Toronto,ON- As we kick off our 2020-2021 school year, and major professional sports like the NHL and NBA continue to play in Stephen King, “Under the Dome” style bubbles I can’t help but see a lot of people on Twitter yearn for the time (hopefully at some point next year) when we will be allowed to gather together at sporting events again
It makes sense really, if I wanted to wax poetic for the next few hundred words I could say how being at sporting events brings people together and boost morale but I think if you are reading this you are already one of the people who at least partially want to get to go back one day, I know I am.
Which brings me to how we tie this into U SPORTS.
University sport, in theory should have great in-person fan support, it is an opportunity for university students to do probably their two favourite things.
2. Drink with other people who are also drinking
For some reason though, U SPORTS athletics struggles to attract even modest crowds. Now there are some obvious outliers, the Panda Game in football between Carleton and Ottawa at TD Place Stadium. The Crowchild Classic at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, AB between the Dinos and the Mount Royal Cougars. Most games in homecoming week draw large crowds. Lakehead Hockey in the OUA and UNB Hockey in the AUS are pillars of hockey attendance. Beyond those examples though, a lot of U SPORTS teams struggle to fill the seats of their stadiums, arenas and courts.
So here’s what we are doing today.
Lets take an imaginary walk together.
Let’s imagine there is a university student,
They are on campus because COVID-19 is over (oh what a beautiful day that will be). They have finished class on Friday afternoon after a long week. They meet up with their friends and are trying to decide what to do with their Friday night, when one friend off-handed suggests going to see the University varsity team play.
Now together we’re going to walk through all of the different justifications our university student might have for not wanting to go watch their school play in person and we are going to debunk them all.
Lack of marketing of the team
As the student and their friends think about that idea, they ask each other “wait, are any sports even going on right now?” Suddenly one of them turns and says “hey everyone, come look at this”, the group walks over to find a poster on the wall saying
BIG GAME AGAINST RIVAL SCHOOL TONIGHT AT 7:00PM
They have their answer
This one is a fair argument. A lot of students say “If the athletic program marketed itself better I would go”. I am not in any U SPORTS program’s marketing team but a really good thread that sums up the difficulty of trying to invest in marketing U SPORTS teams came from Megan Kurcwal formerly of the Calgary Dinos back in May.
So this is not so much a “de-bunking” of this reasoning as it is a “cut U SPORTS marketing people some slack they are trying their best-ing”.
They don’t like or understand sports
So now the friends know a game is happening and talking to each other they realize that none of them had gone to a varsity athletics game before so the friends all say this could be a fun way to spend their Friday night. Our student isn’t sold though and as the friends talk our student ponders a way to get out of going.
They have a reason
They turn to their friend and says “Do any of us even know how this sport works?”
The friends look around at each other and realize that actually, none of them have either played or watched this sport before.
I can empathize with this one, if you don’t like sports or don’t understand the sport then it can be difficult to want to make an event out of going to spend 2+ hours watching it.
At the same time though, that’s where the community aspect of it comes into play. When the crowds are packed at homecoming or sometimes O-Week those people aren’t there to just watch the sport. Well, some of them are but a majority of them are there because they want to get an opportunity hang out with their friends and potentially meet new people.
They don’t like losing or they don’t like watching their team lose.
So the friends talk about it and decide that even though they haven’t played or watched this sport before, going to the game can still be fun.
Mostly as an opportunity to drink, but also to get to hang out together.
Our student still isn’t convinced though and tries another angle “Is our school even any good against Rival School at this sport?”
Each friend ponders that question and one by one each vaguely recall having seen something on Instagram a few weeks back about how Rival School had beaten their school by a significant margin.
Our student says what they think should be obvious, “I don’t want to go spend my night watching the team lose at something, that’s boring.”
Now if this was UNB hockey, or Carleton basketball then the students would not have to worry about watching a loss because I don’t believe that is possible. For any other school though, the beauty of it is there is so much parity to U SPORTS that for the most part, it is impossible to predict what could happen night in and night out.
