On Sept. 16, 2000, the Macalester Football team played Bethel University at home in front of an overflowing crowd of 3,150. Since that day, the largest attendance total at a Macalester College athletic event has not exceeded 2,000 (the 2009 football home opener versus No. 17 St. Thomas). This season’s biggest showing for a football game was 1,037 for the Mayville State game, less than one-third of the total from 13 years before.
In part one of the Apathetic Athletic Attendance series, The Mac Weekly identified a decrease in average home attendance across the board for Macalester athletic events. This week, our focus shifts to methods for improving home athletic attendance. Ideas include sending more e-mails about athletic events, generating increased fan involvement at events through school cheers and free giveaways, featuring halftime entertainment, creating new school traditions associated with athletic events and collaborating with other student groups on campus to perform during breaks in game action.
Below, The Mac Weekly outlines several challenges the Macalester community faces in increasing athletic attendance. With each problem, several potential improvements are offered.
Half of the students in our survey reported “rarely” or “never” knowing when sporting events were taking place. Additionally, 80 percent of respondents’ primary avenue for finding out about when Macalester home events were taking place was through word of mouth. At many larger schools and some smaller ones, weekly emails are sent out to students informing them of the game times, opponents, and promotions at the events. Although the Daily Piper does mention sporting events in its calendar, it is clear this has not been effective as the Daily Piper was the primary avenue of sports scheduling information for very few respondents.
Our survey reports that many Mac fans who are on the fence about attending an event can be persuaded through promotions and giveaways. If executed properly, these promotions can serve as a means of increasing turnout and improving the experience of fans. There are many different routes in which the school could go with these promotions, some of which have been done in the past. They can take the form of free food, Macalester apparel, or games played at timeouts/halftime for grille vouchers or other prizes the school would be willing to give out. If the school is able to get local businesses on board, they could offer coupons to fans or have contests where the winners receive gift cards or other prizes.
In addition to improving the flow of information and incentives for students, the main way to increase attendance must be improving fans’ experience at games and competitions. Although bettering the atmosphere as a means of increasing turnout may be a bit of a Catch-22, as it is necessary to have fans in attendance in order for there to be a fun crowd environment, it is still something to strive for. We have seen some great atmospheres at soccer games, where student sections of 30-100 can be heard in full voice singing “Drink Blood” and “Macalester is Wonderful.” We would like to see this more consistently at soccer games and at other sports as well. There were a few instances at Men’s and Women’s basketball games this season where Macalester fans were outnumbered by the away team’s support. If we can improve the atmosphere at events, perhaps we can get athletically apathetic Macites (which our survey found makes up a large portion of the student body) to attend the occasional game or competition. There are a few ways through which atmosphere could be improved.
According to The Mac Weekly archives, a cheer squad and pep band were created in 1935. The groups maintained popularity until the 1960s. While the pep band has been resurrected several times since then, it has been on a nearly 25-year hiatus. An excerpt from the Oct. 29, 1936 issue states:
In an Oct. 2006 article in The Mac Weekly, women’s volleyball seniors Andrea Hansen ’07, Lauren Eberhart ’07 and Stephanie Nelson ’07 expressed enthusiasm for a pep band re-emergence. “We want a pep band to come to our senior night,” they said.
The revival of a pep band and cheer squad provides a number of benefits. Aside from the opportunities the groups offer to enhance game environments, they also allow for a stronger connection between athletic programs and other campus organizations in the music, theater and dance arenas. This could become a potential win-win for both groups as music and dance performances at athletic events would increase exposure for students participating in those groups, while the addition of those performances would likely increase game attendance as well.
Although the school does boast a fair number of songs and cheers, there is no official anthem/rouser. This would give fans and students something to rally around. One possible example is Scotland the Brave (Scotland’s unofficial anthem), whose chorus is:
Scotland’s blue mountains wild where hoary cliffs are piled, Towering in grandeur are dearer tae me, Land of the misty cloud land of the tempest loud, Land of the brave and proud land of the free.
“Loch Lomond,” often heard at Scottish soccer games, is another song that could fit in well at Mac. Its chorus:
We’ll be coming, We’ll be coming, We’ll be coming down the road. When you hear the noise of the tartan army boys, We’ll be coming down the road.
Regardless of a specific song, it would be neat if the school could have their own anthem or rouser. Perhaps the school could encourage students to write one, as they did in the early 1900’s, when “Hail, Hail, Macalester” was introduced as the school’s anthem.
There are often breaks in the action at Mac sports, where students are left to sit in the stands with nothing happening. Many different options are available in terms of providing entertainment, from music to performances to contests. A pep band would do wonders for timeouts at basketball and football games. There could be musical, comedic, or other types of performances from students at halftime. Other ideas that are seen throughout the world of sports include shootouts at soccer games, shooting contests at basketball and field goal-kicking contests at football. The possibilities are endless. The key is to actually put something into action.
Related to the anthem, fun traditions make fans excited to attend games. Wisconsin has their “Jump Around,” Tennessee has “Rocky Top” and West Virginia has “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” We have the “Jiggalo” and “Macalester is Wonderful” at soccer games, but is more possible? Something for when a team scores a goal/touchdown would be a welcome addition.
One of the upsides to having below-average athletic event attendance over the past few seasons is that the numbers can only drop so far. With a few tweaks, the Athletic Department has the potential to make athletic events into an attractive recreational option for students and other members of the Macalester community.
What would make you or your friends more likely to attend Macalester athletic events? Let us know what you think.