Despite improved records for the men’s and women’s teams, Emerson’s basketball programs have struggled to attract fans to the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym this season, averaging an estimated 61 attendees per game, according to Emerson’s website.
The attendance numbers to home basketball games is far below other teams in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC). The men’s basketball team currently has an overall record of 13-9, and the women have a record of 10-11.
Norwich University, which has a combined men's and women's basketball record of 15-30, averages 227 fans per night, according to Norwich’s website. The school has an undergraduate population of 2,246 students according to Princeton Review.
Anne Maria College, whose basketball teams have a combined record of 19-24, garners an average of 190 fans per game, according to Anne Maria’s website. The school has an undergraduate population of 1,001 students according to Princeton Review.
Women's basketball Head Coach Bill Gould said he overheardanother faculty member say that no one really cares about sports at Emerson.
“I remember thinking, ‘okay maybe this is true but these are Emerson employees, so why can't they just support athletics?’” Gould said. “It does not mean you have to go to every single game but, why would you talk down to someone that is also apart of your community? Maybe I am not a big theater goer, but if someone outside of Emerson talks to me about the theater program I am not going to talk down to it, I would absolutely support it.”
Men’s basketball Head Coach Jim O’Brien said Emerson’s urban location provides other entertainment options which detract from game turnout.
“We live in one of the most appealing cities in the country so it's hard to compete with,” said men's basketball Head Coach Jim O'Brien. “If you go to some of these schools that are in more of a rural location, there is not a whole lot going on so naturally they will have higher attendance.”
O'Brien, who was previously the head coach for several men's basketball teams said fan attendance can affect players’ spirits.
“No matter what, the more the merrier,” O'Brien said. “Just generally at every single level, an enthusiastic crowd is always an advantage. It gets the players going, and increases the overall energy of the game.”
O’Brien coached for St. Bonaventure University, which had an average attendance of 4,056, Boston College, whose games average 4,013 fans, and Ohio State University, which attracts 16,042 attendees, according to those school’s websites.
Gould, who was as an assistant coach for Boston College's women's basketball—whose games have an average attendance of 938 fans—said that drawing in viewers is even more of a challenge for female teams.
“The average fan would rather see a guys’ game then a girls’ game,” Gould said. “Even at BC, we consistently drew a smaller crowd than the men's team.”
Gould said he believes there is an inaccurate preconceived notion regarding Division III athletics.
“People automatically think it is not as exciting as other levels, but I have often found that is just not accurate,” Gould said. “If you want an exciting game, it’s not about what level they are, it’s the competitiveness of the two teams.”
Kristin Brice, a forward and a sophomore marketing communication major, said that other athletes are the most consistent fans.
“A lot of the time, it’s athletes supporting other athletes,” Brice said. “I think part of it is our responsibility to spread the word about our games and make other students aware, but we have a Facebook page and we are starting to promote our games outside the athletic department.”
Stan Nance, Emerson's interim athletic director, said the current absence branding of the athletic department is affecting the enthusiasm of the basketball fan base.
“The level of play where I came from, you have people in the athletic departmentwhere their sole job is to market to a target audience,” Nance said. “Whether its making T-shirts for a Valentine’s Day game or something, it’s all about marketing, and the athletic department marketing through their sponsors.”
Nance said he is negotiating contracts with potential sponsors to have more events at games, which he believes will draw in larger crowds. He also plans onpromoting some games on social media, and posting athletic schedules in public areas.
“We don't expect to have promotional events at every single game, that would be unrealistic,” Nance said. “But for big home games, or games on holidays we absolutely think we can bring in big crowds.”
Nance said these sponsorships may be finalized for by the fall 2013 season, but the logistics of the contracts are still being discussed with the administration.
But for Eric Wahl, a guard on the men’s basketball team and a senior marketing communication major, additional people in the crowd and sponsorships aren’t needed to justify athletes and their play.
“In the end, we don’t play for the fans,” Wahl said. “I always feel like I play hard, even when there are not a ton of people in the stands. It feels good when people are cheering you on, though.”