Puck Swami - The Call for Fall Ball

As part of his support of the Lets Go DU Blog, longtime DU sports fan Puck Swami provides his periodic in-depth analysis of DU sports. This article focuses on the DU men's soccer program as a potential big-time opportunity for DU athletics.

I don’t think many of us figured DU would be a top 10 National Men's Soccer Program this season, and while it’s been fun to watch the team run its home unbeaten streak to the nation’s longest at 26 games, there is still a long way to go to elevate the game day experience to anywhere near what DU enjoys for top 10 programs such as hockey or lacrosse.

As soccer grows in America from a primarily a youth participation sport to flourishing TV and spectator sport at both the mens professional level and women’s international level, NCAA college soccer holds some potential to grow into a bigger spectator sport, especially at the University of Denver, where there are a number of favorable conditions for its growth:

Here are some built-in advantages for DU Soccer:

DU Soccer Program Quality: People watch winners, and this year, the DU men are a top 10 program (out of over 200 NCAA D-I programs) including some recent trips to the NCAA tournament. The DU women, while struggling this year, have typically been a top 50 program for many years (out of 350+ programs nationwide), including a recent trip to the NCAA Sweet 16. In short, the teams are good and the home wins are often likely.

Global Connections: With 10% of DU’s student body coming from outside the USA, and over 75% of DU students traveling abroad either during college or before it, DU students have more exposure to global soccer culture than most other student bodies, and DU can leverage that built-in affinity the game better than other schools.

Fall Primacy: Without a DU football team to draw away fall spectators, soccer at DU has the entire fall outdoor sports season to itself, with the students on-campus to enjoy the games for much of the season.

Tailgate Potential: Fall weather and night play allows the potential to create/import the DU spring lacrosse-style tailgate culture to boost student attendance and create a true home field advantage.

Quality Facility: With a 2000-seat stadium, lights and a high-quality playing surface, the Pioneers have a convenient, excellent on-campus facility to watch the game that is very convenient and free for students.

Scheduling Quality: With the Summit League only requiring one game with each league opponent in a season, there is plenty of room in the non-league schedule to bring in quality, name brand opponents to Denver to enhance the growing prestige of the programs.

Quick Games: Unlike a college hockey game that can sometimes be a 3 hour game experience, soccer games are usually over in less than two hours. That better fits today’s busy lifestyles.

So, given that DU has these built-in advantages, here are 10 potential game day enhancements that could help boost DU soccer attendance:

1. Hold tailgates: Over the last four years or so, this successful initiative for lacrosse has boosted the Pioneers into the nation’s top student attendance in the sport. This game day atmosphere could be easily duplicated for soccer games in the Fall.

2. Bring the band, dance team and cheerleaders: Adding the sights and sounds of college sports to a game day elevates the entire perception of the sport among the spectators and helps to build a bigger sense of event to the games.

3. Scheduling flexibility: On those nights where multiple DU sports are playing at home, stagger the start times and facilitate spectator flexibility so that DU fans can support all home sports.

4. Global game-day programming: Since soccer is the most global game, bring in DU’s multicultural groups for halftime cultural performances and add more global food options.

5. Video screen: The video screen at Barton Lacrosse Stadium has elevated the game day experience for lacrosse, and getting a similar screen for soccer should be a fundraising priority for both soccer programs.

6. Designated student section: Currently, DU students tend to get spread out as spectators at DU games. Having a designated place to sit for students could help elevate participation and noise levels.

7. Student section leaders: Get a group of hardcore student fans to bring the cheers, noisemakers and enthusiasm to help engage other students.

8. Student involvement in halftime events. Because of the field size and lack of halftime entertainment beyond typically dull children’s soccer games, the students could stage much more creative entertainment.

9. Create a game day march from the tailgate to the game: As many DU students will notice when studying abroad, the soccer game day march from the pubs to the stadium is a big part of many fan communities in Europe and South America. Some MLS teams have also adopted it, and it could be a good way to fire up the crowd before the game.

10. Creation of Tifo: Tifo is an Italian word that defines the creation of large scale fan displays, such as huge banners (similar to the well-known Mega-Boone banner) and card sections among ultra-fans of a soccer club. This part of soccer culture has also made its way to MLS, and is also starting to appear in US college sports events.

If DU students were to create a true soccer spectator culture, it could be a major addition to student life in the fall, just as lacrosse has changed the student sports experience in the Spring.

Blog Note: This feature by Puck Swami builds on yesterday's post on 'targeted sports'. Many athletic departments have figured that they can't win with the big three (football, basketball, and baseball) so they are focusing their efforts in more specific areas where they have strategic advantage. Can soccer make it 'Big Time' at DU?


Anonymous said...

"...soccer at DU has the entire fall outdoor sports season to itself..."

Maybe the "outdoor season, but what about volleyball?

Hockey and soccer seasons overlap.

Last weekend was Parents/Alumni weekend and the men's soccer team played the same time hockey was.

Puck Swami said...

I am quite aware that volleyball, hockey, swimming and even early basketball do overlap in the fall. That's why I inserted "outdoor" as qualifying statement. The larger point I was making is the primacy of soccer the only outdoor sport at the time it runs, and the potential of that to draw more active fans, especially due to the potential of tailgate culture and the beauty of a Colorado fall day, which can be amazing on campus.

I think if DU can host an NCAA playoff soccer game on campus this year (and win it) it could be the turning point for the sport on campus. Anyone who remembers the first NCAA lacrosse playoff game on campus (vs. Villabova) in 2011 knows how amazing that day was, and how lacrosse truly came of age as a spectator sport at DU that day. I would love to see that happen for soccer at DU.

5BWest said...

Fall used to be dead until Hockey started on the DU campus. I think soccer, men's and women's, and volleyball all pose great possibilities for DU and local fans. As we know from lacrosse and hockey, it takes a commitment and a plan to get there. DU has a real possibility to become relevant in the fall but it does take planning, effort, and coordination as Puck Swami proposes.

This is a great time to be a Pioneer fan.

awready said...

Look at the men's schedule. Its first three games of the season were in August when students hadn't yet returned for the fall quarter. Then away for four games. Students had to play catch-up to find out what was happening with the team and by the time they were home again it was late September.

Hockey is the traditional sport at DU and plays Friday and Saturday nights.

The vast majority, if not all, of home lacrosse games are on Saturdays.

I don't think weekday afternoon or weeknight games will genuinely attract students.

If you want people to tailgate before home games then move them to the weekend.

Also, people have been talking about the rising popularity of soccer in this country for years, back to when the U.S. hosted the men's World Cup and the women hosted and won the women's World Cup.

Anonymous said...


I agree with you on weekend scheduling, where possible. DU could do a better job with that, and move more of it's away games to August when the students are away.

And yes, people have been talking about soccer attendance for years, and it has been moving up. MLS games are now averaging 20,000 per game, with the Rapids averaging about 14,000 per game. In 2013, NCAA soccer attendance for top 10 teams ranged from about 2,000 per game to 3,700 per game. DU lax averages about 2,700 per game. DU men's soccer currently averages about 550 per game. There is no doubt in my mind that DU could get average attendance to about 2,000 per game with the kinds of suggestions that Puck Swami pointed out in that article.