EDITORIAL: Trading tradition for Division I status
Although CMU reported a paid attendance average of 15,333 this football season – just above the NCAA Division I standard – some trends within the program are a cause for immediate concern.
Declining attendance figures and a dwindling student presence at football games have left the athletics department with the lowest attendance figures since 2004. Students didn't account for more than 30 percent of the overall attendance in a single home game last season.
Football games need to regain a spot as a focal campus event. The athletic department needs to do more to recreate traditions and provide a positive game atmosphere for all ticket holders.
To help CMU continue to meet Division I accreditation and to further marketing efforts, the athletic department contracted IMG College, a collegiate sports marketing company that accounted for more than one-third of total ticket sales this season.
Fortunately for the university – and at the expense of an actual headcount – NCAA only factors paid tickets into their attendance equations. Essentially, our athletic department has entered a contract that ensures 33 percent in attendance regardless of whether or not people attend the game in person.
They are buying Division I status.
Instead of seeking ways to maneuver around the NCAA’s requirements, CMU's athletic department should be focused on enhancing the overall experience for attendees. It’s more important to have tangible, cheering fans in the stands than to provide skewed and misleading attendance figures to the NCAA.
CMU and its athletic department need to regain its focus in attracting not only students, but alumni and the Mount Pleasant community as well.
When it comes to recruiting sought after high school players, a majority are invited to games and given sideline passes. How many would commit to a school with such an uninterested crowd?
In 2009, the university caused more problems by severely restricting the pre-game tailgating policy. In 2008, the reported attendance was averaged at 20,448 per game. By 2011 – after limiting alcohol and external sound systems – CMU reported average attendance at 10,466.
The athletic department needs to do more to market what it’s like to attend a football game in Mount Pleasant. It needs to do more to engage students to increase the actual attendance figures.
Last year, Michigan State University added two large video boards and a new sound system to their football stadium. This year, MSU's athletic department plans to invest $2 million in a Wi-Fi system to increase fan interaction.
Last month, the University of Texas became the third team in the Big 12 to allow – and sell – alcohol at nearly every athletic event on campus. Many others, including schools in the Big 10, sell beer at their stadiums.
It’s up to CMU if we want to retain our shrinking fan base and revitalize the football program. So far, as the statistics show, our athletic department isn't selling a product students buy into.
Whether it’s increased fan engagement, varied halftime entertainment or simply the offer of being able to drink a cold one at the next game – more can be done to actually increase our attendance beyond sidestepping NCAA requirements.
Some point fingers at the quality of talent put on the field, but fill the stands with roaring, chanting fans the entire game and you might be surprised how it triggers our athletes.