South Carolina coaches often say that Gamecock fans are the best in the country, and statistics continue to back that up. South Carolina ranks in the top 10 nationally in total attendance in football, men's soccer and women's soccer, while volleyball ranks 25th nationally for the fall of 2014.
"We have a tremendous fan base," said Athletics Director Ray Tanner. "Our product is as good as it has ever been across the board. Our fans are engaged. This is my 19th academic year at this university. We have evolved into a different intercollegiate athletics program than what existed many years ago. There are expectations. There is a mindset and culture that didn't exist many years ago that we enjoy today across the entire athletics department."
South Carolina football games in 2014 have been filled to 102% of capacity, which leads the SEC. Men's soccer leads conference USA and ranks sixth nationally in average attendance with 2,602 fans per home game, while women's soccer is second nationally in average attendance with more than 2,900 fans per game. Gamecock volleyball currently ranks fourth in the SEC in average attendance with nearly 1,300 fans per home match. In addition to having winning programs across the board, affordable ticket prices for families and community involvement are among the factors leading to the increase in season ticket sales for the second straight year for men and women's soccer and volleyball.
"We have a lot of great fans here who are very supportive of the university in general," said women's soccer coach Shelley Smith. "We put a good product on the field, and it's a good opportunity to see top level athletes perform. I also think all of the teams do a good job to get out into the community, and some of that support comes back to us during the season. We've also marketed the events better than in the past, and the student rewards program has been a big benefit too. The student-athletes have a lot of pride when they play here. They want to perform for their fans and their school. I know other teams don't like to come here because it's a tough place to play. It's definitely an advantage for us."
Some other marketing factors helped as well including the promotion of the World Cup over the summer to bring sports such as soccer to the front of fans' attention, but Josh Waters, director of marketing, noted that fans are not buying up tickets simply for marketing materials and prizes.
"I think fans are coming for the fun of the sport," Waters said. "We're family friendly, which is always one of our goals. I keep preaching our goal of wanting to create the best home court or home field advantage for all of our student-athletes. I don't know a better way to do that than to have a lot of fans in the stands."
"I know other teams don't like to come here because it's a tough place to play. It's definitely an advantage for us."Women's Soccer Coach Shelley Smith
Gamecock fans are also ready to pour through the turn styles at the Colonial Life Arena as basketball season tips off this month. More than 10,000 fans showed up for the men's basketball exhibition game last week. Season ticket sales are also exceeding last year's pace with nearly 6,800 season tickets sold for men's basketball.
"There is an increased excitement around the men's and women's basketball programs that I haven't experienced in the six years that I have been here," said Kamryn Hollar, assistant director of ticket operations. "Coach Dawn Staley and Coach Frank Martin have done a great job of immersing themselves in the Columbia community and because of that, our numbers of supporters continue to grow. Both programs continually provide low cost, high energy family entertainment and that is reflected in our season ticket numbers."
Coming off last year's SEC Championship season, the women's basketball team has increased its season ticket numbers by 50 percent with a school-record 6,437 season tickets having already been sold for the upcoming season. Staley acknowledges several reasons for the growth in support.
"A big part has to do with winning, but I think another part has to do with us recruiting and securing in-state prospects," Staley said. "Part of it is that our fans like our team. They can identify with them working hard. They see a certain chemistry that our team has. I think the games are enjoyable. All of our fans who come see us play, they just feel very much a part of our team. That's the whole objective behind the `One' theme for our season. Each one of us helps make this program grow and everybody is doing their part."
"You have to give Coach Staley and Coach Martin credit for being immersed in the community," Tanner added. "They are residents of the city of the Columbia, and they have ownership in this community. It's exciting because it is not as if we have 21 sports with only two or three good teams. We have a lot of good ones that compete at a high level, not only in the SEC, but nationally. We're in a good place. It's our job as a staff to continually invest in this wonderful product that we have and try to sustain it for a long time."
With the continued success of the teams, season ticket sales and overall attendance, Gamecock Country continues to grow.
"As a department under Coach Tanner's leadership, we market all sports," Waters said. "These attendance figures are a great way to show that. We have the greatest fans in the world; there is no doubt about that. They support any team we have."