Julia Henry

A dunk contest, prize giveaways and an intense game of knockout brought over 100 fans, new and returning alike, to the stands of the John J. Lee Amphitheater at the end of October as the Yale men’s and women’s basketball teams prepared to launch their seasons.

The event, called “Blue Madness,” was one of many recent campus efforts to raise student support for Yale athletic events. Initiatives spearheaded by multiple groups, including the Yale athletics administration, the Yale Student Athlete College Council and the Whaling Crew — a non-athlete organization that supports Yale athletics — have aimed to increase excitement around Yale athletics and promote higher student attendance rates, head coach of men’s basketball James Jones said.

“We are actively trying to increase attendance at our events,” said Senior Associate Athletic Director Jeremy Makins, who handles ticketing, marketing and rink operations. “We would love for our teams to compete in front of an enthusiastic and energetic fan base, and students play an integral role in creating that atmosphere.”

In addition to Blue Madness, specific initiatives started recently have included “Yale Up!,” an annual pep rally now in its second year that introduces freshmen to Yale athletics at the beginning of the school year, as well as “Bulldog Rewards,” a fan loyalty app that rewards students for attendance at events with prizes such as restaurant gift cards and t-shirts.

With the goal of increasing student attendance at athletic events in mind, the athletic administration has also developed an active and engaging relationship with the Whaling Crew — founded in 2011 — supporting the organization in “any way possible,” Makins said. This fall the group introduced events such as Whaling Crew-organized football tailgates, a bus trip to Massachusetts for the Head of the Charles Regatta and a cookout on Old Campus prior to the Yale volleyball season.

Makins added that the administration has been pleased with Bulldog Rewards, and that it has been a useful tool for informing fans about upcoming events. He added that they are still working to continue building awareness for the app. According to the Bulldog Rewards online leaderboard, at least 40 members of the program have signed in and earned points — by interacting on social media, signing up or attending events — in the last seven days.

The initiatives come at a time when, according to coaches, student-athletes and other students interviewed, support for athletics is at an unsatisfactory level. Of 14 students interviewed, four students said they attend more than two athletic events each semester, and just one said he attends more than five events per semester. Ten students said that in the fall, they usually attend the Harvard-Yale football game and occasionally one more event that semester. And all students interviewed noted that Yale athletics do not receive enough support from the student body.

“I truly don’t believe the Yale student body supports athletics as much as it should,” captain of the men’s basketball team Jack Montague ’16 said.

Matthew Sant-Miller ’17, president of the Whaling Crew, said that the organization’s approach to increasing student support for athletics is three-pronged — it includes improving the experience at games for students, keeping students up-to-date about upcoming events and results and bringing the campus together into a unified community.

However, no students interviewed said a lack of excitement for sports was their reason for not attending events. Instead, all 14 students cited time constraints and the company of friends as the most relevant reasons for deciding whether to attend an event.

“Yalies are very busy and often split between many commitments on any given night,” Adam Lowet ’18, communications director of the Whaling Crew,  said. “Part of the dynamism of this campus is that people are involved in so many different groups, from theater and the arts to improv to Greek life.”

Other students also said they would attend more sporting events if they had more time to do so.

Makins said according to his records for ticketed events, there is usually an average of 500 students at men’s hockey games, 225 at men’s basketball games and 750 at football games. He added that student attendance increases when Yale plays rival Harvard — football attendance often surpasses 5,000 students and basketball and hockey both increased by hundreds of students.