Volleyball coach Bob Bertucci can recall a time seven or eight years ago when 400 or 500 spectators would come to his team’s games. During that time, the volleyball team had won three straight Atlantic Ten Conference Championships and appeared in just as many NCAA Tournaments.
In 10 seasons as coach, Bertucci had guided the Owls to nine winning seasons. They have won four A-10 titles overall, and in 2002 advanced as far as the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
But despite guiding the Owls to their ninth-consecutive postseason appearance last season, Bertucci’s team only drew an average of 110 fans per game, nearly 100 below the league average.
The volleyball team was not alone in posting low attendance. Each of Temple’s four fall non-revenue sports failed to meet the average A-10 attendance marks last year. The field hockey team finished within 52 fans of the league average per game, but the volleyball and soccer teams were deep down on the conference rankings.
Temple field hockey finished fifth out of seven A-10 teams drawing an average of 110 fans a game last year. A-10 members, according to conference figures, drew an average of 169 fans a game.
The volleyball team finished next to last in average attendance, one of two Owl teams to do so. Temple volleyball drew 117 fans a game, while the conference drew 204 spectators a game.
The women’s soccer team also finished next to last in average attendance, their 130 fans per game just squeaking past George Washington’s average draw of 119. The A-10 pulled in an average of 293 fans a game.
Men’s soccer faired slightly better, ranking ninth out of 12 teams while averaging 194 fans a game. But they finished 129 people behind the conference average of 323 fans a game.
Fan indifference can not be blamed on lack of success. The men’s soccer team is a back-to-back A-10 semifinalist, while the field hockey team has been to the A-10 playoffs the past two seasons.
Although winning has not brought large crowds here, other schools have seen on-field success translate into higher attendance.
Success in the Stand(ing)s
A common trend between the teams that ranked the highest last fall in average attendance is a reputation of fielding competitive teams.
Dayton ranked highest in average attendance for both men’s and women’s soccer, drawing an astounding 894 and 683 fans per game, respectively. Both squads not only fielded highly competitive teams in 2004, but also historically have produced championships. The men’s team finished second in the A-10 standings last season and owns a .610 winning percentage within the A-10 and two A-10 tournament titles since joining the conference. The women’s team won their fifth A-10 tournament championship last season to go along with their all-time .870 A-10 winning percentage.
“Everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon of someone who’s doing good,” Dayton women’s soccer coach Mike Tucker said.
On North Broad, though, that hasn’t been the case.
Richmond field hockey coach Ange Bradley said she has seen more students become enthusiastic toward her team as the Spiders have built a reputation as winners. Richmond has won three consecutive A-10 Championships, earning the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament every time. They ranked first in average field hockey attendance, drawing 243 fans a game.
“Last year and this year, I’m starting to see [more fans],” Bradley said. “It’s exciting and people want to see it – especially if you score a lot.”
Since joining the A-10, Temple’s non-revenue fall sports have not all been competitive. While the field hockey and volleyball teams have had some success, the soccer teams have not.
The field hockey team owns a .562 A-10 winning percentage along with a pair of conference championships. The volleyball team has won four league titles while posting a .703 A-10 winning percentage.
Entering this season, neither soccer team had won an A-10 Championship, and both teams have an all-time A-10 winning percentage under .500. The women’s soccer team owns a lowly .261 winning percentage in the conference.
The men’s soccer team, however, has shown recent improvements. After eight losing seasons in nine years, the Owls have finished as runners-up in the A-10 tournament the past two seasons.
Senior defenseman Joe Broker said he has seen a change in student interest toward the team since his freshman year, when the Owls won just six of 20 games.
“Especially this year, you kind of feel a buzz around campus, because after our last two years, they’ve been pretty decent,” Broker said. “So I think people are starting to notice us a little bit.”
That poses the question: If the men’s soccer program has shown signs of life, why did they rank so low in average attendance figures?
The Ambler Effect
Last fall, the men’s and women’s soccer teams moved out of Temple Stadium in Cheltenham, Pa., and into a brand-new facility at the Ambler Sports Complex. While the field may be an improvement for the athletes, its location limits Main Campus students from attending home games.
The trek from Main Campus to Ambler takes between 30 to 45 minutes. If students cannot provide their own transportation, they can ride the Temple shuttle to the sports complex.
Tyler School of Art senior Maryanne Forsythe said that she has attended some soccer games at Ambler, but said the distance can be discouraging.
“If your class gets out, you’re like, ‘Oh, the game starts and it’s an hour away.’ But by the time you get there, it’s half over,” Forsythe said.
However, Joe Giunta, Temple associate athletic director for sports administration, said that few students randomly attend non-revenue sports, regardless of location.
“I think they go out because there’s got to be a connection [between a student and a fan],” Giunta said.
At some other schools, however, fans do turn out even without a connection, according to A-10 attendance numbers.
