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Opinion

Winning teams struggle for fans

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December 9, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, Sarah Hellier wrote about the lack of fans for women’s hockey, and I am about to beat that same path again. It’s not just women’s hockey I’m worried about, but also men’s and women’s basketball. I would love to call the UWRF community the Falcon Faithful, but as the numbers show those don’t exist; it’s more like the Falcon Faithless.

To start with women’s hockey, the Falcons are currently ranked 3rd in the nation in the latest U.S. College Hocky Online poll. The Falcons have spent 30 consecutive weeks ranked in the Top 10 and have made two straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament. The Falcons have started fast at 8-0, yet they are averaging just 250 fans per game. That is 486 fewer fans per game than the unranked men’s hockey team that is just 5-5-1.

The Lady Falcons have also only ever had two games that drew more than 300 fans.  The first one was Nov. 4 2006, against Hamline when the attendance hit an all-time high of 340. The second was Nov. 13 2009, against Gustavus when the Falcons drew 339.

The men’s basketball team also struggles to draw fans. Now, part of that could be attributed to Falcons hoops struggling the past few seasons. They have gone just 39-63 over the past four years. But as is the nature of college athletics, things go in cycles and the Falcons are cycling up once again. They are ranked 18 in the country.

Despite the early success, the only 450 people per game are attending Falcon men’s basketball which is still nearly 300 fewer than the 736 attending each men’s hockey game. Take away the shared attendance game with the women’s team from the Stevens Point game, in which the day’s total attendance counted for both teams, the team is averaging just 256 fans per game. What do the hoopsters have to do to draw the fans? Apparently playing the No. 1 team in the nation at home in a big time conference show down wasn’t enough.

Falcon women’s basketball is also ranked coming in this week at No. 25 nationally. If one takes the attendance numbers at face value it would seem that the women’s hoopsters are fairing much better than their hockey counterparts.

Through four home games the Falcons have averaged 269 fans. That number should be adjusted, however, to reflect the shared attendance day with the men’s team against Stevens Point on Dec. 4. The attendance figures were for those entering the Karges Center over the course of the day, not just for that individual game. Over the course of the day 645 people entered the gym.  However it is pretty fair to say the majority of those were there for the men’s basketball game.

Take away that game and only count the three dates the Falcons women’s basketball team was the lone team playing at the Karges Center and the team is only drawing just 144 spectators per game. Not a very good average for a team that is nationally ranked.

So men’s basketball is averaging 450, women’s hockey 250, women’s basketball 144 and all three teams are nationally ranked. Meanwhile, men’s hockey is unranked yet has drawn 736 fans per game. It would appear that the River Falls Community and UWRF students are biased towards the men’s hockey team. I’m not calling for a boycott of men’s hockey, heck I’d like to see the average attendance eclipse 1,000. It makes the atmosphere even better when calling the game on the radio. But we need to make a commitment as a school and as a community to support our nationally ranked and very talented student-athletes in other sports as well.

Robert Silvers is a student at UW-River Falls.