Just this past year the Western Mustangs finished in 8th in OUA West Hockey with a below .500 record before storming through the playoffs all the way to a berth in the U SPORTS National Championships. Predicting what can happen in U SPORTS outside of a few dynasties is truly next to impossible.
If it’s on TV, it’s easier to watch from home with a group of friends.
So the friends think about it and decide that even though their team might lose they still want to go. They had just talked about in stats class that day that unless the probability is 0 then nothing is impossible, so who knows? Maybe something crazy could happen?
Our student is still not game, and tries a new tactic saying “You know I’m kind of worn out, if all we want to do is hang out and drink then why don’t we watch it on TV?”
The short answer is it isn’t on TV. I get this logic inherently but U SPORTS (save for a few marquee events) is only available on streaming services like OUA.tv, or cw.yartv.com or usports.live for championship tournaments.
Now I love OUA.tv, I produce Ryerson Rams broadcasts for OUA.tv but we aren’t talking about me we are talking trying to get a new university student invested in U SPORTS.
If you want to figure out how to log into those services, connect your device to a TV and ensure your internet is good enough to stream a game with your friends then by all means, at the same time though would I be wrong in saying it would probably be easier for you to get out of your dorm and walk to the stadium/arena for the game in person?
I feel like I would be right.
Don’t want to pay
The friends admit that it could be cool to watch the game on TV but none of them are really sure how to find it. They also point out to our student that they think watching the game in person the first time would be a much more fun experience.
Our student now scrambling to come up with an idea pulls out their wallet and makes a spectacle of showing that it is empty. “Sorry everyone” they say, “I don’t have the money for tickets”.
One friend turns to University student and says “You do know it’s free with your student card right?”
Perplexed the University student turns around and looks back at the sign, where they see
ALL STUDENTS FREE WITH VALID STUDENT CARD
Now this is dependent on the school as a few athletic programs do charge students a small ticket fee for some sports but for a lot of programs if you go to that school you simply have to just swipe your student card to get into the game.
You literally have to put in zero effort to pay to get into a U SPORTS game if you go to the University.
So long as you have money for beer and money for a way to get home if you aren’t walking (no drinking and driving but you already knew that) then that’s all you need.
Having exhausted all of their potential reasons not to go, our student resigns themself to the fact going to the U SPORTS game is how they are going to spend their Friday night.
The University student is a little miffed as they walk up to the gate and see a Ticket Taker they think they saw in Chemistry class once. The ticket taker scans their student card and as they walk in they realize the arena/stadium looks much bigger on the inside instead of passing it on the way to class.
The student grabs a beer and finds a seat with their friends just as the game is about to begin and as the game gets going something happens. The student feels themself being drawn into the excitement. The crowd for this Friday night has some energy and each big play by the home school draws huge cheers from the student section supporters.
Our student can feel the excitement building as the game remains close right to the end. Late in the game a bad call goes against the home team and our student joins the crowd in a chorus of boos (despite admittedly not really knowing what they were booing about)
As the game nears the last moments still deadlocked suddenly a great play is made by the home team! The home team has beaten the clock and defeated their rival school! As the game ends the student and their friends continue to cheer as the home team takes a moment to acknowledge the student fans who came out for their Friday night.
As our student and their friends exit the game into the cool fall air they are beaming.
They might not even entirely have understood how their team won but all that matters is they did, and the friends got to spend a Friday night hanging out and having fun.
So that kind of turned into more of a creative writing exercise than I had originally planned for this piece.
Overall, COVID-19 has put major challenges on the future of attending live sports. So for university students who are on Twitter longing for NHL and NBA and NFL teams to begin allowing fans back through their doors, when that actually happens they should also look at giving a chance at watching their own school to try to create a new experience and potentially become a new fan.
Cover Photo: UBC Properties