Broker said he has a hard time convincing his friends to attend, because of the distance.
“I live on campus and all the people we talk to, all our friends down at school, … none of them want to drive up here,” Broker said. “It’s almost a 40-minute drive up Broad Street, so I think if it was on campus our attendance would be much, much higher.”
Many A-10 coaches have said their programs benefited from venues located in the heart of their schools’ campuses.
“At [Dayton], the housing neighborhood is right on top of the soccer field,” said Tucker, the Flyers’ coach. “It’s a major plus for us to have our field right there for the students.”
Bradley, the Richmond coach, had a similar sentiment.
“Our field is in the middle of campus,” Bradley said. “So there’s people walking by who see us and start watching.”
Men’s soccer coach David MacWilliams said that if students really want to attend, the administration could find the means.
“We actually have the buses so I think we’ve just got to – with all sports – we’ve got to make sure that everybody knows about it and get them there,” MacWilliams said.
He suggested a promotion, such as an afternoon tailgating party, to promote school spirit.
“I think that’s something we lack at Temple, is that school spirit,” MacWilliams added. “We need to support all the sports.”
Promoting the “Event”
Initially, Bertucci said the Diamond Gems dance team helped to generate the previously large volleyball crowds, but they no longer perform at volleyball games. In addition to seeing volleyball, fans were entertained by the dance team, which helped the Owls’ attendance totals, the coach said.
Bertucci, like some other coaches, said he would like to see his team’s games become more of a social event.
“At least in volleyball, we’re not making an event an event,” he said. “It’s just a volleyball game.”
Bertucci suggested a small pep band, cheerleaders, or the dance team at the games. Hooter, Temple’s mascot, could throw out little plastic volleyballs, he said, and free giveaways would help.
“You go to other places and you’ll see the whole court is blanketed with different gifts,” Bertucci said. “It could be a free meal at the Owl’s Nest, [or] all the things around campus. So when people go back they’re actually coming out with something besides getting the chance to watch a game. So they’re real excited about coming out to watch the next game.”
Xavier holds various promotions at its non-revenue sporting events. Marketing Assistant Ryan Chenault said the Musketeers give away noisemakers, such as ThunderStix or horns to encourage student attendance. During soccer games, Xavier runs a promotion called the “Furious Five Minutes,” in which prizes like replica jerseys or savings bonds are given away if Xavier scores in the game’s first five minutes.
Scott Walcoff, assistant athletic director for marketing, promotions and tickets, said Temple reserves such giveaways for revenue sports, due to the expenses and difficulty in obtaining sponsors. Michael Schlotterbeck, director of marketing and communications at Ambler, said small prizes are handed out as rewards for halftime skill contests at soccer games. Financial concerns limit those promotions, he said.
If financial issues prohibit promotions, Bertucci said the Office of Student Activities is one outlet to turn to for help in promoting games.
Richmond, for example, has found a way to encourage attendance while keeping costs low. Their new Academic Lifeskills and Leadership program encourages each athletic team to participate in the community, such as attending athletic events. If members of the Spiders’ field hockey team attend a men’s soccer game, for instance, they earn points toward a team-oriented prize.
Battling the Big City
La Salle, Saint Joseph’s and Temple make up the three area universities affiliated with the A-10. Just two of their combined fall non-revenue teams, St. Joe’s field hockey and men’s soccer, finished above the league average. Only the Hawks’ field hockey team finished in the top three in the conference in average attendance.
Because of their urban setting, Philadelphia schools face factors that universities located in smaller towns such as Dayton or Richmond do not. Philadelphia offers students four major professional sport teams, historic sights and plenty of entertainment opportunities to enjoy in their free time.
“I think that’s a factor that affects not just our minor sports, but our major sports,” Bertucci said. “[It is] the same thing with the fact that we have at least five or six major universities within Philadelphia that are all trying to get people to come to their events.”
Aside from having students leave campus for downtown entertainment, many other students leave campus after their classes end. Last semester, 79.1 percent of undergraduate students lived in off-campus housing, according to director of institutional research Tim Walsh.
“If you’re a commuter, there’s probably a reason you’re a commuter,” Giunta said, hinting at a student’s stacked work and class schedule. Giunta added that Temple’s commuter-school image hurts attendance, too.
Even though the majority of undergraduates commute to school, 4,992 undergraduate students lived in Temple-sponsored housing in 2004, and that number grew this year. That number is still larger than the total number of undergraduates enrolled at Richmond or Xavier last year. Yet each of Richmond and Xavier’s fall sports teams finished with a higher average attendance.
Although Temple fans must deal with distant venues, limited marketing budgets, and the distractions of city-life, the university’s ability to generate interest in non-revenue sports will most likely increase attendance. A-10 attendance figures show that other schools with fewer students have done it.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.