Athletics needs a boost in attendance

Kelly McCommons

With the NMU football team winning over Findlay last Saturday 41-31, it’s hard to imagine that the stands wouldn’t be packed with students attending and cheering on the Wildcats. Similarly, when the volleyball team swept its home tournament taking all four games against tough Midwest teams, I expected a good number of students to be in attendance. So where is everyone?

Kelly McCommons: Online Editor
Kelly McCommons: Online Editor

This past weekend’s football game attracted 2,327 people to the Superior Dome which included both community members and students — a far cry from the 8,000 it can seat at capacity. The last time the Superior Dome broke an attendance record was back in 2008, when 8,672 watched Northern Michigan University lose to Michigan Tech in a televised game broadcasted on Fox Sports Detroit.  We can fill the Berry Events Center for hockey games (which seats 4,800) and yet can barely achieve that for a football game in the Dome.

Don’t get me wrong — many students do attend NMU athletic events. The stands at the football game on Saturday were filled with students. But only three sections that are set aside for students were filled, one of which was the marching band. By the middle of the second half, half the student section had taken off.

For smaller events like women’s volleyball or soccer, hardly any students show. Over the weekend, the Wildcat volleyball team went 4-0 in the Superior Oasis tournament at the Vandament, but some students in attendance had other incentives to be there. I chatted to  a couple of them before the games who told me they were only there because a health class was giving extra credit for their attendance. Once they made contact with the instructor, they planned to sneak out after the game started.

So how do we fix this? Perhaps make another reason to attend these events besides just for the sport itself. Make them interactive enough that it entices people to stay. Many of us have attended bigger sports arenas and sporting events where they have “fun races,” kiss cams, interactive crowd cams on the big megatron screen, etc. If the university were to invest in a bigscreen, just think of the other purposes it could serve. It would be a great asset to bring bigger and better-attended events to NMU, such as concerts and other events outside NMU athletics. It would also offer new opportunities for local businesses to run advertising during sporting events as well, providing opportunity for financial return.

We could also collectively change the overall culture and attitude.  If you were raised downstate, you probably rooted for the University of Michigan or Michigan State University. Never both.  These are Division I teams, not small regional schools. There is certainly a change of sports culture between Division I and other division. We can’t be bitter and upset with the students who don’t currently care for athletics unless a team has a winning record. People do root for winning teams, but small steps like these can make a big difference in team moral.

There is a reason why students are allowed to attend games for free. Students should want to cheer on their peers.

As NMU celebrates homecoming events and activities this weekend, please be sure that stopping by an athletic event is on your to-do list.