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.
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?