Drop in game attendance appears to correlate with EWU student participation


Mckenzie Ford

EWU cheerleaders shout for the EWU men’s basketball team as students cheer in the background. Student attendance is increasing at men’s basketball games, but has been steadily decreasing at football games.

By Randle Kinswa, Sports Reporter

There is a trend on U.S. college campuses concerning athletic attendance.  

Across the nation, college students have attended fewer and fewer sporting events in the last decade.

EWU has seen a drop in attendance at home games the last few years. 

In 2018, the EWU football team had an average of 7,974 people attend home games.

In 2019, the EWU football team had an average of 6,367. 

That is a drop of over 1,600 people on average per game.

On a national level, according to Sports Illustrated, attendance across the FBS fell an average of 7.6% since 2014. Student attendance is as low as it was in 1996. 

In the 2017-18 season, EWU men’s basketball team had an average of 1,628 attend per game. In 2018-19 that number dropped to 1,152. This year, through eight  games, the average is 1,303 per game.

EWU Deputy Athletic Director Devon Thomas said that presently, commuting students and more options for spending free time could contribute to a drop in student attendance. 

“They say (as students) ‘it’s a long ways’ (to drive to Reese Court),” Thomas said. “I think there is just more to do (now) than when I was in college.”

Photo by Jessica Hawley
A sold-out crowd of about 8,600 fans at Roos Field took over the stands at the Inferno for the opening ESPN game on August 23.

The men’s basketball team shuttled students across campus to come to the first game of winter quarter against Montana.

Thomas said that through streaming and other mediums, the athletic department wants to make it easy for people to consume EWU athletics and never have to come to a game. Thomas also said that the ability to watch every game at home for free, and the convenience to not have to leave your house, apartment or dorm, is huge for people. 

 “(When they) play Montana it’s packed in there,” Thomas said. “Just about anyone else… (the student involvement is) about half that.”

Thomas said this is not just a problem at EWU, but a problem nationwide, noting that Gonzaga has struggled in recent years to get more people to show up to games.

 Thomas said another factor is that the school is pulling students from a lot further geographically who don’t have a personal tie to EWU.

Thomas said that the entire Big Sky is struggling to get students to attend games, noting that when you watch other BSC schools play on TV or streaming services their crowds are lacking. Thomas understands that being able to stream a game is convenient. 

Thomas said the strategy that is used at EWU is to go all-in on one big game a year. 

“At our level, you tend to stack all of your eggs in a basket in a big game,” Thomas said. “Show our student athletes a big crowd and hope that the environment and the mob mentality of being there really sparks that fire in people … and hope they come back.”

Thomas pointed out that the men’s basketball team has had success thus far this season, and there is a bit of a rise in student crowds the last few games. Thomas said the team being exciting to watch while winning games plays a part in that rise. 

According to Thomas, the EWU marketing team is doing what they are supposed to be doing. He said the team is trying to see how they can make it fun and party-like at games without taking away from the game itself.

ASEWU President Key Baker shed some light on not just the decline in students attending sporting events, but students being disengaged with the campus as a whole. 

“I think that living off campus is a big component. But something that is just my personal perspective is that students I think quickly get fed up attending here.” -Key Baker, ASEWU President

According to Baker, the recent changes in administration have been very helpful in making the campus more appealing to students. EWU has reportedly been looking to add a position tasked with making EWU more enjoyable.

Baker said the student government has done a great job of promoting its committees. She said that it had a huge number of applicants. 

However, Baker also said that there tends to be a lack of communication between different organizations on campus. She said that ASEWU has had trouble contacting clubs. She said the student government is trying to find a better way to contact clubs, rather than just through email. 

Baker said that more collaboration between organizations could help students become more engaged in events. 

Joshua Scroggins, a resident life coordinator for snyamncut, said at his alma mater, West Georgia, student activities and events were organized differently. 

Students gathered at an EWU with painted faces.

“It was a lot more student led,” Scroggins said. “Students made things for themselves, … so the professionals just kind of provided the money, the logistics, … but didn’t really do much setup.”

Scroggins said the people who attend football games appear to be more alumni than students. He said that he has seen more alumni attend football games at EWU than any institution that he has ever been a part of. 

Technological advances are inevitable, but EWU’s challenge is to convince fans that in-person experiences are irreplaceable.