With a full house, the Falcons could be back at full strength.
“When an athletic stadium is packed, it has a totally different dynamic,” said senior Shawn Gilbert. “It is easy for the players to draw inspiration from a huge crowd.”
At hockey games, that extra man seems to be missing.
The maximum capacity for the University’s Ice Arena is 5,000 people. This year the average home attendance is 1,772, which is about 35 percent full. The attendance this year is down from last season’s average of 2,167 and from 09-10 campaign’s average of 2,247, said Jason Knavel, assistant athletic director for athletic communications.
“There has been a dip.” Knavel said referring to attendance numbers, “There is no doubt about it.”
Knavel said the hockey program is in a phase of rebuilding, and attendance is really based on wins and losses.
Chris Bergeron, the head coach of the varsity hockey team, weighed in on the low attendance numbers.
“People want to follow a winner,” Bergeron said. “They want a team they can be proud of.”
The team is still rebuilding, but has been making some headway the last couple of weeks, sweeping Ohio State and splitting the series with Notre Dame, Alaska-Fairbanks and Western Michigan, he said.
Bergeron agreed with Gilbert about the importance of a packed stadium.
“No coach can fully express how important a full house is,” he said. “It is so valuable in creating atmosphere for the players. The Ice Arena has a low ceiling so it can get real loud in there with a lot of people.”
Apart from winning games, there are other ways to fill the seats, Bergeron said.
“We have to have a presence both on campus and in the community,” he said. “People have to see that our guys are good guys who go to class and are students as well as athletes.”
The University does the best it can to market for athletics, and getting people in the stadium is “more on us than anyone else,” he said.
Knavel said that while winning is perhaps the best way to increase attendance numbers, the University must do its part to help get people in the doors.
“We are always trying to find ways to improve attendance,” Knavel said. “We have to build a fanbase regardless of wins and losses.”
Gilbert hopes more people will start attending hockey games.
“The hockey team has been playing solid, and in the last few weeks they have beaten ranked opponents,” Gilbert said. “Plus everyone that I take to a game says, ‘That’s the best live sporting event I’ve ever been to.'”
Gilbert said there is an organized group on campus aiming to boost school spirit, called the Falcon Fanatics.
“They set the tone for the rest of the students because they are always on their feet,” Gilbert said. “They’re crazy.”
Gilbert said that well-organized groups of students, like the Falcon Fanatics, can change a culture that will lead to more excitement and better attendance at sporting events.
“People are more likely to cheer when a whole group is cheering too,” he said.