This past Saturday night, the John J. Lee Amphitheater was the place to be. A roaring crowd — the largest at a home men’s basketball game this year — cheered on the Bulldogs as they fought their way to a one-point, overtime win against Princeton. The win was the sixth straight for the Elis, who are tied with Harvard for first in the Ivy League with six conference games left to play.
The Bulldogs’ two wins this weekend came on the heels of an upset win against Harvard, which was a unanimous pick to win the Ivy League Championship in a preseason poll and had an active 20-game win streak at home. The Bulldogs, who haven’t won a conference title since 2002, were picked to finish third. But the way things have been going, the Yale men’s basketball team is giving us all reason to think that this year could be different.
And yet, despite their inspired play and winning record, the Elis struggle to fill seats at home games. In fact, according to statistics posted as of this week, Yale has the lowest average conference home attendance per game in the Ancient Eight, with just 760 fans per game. The highest is fifth-place Penn, averaging nearly 4000 fans per home game.
The discrepancies in attendance are staggering, especially considering the top team in the Ivy League currently has the least fans attending its home conference games. It’s hard to understand why this might be so, but also important to understand this discrepancy in order to ensure that the top team in the Ivy League starts getting the recognition and support it deserves.
Despite accusations in the past few years that Yalies largely don’t care about athletics, Ingalls Rink continues to fill up every weekend, as it has for most of the last decade. It doesn’t seem to be the case that Yale students simply aren’t interested in supporting their school’s teams, particularly ones that have enjoyed success such as men’s hockey. But the recent success of the men’s basketball team appears to not yet be enough to draw new fans to Payne Whitney Gym.
In talking to others about this issue, the idea that basketball games simply aren’t well-advertised was brought up. However, I don’t think that this is necessarily the major deterrent for fans either, since once again Yale fans have proven that they are willing to seek out other events. In fact, basketball games are considerably more convenient than hockey games: Payne Whitney is much more centrally located than the Whale, tickets don’t need to be picked up in advance and, on average, the games last less time than hockey. And the amount of advertisement for both hockey and basketball, though perhaps sparse, is roughly equivalent.
Another argument could be made that other events, such as hockey, are simply more exciting to watch, and thus draw more fans that way. This might be true, but there is something just as exhilarating about the roar of a loud gym, and I think anyone who was at the men’s game on Saturday would say the same. The irony, perhaps, is that the excitement of the games increases exponentially with the number of fans in the stands.
There is an obvious and plausible argument that the historical success of the hockey program has guaranteed a solid fan base, while basketball’s historically mediocre performance has drawn less attention. This very well might be true, but is problematic nonetheless. Are Yale students, then, nothing more than bandwagon fans, waiting for their team to start performing before willingly lending their support?
I want to believe that this is not the case. But to prove that they really aren’t just bandwagon fans, students need to show greater, unconditional support for Yale’s teams. Perhaps this means that events do need more advertisement, or that people are just lacking the information they need to get interested.
These are both things that can be fixed, but ultimately, the solution is to create a culture in which going to these games and caring about the success of these teams is the norm. There is value in this for the fans themselves, as they get to experience the thrill and pride of following a Yale team on its way to the top. It shouldn’t be work or a burden to support our teams. Actually, as far too few of us saw Saturday, it can be a lot of fun.
Beyond the fan experience, students simply should care about the success of men’s basketball. The team handed Harvard its first loss on its home court since 2012 in front of a sold out Crimson crowd. The Bulldogs have won six straight, and are off to their best start in over a decade. And, like all students here — athletes, artists, musicians, actors and actresses — these players have worked hard to get to where they are and represent our university. They deserve support in their endeavors, just like everyone else.
The fact that the crowd at Saturday’s game was the biggest at a home game this season is encouraging, but it should not be the exception. The Bulldogs hit the road for two weekends, and return to their home court Friday, March 7, to take on Harvard. And when they return, let’s be sure to give the top team in the Ivy League the home court advantage it deserves.