly, it's gotten us noticed. We've got a little more name recognition around the community. We're having fun with a common, safe procedure. I find that urologists are very humorous and creative when it comes to this stuff."
Other practices have similar pitches. Come in before the tournament, and come out with your vasectomy and a survival kit: coupons for free delivered pizza or other food discounts, a sports magazine, and a bag of frozen peas (for recovery, not for dinner).
"I got Chopped"
For its promotion, the Urology Team in Austin, Texas -- taking advantage of the celebrity of one of its doctors, Richard Chopp, MD -- is also giving out its "I got Chopped at the Urology Team" T-shirts to all patients, not just those snipped by Dr. Chopp. Vasectomy traffic was up 40% during tournament week at the one office that did the tournament promotion in 2009, so it has been expanded this year to all three Urology Team offices, said community liaison Vikki Smith.
Also, many practices that usually do vasectomies only on Fridays are doing them on Wednesdays and Thursdays for the first two weekends of the NCAA tournament, which starts Thursday, March 18.
This template was set in 2008 by the originator of marketing vasectomies at the same time as the NCAA basketball tournament.
The Oregon Urology Institute in Springfield, Ore., recently had formed by merging two practices, and it wanted to make its name known. So after some initial radio and television advertisements, practice administrator Terry Fitzpatrick suggested to the institute's outside marketing team that the practice wanted a promotion telling men how the pleasure of lying on their backs for two days of basketball would make up for the perceived pain of a vasectomy.
The marketing team wrote a script, and it was read by a local sports radio talk show host on a Friday afternoon. By Monday, the "CBS Early Show" was profiling the practice, and host Harry Smith was waving around a bag of frozen peas and talking about the practice's promotion: "Snip City," a play on the NBA Portland Trailblazers' unofficial "Rip City" nickname.
"None of that, you could ever plan for or predict," Fitzpatrick said. "What we were getting here is that every other patient would mention something to a doctor, 'Hey, I heard that ad. It was the funniest thing in the world.' "
Even before this year's first Snip City promotion began, Fitzpatrick said, five men had cited it as the reason they wanted vasectomies scheduled for that week. The practice also has gotten called by about a dozen other urology practices for advice on how to run such a campaign. Urologists generally credit the 15-physician Oregon Urology Institute for being the first to link the vas deferens snip to the basketball net rip.
That includes two-physician 21st Century Urology in Orland Park, Ill., which is just beginning its first tournament-related promotion.
Tony Mammen, MD, said such a promotion would be a great way to get name recognition for the relatively new practice -- which opened in 2002 -- both from patients and referring physicians. He said he also thought it would be a friendly way to introduce men to urology.
"Our goal is to shed some light on the procedure," Dr. Mammen said. "It's also to show that it is one of the many things we urologists do."
Many practices say promoting vasectomies and basketball is less about convincing men to have the procedure and more about persuading them to have it at their office.
While there are no statistics on the number of vasectomies performed, some practices say the economy has motivated many men to get the procedure done. Various studies show birth rates falling as the economic recession continues, consistent with historical trends that find less child-bearing when the economy is hurting. "Now, more than ever, people can't deal with surprises of extra children on the way," said the Urology Team's Smith.
Beware of trademark infringement
Speaking of surprises, urology practices, depending on how they frame their marketing, could get an unpleasant one in the mail: a cease-and-desist letter from the NCAA.
Chicago attorney Doug Masters, the organization's outside counsel on intellectual property issues, said there is nothing wrong with a practice noting the fortuitous timing between resting on the couch and watching college basketball postseason. But practices can get into trouble if they use NCAA-trademarked phrases and logos -- including "NCAA" -- in their marketing.
So no "March Madness," "NCAA tournament" or "Final Four." And no declaring a practice the "official" or "authentic" home for vasectomies during the NCAA tournament -- companies have paid millions of dollars to get the rights to give themselves some direct tie-in.
Even a slight twist on those words could raise NCAA eyebrows, said Masters, a partner at Loeb & Loeb. He cited, without prompting, one term practices have used: "Vas Madness."
Still, linking vasectomies and basketball is a marketing practice that is expected to expand. Karen Boyle, MD, of Chesapeake Urology Associates in Baltimore, said her practice doesn't have a tournament-themed promotion, but she thinks it's a great idea. Chesapeake's sports-related promotion is concentrated on ads above the urinals at the stadium hosting the NFL's Baltimore Ravens.
Dr. Boyle said some of her practice's vasectomy patients schedule their procedures around their job. But she also noticed another determining factor that might explain why the college basketball tournament is such a marketing opportunity for urologists.
"We find patients who tend to plan their vasectomy surgeries around times where there are good things on TV to watch," she said.