Tuesday, December 2, 2008

This Season’s Pressing Issue

The Wildcats are 4-1 and other than the obvious disappointment over the loss to Butler I’m pretty happy. However, there is one major issue which cries out to be addressed—student attendance. Last night before the game I watched some of the Big Ten Network’s rebroadcast of the NU-Iowa 2005 game. I was a student then and remember that night as best student fan experience I had at NU. The only other game which comes close was the 2005 football game between NU and Iowa in which it seemed only me and my 500 closest friends were left on the NU side of the stands when Baz hit Ross Lane for the winning TD. (Note: It’s probably not a coincidence my two favorites games involve beating Iowa).

Anyhow, after watching the game from 1/26/05 and then looking at the student section at Welsh-Ryan Arena last night I was struck by the disparity in the number of student fans. Granted, non-conference games always bring out fewer fans, but I believe overall this season has seen the worst student attendance I can remember. I’ve talked with a number of folks who agree with me as well. My cousin who as a student at NU suffered through multiple seasons of less than 10 wins agrees that this year is far worse than those years in the mid-late nineties. Perhaps, the struggles of the last two seasons have reduced student interest, but I’m not sure I buy that argument. I have to say the average college student doesn’t have that long a memory. Folks I knew showed up for the 2003-2004 season even though the 2002-2003 wasn’t impressive. They showed up for the 2003 football season even though 2002 was a total horror show. Besides, while the wins haven’t been over powerhouses, this year’s team has won thus far at home. Now, it is entirely possible the ability to be on ESPN2 will bring out more fans on Wednesday night, however, it is also entirely possible Florida State will beat the ‘Cats handily. If that happens, will any students who showed for the first time come back? I worry the answer might be no.

So what can Northwestern do to get students to show up? I’m not really sure. I think a lot of efforts have been made over the years, but clearly the magic bullet for student attendance has yet to be found. I will say this, though, I think the best people to market to students are other students. Thinking back to my own experience, when I managed to persuade people to attend games with me they usually had a good time. So, I encourage all the students who do show up regularly to try and bring their friends. Also, don’t let them give up on the team after a loss Wednesday. We’ve all seen losses before, part of the great thing about NU fans is we’re tough. A few losses don’t make us give up on our team.

The other major thing I think which can help is creating a great environment in the student section which students want to be a part of. Of course, this is kind of a chicken-egg issue. To do this you need more fans to show up. It’s hard for 30 people to create the same intensity that 500 or 1,000 can. What made that game in January of 2005 so much fun wasn’t just the way it ended. It was the fact that through the whole night I felt a level of intensity reverberating throughout the building. I remember standing in the student section as we clearly rattled Pierre Pierce and he missed critical free throws. I remember trying to read Steve Alford’s lips as he attempted to develop a defense to stop NU and then shouting out what we thought he said as if Bill Carmody could hear us and use what we learned. Alford said something about guarding Vedran close as I recall. Clearly, his players didn’t listen.

Finally, I do want to give serious props to Eric Peterman and the other 35 students who it seems do show up regularly. You folks are great fans and I’m certain the team really appreciates the support. Now, let’s see what we can do about making other students join your ranks. If you need help show them this clip which clearly shows how much fun NU hoops are.

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