In his response to Tom Ingram’s Oct. 8 article “Give us a break,” Mike Still apologized for “trying to put the bulk of the blame on students for not showing up” to Bisons Sports events. While I think Still’s Sept. 30 article was taken out of context by Ingram, Still’s editorial from last March was more critical, arguing that despite incentives encouraging students to attend, “home game attendance is still abysmal.”
I would like to shift the discussion on low attendance at Bisons football home games, specifically the Homecoming game that drew 2,800 fans on Oct. 3 this year.
While Ingram is correct in clearing students of any obligation to attend sporting events, there is an obligation on the part of the university, UMSU, Student Life, and Bisons Sports to instill a culture where Bisons football is seen as a fun, “cool” event. After that, it is up to the students to choose whether to attend games. Ingram comments that Bisons football is only short of league averages for attendance by hundreds, but Bisons Sports are not trying to be average, and this university should not settle for average.
I know several University of Manitoba students who flew to London, Ont. for Western University’s homecoming weekend this year, but did not walk across campus for the Bisons football homecoming game. While this comes across as funny, it highlights a huge issue plaguing our university: lack of school spirit.
Let me clarify, I am not blaming students for this. I’m a student and I would also much rather go to Western’s homecoming. There’s more spirit, more people sporting Mustangs attire – it’s a way better party.
With that culture of spirit, Western had 10,291 fans for their homecoming game on Sept. 26. Western does not have a higher ratio of football fans than the University of Manitoba. Rather, the culture that exists at Western fosters larger support for school events. There are beer gardens and a concert at the U of M during the first week of school, but after that we’re home by 2 p.m. any chance we get.
The low attendance at the Bisons football homecoming game is a microcosm of apathy at the University of Manitoba. Bisons Sports wants more students at their games, the Black Hole Theatre wants more support, UMSU would like more buzz around Mental Health Awareness week, and the Manitoban wants more volunteers.
I believe that an increase in support for Bisons football games would see some spill over into other areas.
With all the student groups and events on campus, increasing engagement becomes an overwhelming task. I suggest first focusing on Bisons football games, believing that if students go to games, have fun, and buy Bisons merchandise, they will become more invested in the university community. We have to start somewhere, and when you think of highly spirited universities like Western or many in the U.S., what is the first evidence of that spirit that comes to mind? For me, it’s the student support of sports and the football games.
I acknowledge that comparing the University of Manitoba to Western is not entirely fair. London is a university town and we are a commuter campus. However, that should not prohibit the U of M from striving for more.
I feel safe in assuming a good chunk of Western or Arizona State (an extreme example, I know) homecoming fans are not necessarily football fans. Many are there to drink a lot of alcohol, party, and support their school. Luckily for us, IGF has a great tailgate/pre-gaming Plaza outside Gate 2. Let’s work with the Bombers to make use of that space with food, drinks, and DJs two hours before Bisons football games.
Second, there should be socials on campus after every game. Our (we’re in this together) highest attendance this year was on Sept. 11 when there was a post-game social on the IGF concourse. They don’t necessarily have to be in the stadium; use the multi-purpose room in University Center.
Many students still don’t know when games are. Bisons Sports should start creating Facebook events for the homecoming game, and pay the small amount needed to have it promoted within Facebook. We “like” so many things that Facebook cannot include it all in our news feeds; paid promotions are a sure-fire way to separate yourself from the pack. Our campus radio station 101.5 UMFM started doing this, and it drastically increased the station’s reach and engagement. Bisons Sports is putting money into print and radio ads, which are great for reaching the community, but I would argue that they don’t reach the necessary demographic of students.
Play a game at 1 p.m. on a Friday. It addresses the commuter campus issue: The game is already free for students, and now you wouldn’t have to worry about getting them back to campus like you do for a night game. This would hurt your community fans working day jobs, but it should be seen as an investment in the student market.
So whether it’s Bisons Athletics, or the Get Out to Vote campaign, I hope we can discuss ways to increase student engagement. UMSU has started several great initiatives this year. Hopefully these are the early stages of creating a culture where students get involved, because once the opportunities and awareness exist, it is the students’ responsibility to decide whether they want to contribute to strengthening the university community and increasing school spirit.
Eric MacLise hosts Covering the Spread 10 a.m. Tuesdays on 101.5 UMFM.