Student view: commuter school, promotions lead to lower game attendance

3,360 fans came to the Vadalabene Center for the Dec. 1, 2018 men's basketball game versus SIU Carbondale. This was a season-high for the Cougars, who normally see an average of 1,456 fans in attendance. 

At many universities, part of the college experience is attending athletic events such as football, baseball or maybe even hockey, but for some schools with a lower sports prevalence like SIUE, few are fulfilling this college ritual.

SIUE Athletics is known for their Division 1 teams, but SIUE itself is perceived more as an academic school when it comes to the student culture on campus.

With a little more than 13,000 students at SIUE, only a small percentage of students attend athletic events.

The Alestle polled students on Facebook and Twitter to ask students how often they attended athletic events. The Facebook poll results showed out of 184 students, 9 percent regularly attend sporting events, while 91 percent attend only a few times or never. 

The Twitter poll revealed that out of 73 students, 15 percent attend games all the time, 30 percent have attended a few times and 55 percent have never attended a sporting event.

 Junior mass communications major Teontae Winters, from East St. Louis, Illinois, said he transferred from SIU Carbondale where there was a larger sports presence. He believes SIUE sporting events don’t have the same social aspect as games at SIUC.

“At [SIUC] when I attended games you would hang out with your friends and have a good time and you can tell that people vibe,” Winters said. “[At SIUE] I don’t really hear about [sporting events] too much, and I never hear my friends or classmates talk about going to any games on campus either.”

Winters said part of the reason he doesn’t attend games at SIUE is because of the lack of promoting the school does for the teams.

“Promoting, I think, would make a difference and I don’t really see stuff on campus saying ‘come to the basketball games,’” Winters said. “At [SIU] Carbondale they had events, raffles, tailgates and initiatives like that to make us aware of when games were, and I don’t really see that here.” 

According to data compiled from box scores, the average attendance for SIUE men’s basketball games in the Vadalabene Center is 1,456 attendees for the 2018-2019 season, with the exception to the game against Carbondale with 3,360 attendees. The average attendance for women’s basketball is 943 attendees for the 2018-2019 season, with the exception of 1,322 attendees against Austin Peay University. 

Athletic departments for surrounding schools with similar enrollment such as for SIU men’s basketball is an average of 4,451 attendees with an enrollment of about 12,800 students. Southeast Missouri State University men’s basketball average is 1,486 attendees with an enrollment with a little more than 11,000 students. Tennessee Technological University men’s basketball average of 1,780 attendees report for the 2018-2019 season with an enrollment of a little more than 10,000 students.

Although SIUE has higher enrollment than these other universities, they still see a lower average attendance at men’s basketball games.

Senior business administration student, of Chicago, and former SIUE men’s soccer midfielder Greg Solowa, transferred to SIUE to play soccer from Ohio State University, where he was also a midfielder. He said playing at a smaller school for three years was different partly because of the enrollment differences between the two schools. 

“At Ohio State there were 60,000 students, and it’s different playing [at a smaller school] in the sense of at Ohio State you had a football team and a big athletic department made up of 1,100 student athletes. At SIUE it’s 300, if that.”

With soccer being the premiered sport in the fall, Solowa decided to come to SIUE where he saw soccer as more highly-perceived.  

“That was one of the biggest reasons I came to SIUE, because the soccer program isn’t overshadowed by a football program and I wanted to come to a school where the culture was kind of all about soccer,” Solowa said. 

Zack Nunn, a senior political science major from Granite City, Illinois, is the public address announcer for men’s and women’s soccer at SIUE. He said as the announcer he sees first-hand the attendance for each game.  

“[Student attendance] depends on the game and who they are playing against. There was a game against SLU that was pretty high [in attendance] and the preseason game where all the freshman students get bused there had a pretty good turnout,” Nunn said. “Other than that the student turnout is decent. It could be better, but I see mostly parents and adults.”

Nunn said now that he’s worked as a public address announcer, he has an interest in SIUE soccer.

“If I wouldn’t have done announcing I wouldn’t go to the games, but now I have an invested interest in it. I know who the players are, and I know the team well compared to other students,” Nunn said.

Solowa said he believes commuting is one reason students don’t attend games.

“Speaking with [my teammates], we believe we would almost get more fans if there was a bus service that would bring students who don’t have cars or a way to the game,” Solowa said. 

Winters said being a commuter makes it hard to participate in on-campus activities.

“Being on a commuter school you are off campus more, so I don’t see a lot of people or participate in activities unless I am in class or on campus,” Winters said.

Solowa said having an interest in sports on campus is a good way to bring SIUE and Edwardsville community members together.

“Sports is the best way to bring the community together,” Solowa said. “The social aspect of getting to know people, talking to people, getting to know the athletes and where they are all from and their culture is a way that sports can connect us.”

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