Monday, January 26, 2009

Seeing Red (or Green, Black, Gold, Orange, or Blue) at Welsh-Ryan Arena

The Badgers and their fans will be back this week

This post will focus on attendance at Welsh-Ryan Arena. This is a subject that gets discussed a lot, but it is a topic which has to be on the mind of every Northwestern Athletic Department staffer and fan. Every time I walk into Welsh-Ryan and see something which resembles the picture above I find myself a little disheartened. Welsh-Ryan could be a great home venue, but instead it becomes nearly a neutral site, or depending on the opponent, nearly an opposing team home game. Earlier this year before the Wildcats took care of their team on the court, the Minnesota students in attendance chanted “Gopher home game” as the teams warmed up.

How bad is it?

Clearly the attendance situation at Welsh-Ryan is bad, but I think before possible solutions are discussed we need to figure out how bad. Obviously the visual evidence (as above) shows the crowd disadvantage the Wildcats often face, but I think more specifics can help. Personally this year, I have had what seemed like the entire Purdue student body come down and sit around me. This is despite the fact I am seated in the lower half on the bleacher side of the arena, in what is supposed to be a season-ticket section. The seats next to me, which I would call prime seats, are often occupied by fans from the visiting team. Since many other seats around me are unoccupied as well, these people often have their friends come sit with them as was the case against Purdue. It is a sad statement about the number of season tickets Northwestern sells that these lower levels seats need to be sold to visitors. It is also a sad statement that visiting fans, who aren’t ticketed in the lower section, can come down and sit in them. Perhaps Northwestern’s ushers need to be more on top of fan movement during the game. I notice the ushers always check tickets when people go into the game, but it seems they aren’t making sure people don’t move during the game—at least on the bleacher side. I would also suggest that as happens to premium seat fans at baseball games, that before the game starts, the ushers confirm the fans in the first five or six rows belong there.

Purple Seats

The folks in the purple seats often take heat on their fan performance. It has been pointed out many times the folks in these seats don’t seem to stand up during the fight song and don’t cheer when the team goes on runs. This is sort of true. I look across and see some people in the purple section cheering, but not all. However, I don’t think this is the biggest problem with the purple seats. The biggest problem is the number of seats which are empty or filled by people wearing the opposing team’s color. From the experience of friends, I know it is basically impossible, even for longtime season ticket holders, to get good seats in the lower purple section because allegedly the section is fully sold. However, every game it seems nearly half of these seats are empty or filled with the wrong color shirts. This needs to be correct much more than a few fans who aren’t vivacious enough in their cheering for some. We need to get those seats filled with people wearing purple. How can this happen? Perhaps we should take a lesson from other schools who try and keep track of who fills their season ticket seats. At some schools, the ushers are required to ask where someone got their tickets if that someone isn’t a season ticket holder and is using season tickets. At other schools, video cameras are used to film the seats to keep track of how often seats are used. If a season ticket holder doesn’t use their seat enough, they are at risk of losing them. Perhaps Northwestern should take this approach. I know several season ticket holders in the upper level of the purple seats who have been coming to games for years and every year try to upgrade but can’t. It would be great if they could sit in the lower section of the purple seats as they would actually show up, and, yes, cheer.


The second group of fans who commonly take heat for showing up in small numbers are the students. It is true the student section this year seems smaller than in the past. However, I do think the students who are in attendance this year have been very spirited. Perhaps that is because only the diehards are showing up. Naturally, the first thought from some folks when they see a half empty student section is to ask why aren’t the students who are in attendance brining more friends. Well, as a relatively recent graduate, I’d like to address this a little bit. First off, everybody I knew at Northwestern who regularly attended basketball games tried their best to bring friends to games. Sometimes, it worked and the person became a fan, but more often than not these friends simply lined up about a hundred excuses. At this point it becomes pointless to try and persuade them to do something they don’t want to do. I knew people who were actually big sports fans who never wanted to go to basketball games. Part of the reason was they didn’t want to take the time (little as it is), but also because of certain logistical challenges that if you aren’t invested you don’t want to deal with. For example, when it is zero its hard to convince people to stand outside Kellogg and wait for a shuttle that isn’t exactly known for following a regular schedule. Also, Northwestern’s athletic department could do a far better job than they do marketing the fact a game is going to be played. A lot of students don’t regularly check for the schedule. They are somewhat fair weather fans, but that’s fine as long at they show up a fair amount. When a sign is put outside Norris or an e-mail is sent the day of the game, it is often too late. Students already have plans. I would suggest sending every new student one of those magnetic football and basketball schedules at the start of the year. I would also give schedules away at dinning halls and at Norris as soon as the schedule is set. Maybe in conjunction with e-mails and signs this would create more awareness. I do think the fact many of the in-game promotions are targeted towards students is a good thing, as are the Chipotle coupon giveaways. College students love the chance to get and win free stuff. I would suggest more of that. Perhaps involving more local Evanston restaurants. I can understand why Chipotle doesn’t want to give away as many free burritos as they used to, but perhaps they and other popular restaurants could offer half price or 1/3 off coupons to students at games. I would also encourage a return of ‘Cat Chats and Coach Carmody’s visits to frat house and various residence halls. Getting students to feel like they are really part of the team helps. I loved hearing this football season that Joel Belding sent an e-mail to students asking them to show up at football games. Maybe Sterling Williams can do the same for basketball?

The bottom line is Northwestern needs fan support this coming week because the red masses from Indiana and Wisconsin will invade Welsh-Ryan in their usual giant numbers. If NU is to have any home court advantage it has to start with the students, but the rest of us must do our part as well. Let’s make noise and make Welsh-Ryan as uncomfortable as we can. Hopefully the day will soon come when we will be joined by many more ‘Cat fans.


Black and Purple said...

Many students just don't care to spend time coming to Welsh-Ryan when they have exams, quizzes, papers and the like. My students all say things like, "I felt bad that I missed the game but I had a study group." This is the reason I had a lot more fun at IU than I ever did at NU.

Ryan said...

Yeah, athletics is not as much of NU's culture as it is at other schools. I'd hope that might change, but it'll probably never change dramatically.

Closso said...

One of the biggest problems for student attendance is a lot of the students who would otherwise like to go simply don't know when the games are. I know a few people who say "Man, I wanted to go but I didn't know it was yesterday!" every time I tell them about a game.The athletic department does a terrible job getting the word out.

Lunker 35 said...

How do people not know when the games are? Northwestern does a good job of marketing their schedule. If you're interested print out a copy and put it on your wall. I have a copy in my cubs here at work and I have all of the games programed into my outlook calender.

I've been a season ticket holder since I graduated three years ago and I've turned my partents into rabid fans as well. I come from the city and they meet me from the north shore. We sit in the "young alumni" section above the students. There have been many games where we've been the minority. I also hate that I'm usually the most passionate fan in our section. Something needs to change!

Lunker 35 said...

Any by Cubs I meant cubicle :)

Closso said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Closso said...

Sorry, you're right, the information is readily available to those who seek it out. What I meant was that it's not put out there at all for those people (and I think there are a lot of them) that are interested enough to go to a game if the opportunity is presented to them, but not interested enough to seek it out. And it's hard to become a big enough fan to get yourself a schedule without getting to one game first.