There are certain sports events at UCSB every year that make students feel like they go to a bigger sports school. Men’s soccer playoff games and rivalry games are always big-time, and this year’s men’s basketball game against UNLV ended with students rushing the court, but, sadly, big crowds on this campus tend to be few and far between. While cynics would tell you that the blame lies with an apathetic student body or inconsistent teams, we don’t really feel that’s the case. The students have shown that they’ll show up if they know about a big game, and it’s hard to complain about teams that consistently win Big West championships. So where does the blame lie? The Nexus did a little digging in an effort to find out.
One of the main hindrances to the Athletic Dept.’s marketing efforts is the lack of support from the university itself. There are dozens of campus organizations and academic departments putting on events year-round and they must all abide by the university’s stringent advertising policies. Be it preventing fliers from being posted anywhere except authorized areas to forbidding signs near certain parts of the bike paths, campus administration lords over the advertising process with an iron fist.
“We utilize all the areas that are legal. [The University] has rules and, as an employee, I have to follow those rules,” Assistant Athletic Director for Corporate Sales and Marketing Joe Castiglia said. “There’s places on the bike paths that are legal and not legal. Signage on buildings has to be pre-approved, and we were told that there are only certain places you can have signs.”
Yet exceptions can and should be made. Anyone who has ever attended a soccer game understands the unifying atmosphere that gives Harder Stadium a feel that no other campus event can provide. On and near game days, the Athletic Department should be allowed to put creative signs in the places students visit most, not just isolated parts of the UCen and Isla Vista. Of course, this exception would not sit well with other groups battling for promotional space. However, UCSB’s athletic teams represent each and every Gaucho, not just jazz enthusiasts or students of a certain ethnic descent. Give our teams a break and let them do anything they have to do to get the word out.
Amazingly, at a time when budget cuts have slimmed the Athletic Dept.’s marketing staff to two full-time employees, the university continues to cut the number of places where UCSB sporting events can be advertised. A few years ago, Castiglia was told that the Athletic Department was no longer allowed to place table tents on the tables at the dining halls, denying them a crucial way to reach freshmen and transfer students.
“We were told to cease and desist,” Castiglia said. “The head of the dining commons nixed that my first year here. They said that it’s too much work and that they have to do it for other groups if they do it for us.”
While the university has played a role in limiting the ability of the Athletic Dept.’s marketing department to promote athletic events as best as it can, there is much more that the department itself can do. Castiglia noted that creating the perception that a sporting event is the place to be “is generated from the students.” However, unless the Athletic Department Web site is bookmarked on your computer or you read the Nexus sports page every day, it’s hard to keep track of big sporting events. Because they aim most of their advertisements towards the Santa Barbara community, Isla Vista and campus usually get lost in the shuffle. Homemade signs on the bike tunnels and advertisements on the rarely seen TVs in the UCen account for most of the advertising the Athletic Dept.’s marketing department does for students, as word of mouth is counted upon to get people mobilized.
“When you market to any students, it’s synergy from the students themselves and student groups,” Castiglia said. “I can give you material and tell you there’s a game tonight, but the excitement has to come from within the student population. We try to spark that excitement, but it comes from what the students find enjoyable.”
Many students have shown that they enjoy big basketball, soccer, volleyball, and baseball games — and even the occasional rowdy water polo game — but more needs to be done to reach out to those who might not know about the events. Try finding someone on this campus who didn’t have a good time at his or her first soccer game — it’s virtually impossible. The key, though, is getting them there for the first time.
With the ever-increasing budget cuts facing the UC system and the Athletic Dept., it is clear that resources are minimal. To combat the problem, accountability needs to be increased. A former intern of the Athletic Dept.’s marketing department divulged that sometimes the interns would be required to do simple tasks like taking fliers to the dorms or around I.V., but then they would be too tired or busy to fulfill their duty. There were no criticisms or repercussions for this lack of action, only blank spaces and missed opportunities. Especially considering that some of these interns receive course credit for their efforts — or lack thereof — responsibility needs to be taken.
One can understand administrators looking at the schedule and thinking that getting students to come out for a midweek game can be difficult because we should all be studying. But when it comes to Wednesday and Thursday nights — be it heading to O.T.T. or downtown or simply hanging out in I.V. — there are thousands of students who put the books on the back burner. In reality, students are more likely to attend a sporting event when there is little else going on — like on a weekday — instead of a Saturday night when games can get in the way of pre-partying before a can’t-miss night in I.V.
The Athletic Department did a reasonably good job this year promoting the bigger games on its slate. Obviously, much was done in advance of the men’s soccer team’s playoff game against Washington, the men’s basketball team’s matchup against former rival UNLV and the women’s basketball team’s date with defending champion UC Riverside. But in other cases, the department dropped the ball. In one instance, men’s soccer Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg sought out the Daily Nexus to help promote UCSB’s match against Cal Poly, who set the Big West attendance record in the team’s first meeting in San Luis Obispo. This was a sign that the coaches recognize that more can be done by the marketing department. They also realize how important big crowds are to their success, as numerous players and coaches relayed to the Nexus over the course of the year.
“I definitely notice the games where there’s a big crowd and big effort to get people out to games,” senior guard Alex Harris said. “Over my four years, I’ve really appreciated the Locos and the fans, but it makes a difference when more people are involved. Things can always be improved.”
The lack of help from the university and the marketing department has forced some teams to take actions of their own. In addition to taking control of the Big West in recent years, the men’s soccer team has also taken the reins when it comes to marketing its own games. Soccer games are already the marquee events at UCSB, but Assistant Coach Greg Wilson continues to push for greater success in the stands and the community. The soccer program hires its own interns who make fliers and are responsible for printing them out and then entrusts younger team members with the task of promoting games in the community, on campus and even at other sporting events. Late in the Fall Quarter, when the end of the soccer season coincides with basketball’s nonconference slate, soccer players are regularly seen at the basketball games handing out fliers and promoting their upcoming contests.
“Our goal is to have them out in cars and out in I.V., and we dedicate a couple days before games to get the word out,” sophomore forward Guillermo Jalomo said. “We have fliers and we make younger players go out and try to promote ourselves because the marketing department was struggling. We went out in the community to get families, young kids and youth teams out to the games. Basketball has cheerleaders do it, but we take it upon ourselves.”
Let’s not kid ourselves, UCSB is never going to match the Cals and UCLAs of the world when it comes to sporting success or attendance, but there’s no reason why Caesar Uyesaka Stadium shouldn’t sell out on a regular basis, or why the Thunderdome can’t rock like it did in the early ’90s. The marketing department of the Athletic Department may be understaffed, but replacing excuses with an emphasis on catering to students would go a long way toward achieving more success, and it would put the pressure on the higher-ups at the university to step up and help out with the promotional effort. A passion for sports still exists at this school, and it’s time to tap into the students’ passion again before it’s too late. If you market it, they will come.