Editorial: Students must lead the charge for basketball attendance

By The Easterner, Editorial Board

EWU men’s basketball has low fan attendance when compared to the rest of the Big Sky Conference.

According to a Feb. 20 article in The Easterner, “Out of the 11 teams in the BSC, EWU is ranked seventh in average men’s basketball attendance pulling in an audience of 1,271 people per conference game this year.”

In comparison, Montana averages 4,389 fans per game, despite having a slightly smaller enrollment than EWU.

This is a problem. The university is working to address the issue, but students are going to have to do our part.

Devon Thomas, EWU’s senior associate athletic director for external affairs, says there has been a lot of effort put into drawing fans.

“We have a marketing director whose primary function is to put butts in seats using a number of different strategies,” said Thomas. “We have some radio, we have billboards. On campus, we’ve had student athletes hand out flyers in the PUB … For the public at large, it is making sure that we’re maximizing in game so that we can cross-promote women’s basketball, men’s basketball, football.”

Men’s basketball does not match the high attendance of football. This isn’t
surprising, as comparing football and basketball isn’t fair. Thomas emphasized that “football is a different beast here.”

“I don’t know if we’re trying to match (the attendance of football with
basketball),” said Thomas. “It’s its own piece. We’ve put quite a bit of focus on students. Our students are really what bring quite a bit of the excitement to our football games. So we’ve put quite a bit of effort into our student population. So there is always some level of giveaway or promotion that is aimed directly at students … We start with students at an
atmosphere standpoint.”

Gonzaga University doesn’t have trouble selling out its men’s basketball
games. It may not be fair to compare EWU’s attendance to a No. 1 ranked NCAA Division I team, especially considering how much larger Spokane is than Cheney, but EWU is playing well enough to see more fans at the games.

There has to be a reason why attendance is so low at EWU. GU has
less students than EWU, but more students attend its men’s basketball
games to the point where students have to camp outside to obtain their tickets.

GU has “sold out every game since McCarthey Athletic Center opened up
in 2004,” according to an email by Todd Zeidler, Gonzaga’s assistant director of athletics/communications.

Dave Cook, Zeidler’s counterpart at EWU, did not want to compare EWU to

“What Gonzaga has accomplished and developed is very special, and admired by many of us for their consistency of success at the league and national level,” Cook said in an email. “We feel like our football
program has developed in much the same way over the years, and our increased attendance and fan involvement has
followed suit.”

So what does EWU football and Gonzaga basketball have in common?

Student energy. EWU football focuses on students, and the public follows. There is only so much the school can do to raise basketball attendance. At the end of the day, we, the students, have to show up.

The burden of raising attendance rests on OUR shoulders. We can’t sit at home and wonder why attendance is so low!