Sept. 29, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
South Carolina women’s soccer leads the nation in home attendance so far in 2015. This phenomenon is becoming more common as the Gamecocks ranked second nationally in attendance for home matches last year, and the men's soccer program currently ranks sixth nationally. In addition to great support from the community, South Carolina students are bucking a national trend by arriving in droves for matches at Stone Stadium as well as many other venues.
“It’s special to have that type of atmosphere on a college campus surrounding women’s soccer,” Head Coach Shelley Smith said. “We’ve built a good fan base, in addition to students who have so much pride in their school. It does give us one of the best atmospheres in college soccer.”
South Carolina women’s soccer has already had 23,473 fans attend the seven home matches thus far to lead the nation, for an average of 3,353, which ranks second. The Gamecocks averaged 2,683 fans per game last year, nearly doubling the 2013 average of 1,363 fans per home game. A school-record 976 season tickets have been sold for soccer* in 2015, while students attend for free by showing their school ID.
“There’s no doubt we have a passionate fan base here,” said Josh Waters, Assistant Athletics Director for Marketing. “We have the best students in the country. Most schools are struggling to get students to games. We don’t have that problem. They’re passionate. They start coming to games as freshmen, and we have this system put in place where they get priority points, which help them get better tickets for certain athletics events.”
South Carolina men's soccer currently ranks sixth in the nation for total attendance (15,775) and average attendance (3,155).
The foundation for this success has built up over several years with steady growth leading up to the large surge in numbers over the last two years. A strong community fan base has been built through the efforts of Smith and men’s soccer coach Mark Berson with a variety of clinics, camps and community service. Getting the reward points is not the only reason students are showing up again and again.
“Going to an athletics event has become part of the culture,” Waters said. “They take pride in supporting their classmates who are competing. They realize that those student-athletes playing soccer or volleyball deserve just as much support as our football, basketball or baseball teams.”
"Most schools are struggling to get students to games. We don’t have that problem. They’re passionate."
As of September 17, 60% of the current South Carolina student body has already attended at least one home athletics event this fall. Those 16,658 unique attendees have averaged going to three events so far. The marketing department is visible on campus promoting home events each week in front of the Russell House Student Union and also helps build the culture to new students during summer freshmen orientations. A popular cell phone app, Gamecock Student Rewards, has also helped with getting the word out.
“60% of our students are on that app,” Waters said. “It tells them when games are, and we have weekly communications with them. Our student government has been great too. We also do a lot of grass roots marketing on campus each week. Both of our soccer teams are successful too, so that never hurts.”
Prior to 2014, Stone Stadium had never drawn five thousand fans for a single women’s soccer match. Last year, the Gamecocks did it twice and has already eclipsed that mark twice in 2015 with a new school record 5,875 fans in attendance for the season opener against Northeastern.
Students are occasionally rewarded for their attendance with prizes, but a regular stream of premium items isn’t needed to drive attendance.
“We give away very little prizes at games,” Waters said. “You have to attend 15 or 20 events to get that prize. Students like it, but it’s just an added benefit. They really like coming to games. Students add an atmosphere to any event we have for any sport.”
Waters credits the hard work of Joe O'Clair, Rebecca Piner and Amber Wise in the marketing department for keeping students engaged. Having that high level of engagement certainly helps create a home field advantage.
“The girls get tired, especially in the second half,” Smith said. “When we played Oklahoma this year, we gave up a late goal and went to overtime. That can put you in a tough mindset because you’re disappointed, and you have to come back and fight. When you hear that crowd behind you, and you’re on your home field, it just gives you so much more energy going into that situation.”
“It’s really rewarding to know our fan base is so supportive of us,” said junior midfielder Chelsea Drennan. “We do a lot with camps and being in the community, but knowing that fan base is going to be there for us definitely gives us a lift in games. We take pride in winning, especially at home.”
In addition to helping the Gamecocks win games, a great atmosphere from the fans helps out in recruiting.
“Recruits come and see that this is a great place to play when they experience it,” Smith said. “To see the numbers that we have in our crowds and the number of people buying season tickets, and the support we have from students, it’s just outstanding. We definitely use that to our advantage.”
The success of filling home venues is not unique to women’s soccer. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that student-attendance at college football games had been on the decline, but that was not the case at South Carolina, which finished 16th nationally with more than 81,000 fans per game at Williams-Brice Stadium last year.
Women’s basketball led the nation in home attendance last year with 12,540 fans per game in the Colonial Life Arena, including 14,513 per SEC home game. Men’s basketball saw the sixth highest growth in attendance from the previous season last year with 11,520 fans per home game. South Carolina volleyball currently ranks 16th nationally in total attendance (10,217), and Gamecock baseball ranked fourth nationally last spring with 6,946 fans per home game.
If you’re wandering around campus and wondering where all of the students are, perhaps you should check out which Gamecock teams are playing at home today.
*Men and women’s soccer season tickets are sold together as one ticket.
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