Despite low numbers, attendance on the upswing for women’s basketball
March 4, 2023
At SIU, sports reign supreme.
“I mean, we’re Southern Illinois… what else is it about? It’s all about sports in this region,” said Dylan Chambers, president of the infamous SIU Dawg Pound.
This is true of many colleges and regions around the country and even for many people around the world. There’s a seemingly endless amount of sporting events to go to, but people still want more.
Men’s sports often draw massive attendance numbers; many of the highest attended soccer, football and basketball games worldwide are men’s events. Women’s sports, however, often lag behind.
Low attendance isn’t specific to SIU; while SIU ranks ninth in the Missouri Valley Conference in women’s basketball attendance, there are five other schools that also average under 1,000 fans per game. Drake, who draws the most audience for women’s basketball, averages 2,779.
This is also a trend nationwide; according to World Sports Network, a hub for sports betting, the average attendance nationwide for women’s basketball is 1,625, while men’s basketball is 4,659. It’s worth noting that 2019, the year these statistics were drawn from, was the highest women’s attendance had ever been.
No men’s team averages under 1,000 spectators per game; Valparaiso is the lowest, with 1,609, while Murray State and Southern Illinois are numbers one and two, as both average over 5,000 fans.
According to Tom Weber, the senior associate athletic director and associate athletic director for communications at SIU, the average attendance for a women’s basketball game is 699, while the average mens attendance for a men’s basketball game is 5,029.
Despite this deficit, many people close to women’s basketball are encouraged by the attendance that they do have.
“It’s been one of our best years ever, actually,” Weber said.
Even if there aren’t many, the fans that are in the arena still create an electric atmosphere for the team.
When asked if this atmosphere helps the players, Kelly Bond-White, the head coach of the women’s basketball team, said, “Big time…when we’re playing an exciting brand, and knocking balls out of the way, I think it gives our kids juice.”
Promotions are a common part of sporting events. Games are often themed, providing the student section and other fans a fun way to show their spirit at games. Other promotions promise free exclusive merchandise, a prize or provide an attendance boost.
Bond-White is very appreciative of the team that runs the promotions.
“Our marketing departments work their butts off,” she said.
Sometimes these promotions are highly successful; other times they aren’t.
At the first home men’s basketball game, there was a free tuition giveaway on the condition that 1,000 students attended the game. Including the general public, about 5,200 fans attended the game, and the giveaway happened.
The same giveaway was supposed to happen at a women’s basketball game in early February; nobody got free tuition, as there were only 515 people at the game, including the general public.
“That doesn’t mean that promotions are going to change. We’re not going to give up on doing the same things… we promote the same way, same kind of thing,” Chambers said.
However, there were a few successful ones this year for women’s basketball. Weber highlights the December 7th matchup against Tennessee State as one in particular that brought a large crowd.
“We invited all the area elementary schools to come out to the game. It was kind of like a field trip for them to come,” Weber said. “We had over 4000 people at the game.”
The elementary game also marked the second highest attended women’s basketball game in school history.
Despite all the turnover with the team this year, including a new head coach and over 70% of their scoring left the team this season, there’s still a strong sense of support from the Dawg Pound.
“We’re caring about our team. And you know, we want to see them succeed and we want to watch them grow too… I think something that was really important was making sure that we’re still showing the love,” Chambers said.
Still, there is a general sense of optimism surrounding attendance at women’s games and a plan to build attendance.
“It’s one of those ‘bring a friend’ kind of things… things like that, to kind of help make it more aware,” Chambers said.
“In the women’s game, it has to be a grassroot effort. But as coaches, and as players, we have to get into the community,” Bond-White said. “I truly believe that fans fall in love with the student first, with the person first.”
It’s worth pointing out that you can only fall in love with the team if you show up to a game, and Bond-White has a simple message for students who could attend games:
“Nolan Richardson referred to it as 40 minutes of hell, well I’m trying to make it 40 minutes of heaven because I think it’s pretty awesome what we’re doing. We’re trying to get up in passing lanes and make it exciting,” Bond-White said.
Another thing she hopes will get students excited is cheap beer.
“The one thing I do love about our games is that we have a courtside beer garden, so hey, students come on out, and I’ll see if we can get 25 cent drafts,” Bond-White said.
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Sports Reporter Ryan Grieser can be reached at [email protected].