There was an article in The Province recently by Howard Tsumura in which he spoke to a couple members of the 1970-71 UBC men’s ice hockey team -- the last team to compete in a home playoff series until the 44-year dry spell was broken just last month.
In it, the players speak of fond memories of playing in front of sold-out crowds. Former right winger Doug Buchanan said it was “the golden age of (UBC) hockey.” Wesbrook, according to Buchanan, was lined up and down the street with people just wanting to watch the Thunderbirds play a game.
How much of this is rose-coloured reminiscence is up for debate, but one would assume that Buchanan, now a successful lawyer, doesn’t have much reason to lie. And if that was the case, what happened? Why do a paltry 200-300 people show up to T-Bird home games? It’s not cost of entry, since a ticket is $2 for a student, or $20 for every home game in every sport, all season. It’s not location, since every stadium is on campus. It might be because our teams that play the more stereotypically popular sports (football, men’s hockey) aren’t exactly dominant, but the men’s hockey team made the playoffs, and even opened the postseason at home this year.
What we do know is that students will show up when games are marketed properly. AMS Events, in conjunction with The Calendar, put on a stellar evening for the Winter Classic game, shattering attendance records with 3,049 butts in seats. When there’s a Facebook event with nice graphics, a catchy title and some manipulation of the sports fan within everyone (admit it, you loved getting day drunk and belligerent at Homecoming), we’ll come out to cheer on our teams. Even though the ‘Birds blew a three goal lead and lost in double overtime at the Classic, you’d be hard pressed to find a single attendee who didn’t have a blast.
We also know that if nobody does anything, or if the marketing is left up to UBC Athletics, it’s a different story. A nonexistent story. How many of you visit gothunderbirds.ca, or pay attention to Facebook events put on by them? 2,200 people like their Facebook page (compare that to The Calendar’s almost 13,000), and a good deal of those are alumni. It serves its purpose, if that purpose is to inform those who are already interested in UBC varsity sports about upcoming UBC varsity sports games. But in terms of garnering new interest, they have a long way to go before they’re attracting anyone new into a stadium.
So how can we solve the problem? Until Athletics puts in the effort to make their product more enticing, it falls on the shoulders of the AMS Events team. Obviously a Winter Classic isn’t feasible for every game, but a few more special events over the course of next season might be enough to start getting students interested in coming out to games again. At least, it’s worth a shot.