Students at the University of South Carolina are bucking a national trend and showing up in droves for football games at Williams-Brice Stadium. A recent study by The Wall Street Journal indicated that the average student attendance at college football games is down 7.1 percent since 2009. Fortunately, nobody has told that to South Carolina students.
"We've had more requests this year than at any point in my seven years here," said Lance Grantham, assistant athletics director of ticket operations. "We're averaging 14 and a half thousand requests from students per game for the three games so far. It's really unprecedented with the amount of interest we've had from the students. We know we're going to guarantee the 10,000 tickets for students on the lower level, and then we'll provide between 1,500 and 3,000 seats in the upper deck if they're available."
"Students who are getting the tickets value them and want to come in and help us win a game."
"We distribute the tickets and then they have to get scanned when they enter the game for it to count towards student attendance," Grantham said. "Other schools will count it as a paid ticket even if they don't show up. We're using around 96 percent of the tickets that are available to students. That's a great indicator that students who are getting the tickets value them and want to come in and help us win a game."
Increased ticket prices at schools where students must purchase tickets and the convenience of increased television coverage are some of the reasons indicated for the overall decline. Understanding that students bring life and are an important part of the atmosphere and college experience, South Carolina administrators have been proactive in recent years, creating more incentives to not only get students to the games, but keep them there by combining the Loyalty Points and the Student Rewards Program.
"In years past, points were awarded to students who went to football, men's and women's basketball and baseball games," said Josh Waters, director of marketing. "Now if a student goes to a soccer game, they get a loyalty point and a student rewards point. The difference is that loyalty points get you in football games, and student rewards is like a 'frequent flyer' program where you earn points that equate to prizes."
Because not every student on campus can receive a football ticket for every home game, the more points they accumulate, the better chance they have of getting a ticket.
"We still try to find that right balance between making everything available that we can versus the number of tickets that will be taken and used," Grantham said.
All of these incentives have paid off as students are also flooding the seats in other Gamecock sports venues. In the fall of 2013, 75 percent of the population of 26,304 students came to at least one Gamecock sports event. Last year, the students helped the overall attendance at women's soccer games jump 89 percent, while attendance at men's games increased by 51 percent, and volleyball increased by 40 percent.
"The goal for us is to create the best home field or home court advantage for our student-athletes and to increase exposure to our students about the other sports," Waters said. "Winning helps a lot, but we have been encouraging students to get behind their classmates who are playing on the field, and I think they enjoy that."
Not only are the students going to the games, but they're coming back after having a good time at a sporting event they may not have considered attending originally.
"The soccer numbers are just ridiculous," Waters said. "The volleyball numbers have been out of this world. I think this changes the mindset of our students."
The women's soccer team recently wrapped up a five game home stand and averaged 2,356 students in the stands. The students were a big part of the program-record 5,855 fans who attended the game against Clemson on Sept. 5. The men's soccer team has averaged 2,296 students in attendance so far in 2014, while volleyball is averaging 1,309 students attending matches. The cross country team saw some good numbers as 322 students attended the Gamecocks home opener on Aug. 30.
The South Carolina students are filling up their sections of Williams-Brice Stadium, trying to help influence the game in a positive way for the Gamecocks, and the university is doing its part to make sure they have a great fan experience as well.
"We've got a great game presentation for our students and for our entire crowd," Grantham said. "It's lively, and we cater to them because we know they make a difference when they come in and stay in. How many other schools are giving coupons out for extra bonus points for staying through the fourth quarter? We're paying attention. They help us win games. You can't value that enough."