At a Division III school with so much going on, attracting fans to games is a difficult task — one that Ithaca College has struggled with.
The stands are never more than half-full at best, and the fans leave as soon as the game seems even a little bit out of reach. The only game people care about is the Cortaca Jug, and we all know that is more about the partying and less about the actual game.
A new group this year is trying to change that narrative, and although it’s a noble attempt to fix an age-old problem, it doesn’t seem like it has had a major impact.
The Blue Crew is a point-based incentive system that rewards students with prizes and giveaways for attending games. It was created by a group of interns who work for the Office of Intercollegiate Athletics, run the Blue Crew social media accounts and work with the sponsors.
When students arrive at a game, they swipe in with their student IDs, and the points are added to their previous totals. Games are valued depending on the sport and competitor. In addition to cumulative prizes, some games feature a “fan of the game,” where one fan is randomly chosen to receive a gift card for Wings Over Ithaca.
Since this is the first year and attendance was not tracked accurately before this, as they did not routinely keep track of fans at each game, there is no quantitative data showing whether or not it has had an impact.
But the system is flawed, and the only people who seemed to clock in consistently were student-athletes or student media members. People can easily come in, swipe and then leave. The people clocking in are probably aware of the events happening within the athletics department and would have most likely gone anyway. So though this is a good system in theory, the Blue Crew hasn’t been able to reach new students.
Part of the problem is that there is so much going on at the college, but that’s true at every school. But if students really, truly cared about being active fans, they most likely would have gone to a big-name school with big-time sports.
Fans attend games to feel connected to their teams, to enjoy the atmosphere and to socialize. However, because Division III games feel more like high school games — sometimes even youth events — the atmosphere is usually mediocre at best. The athletes themselves are fine, but they are our fellow students. It’s just as easy to ask a friend in class how the game went than to go sit in the empty bleachers for two hours.
To attract more fans to games, more needs to change than just creating an incentive. The atmosphere and fan engagement need to drastically improve to make the games a more enticing way for people to spend their time.