Boisterous tailgates. Roaring crowds. Student pride is the hallmark of sporting events on college campuses across the country. When game day rolls around, the atmosphere of most college campuses both small and large is transformed. Alumni return to relive their college days and reconnect with old teammates. Students trade in their books for a 30-pack, gaining the courage to burst out in cheers to support their fellow classmates.
However, on the campus of Marist College, game dayis just another day. There is minimal tailgate excitement. There is no hype surrounding the upcoming showdown between rivals. And it’s all manifested in the attendance at sporting venues where athletes and student fans alike commonly describe the atmosphere as “a graveyard.”
Students aren’t wrong about the barrenness of Marist venues. According to the official NCAA attendance numbers released annually, Marist College’s Men’s Basketball program averaged 1,157 fans per game and had 15,049 total fans for the entire 2017-2018 season. With a capacity of 3,200, McCann Arena was only 36 percent filled on any given game day. To put the numbers into perspective with other schools in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), Marist ranks ninth out of 11 schoolswhen it comes to pure attendance numbers, only finishing ahead of Manhattan and St. Peter’s who average 1,069 and 516 fans respectively.
The low attendance rates at Marist Men’s Basketball games are not an isolated issue. This trend also carries over to Marist’s Football program, which competes in the Pioneer Football League. In the eleven team conference, Marist ranks seventh in attendance, averaging 2,289 fans per game. Tenney Stadium holds a maximum capacity of 5,000 fans, and the stadium is typically 45 percent filled on game day.
While these numbers rank Marist fifth in capacity percentage in comparison with competitors in the conference, there are a few factors to take note of. First is the size of the stadiums. As it stands, Tenney Stadium is tied for the smallest in the Pioneer Football League. While Tenney is used exclusively for Marist Athletic teams, other stadiums such as the University of Dayton’s Welcome Stadium and the University of San Diego’s Torero Stadium host high school teams as well as professional teams such as the L.A. Galaxy. The second factor to consider is the ability of schools to release the amount of distributed tickets instead of actual seats filled during the game. Such a reporting system results in the inflation of attendance numbers released by the NCAA.
When informed about the numbers the NCAA has published for attendance, Marist starting center Dan Wittekind said, “That’s a bit more than I thought. Our first two games had big crowds, but after that the crowd died down.”
Although many argue that a losing program may be the issue behind low attendance, the team’s performance does not seem to significantly impact fans’ decision to attend games. During Football’s 2013 championship season, only an average of 24 more people were reported to attend each home game. In addition, the following season saw an average 479 fan decrease, with about 1,830 fans at each game.
The one traditional revenue-generating sport which shows some hope for Marist Athletics in terms of attendance numbers is Women’s Basketball. During the 2016-2017 season, Marist led the MAAC in attendance per game, averaging 1,448 fans, followed by Canisius, averaging 972 fans. However, attendance numbers throughout the MAAC are rather low compared to other Division I conferences in the NCAA. In fact, the MAAC ranks 26thout of the 32 conferences when it comes to attendance, averaging 742 fans per game. While leading the conference in attendance may seem promising, the percentage of empty seats ongame day speaks to a larger concern within the Athletics Department.
“I think attendance can always be better when there are empty seats as a marketer,” said Andy Alongi, Assistant AD for Marketing. “I think there is competition in terms of multiple events on campus, and I think the college does a great job of promoting other events they have going on.”
According to students, the low rates of attendance stem from the atmosphere surrounding Marist sporting events. During pre-game gatherings, Marist Security is said to dampen any school spirit garnered among students due to their diligence. “There is no excitement before the game and often times when people tailgate it is shut down by Marist Security,” said Marist sophomore Alexa Cerza.
Other students speak of the discomfort they feel during games, especially since Marist’s fan base consists of a significant proportion of local families and older people.
“Because of the older generation, there is often older music played,” said Jess King, one of the students who assumes the role of Marist’s mascot, Frankie. “It definitely affects the mood of students, and even me as I get ready to get the crowd hyped.”
The lack of energy definitely affects the players on the field or court as well.
“Honestly, it’s tough,” said middle blocker for the Women’s Volleyball team Stephanie Stone. “Without many fans it is hard to gain momentum, and you always want to win in front of your friends and family.”
“Student attendance is obviously important, and it makes for a good atmosphere,” Alongi said. “I think that in a good competitive environment you can see how student attendance and community support really elevates the play on the court and makes for a great atmosphere and environment for college athletics.”
Acknowledging the importance of student attendance, Marist Athletics has planned several promotions in an attempt to increase attendance numbers. Each year the headline campaign is “Pack the House” which promotes Women’s Basketball and incentivizes students through the likes of free popcorn, raffles and a half-court shot contest for free Lola’s for the semester. “Pack the House”was originally an idea by the NCAA to increase awareness of Women’s Basketball programs. While the NCAA has since moved away from the initiative, it has been successful at Marist, who was crowned the Pack the House National Champions in 2011, and is said to resonate well with fans.
“It’s something that we’ve carried on as a great tradition, and it’s something I think the students have rallied around to be quite honest,” Alongi said. “[The Pack the House 2018 initiative] was the biggest crowd of the season. I thought the game really lent itself to being really great for the fans to see.”
Other promotions the Athletics Department has implemented this school year include Rally Towel night when Men’s Basketball played Rider on February 10, annual autographs from the Men’s and Women’s Basketball players, fireworks after a couple of the football games and Hudson Valley Fresh Milk and Cookies Night.
Despite such efforts, the promotions have not been as successful as desired. This year’s Pack the House event had 2,024 people in attendance, filling about 63% of McCann Arena. This promotion has not sold-out the respective game since the 2015 – 2016 season. Furthermore, the newer promotions such as the rally towels and fireworks are also focused on the interests of the local community rather than Marist students. In short, Marist Athletics continues to fight a losing battle against attendance numbers.