Commuter colleges face tough task with game attendance
Madison Area Technical College’s athletic support tends to go as the team’s performance goes. Teams with great success tend to get decent crowds, but teams that are struggling tend to have issues bringing people in.
Jason Verhelst, Madison College’s Sports Information Director, thinks that one of the biggest challenges in getting students to attend is the fact that the school is a commuter campus. He feels that it’s hard to ask students to go back to their home a little outside of Madison and then have them travel through what is often bad weather to come back and see a game.
“The best thing that could happen to us is getting dorms,” Verhelst said. On campus student housing is part of the long-term facility plan for the college, which Verhelst sees as a big plus.
The hope is that the possible dorms will create more of a campus culture with students constantly around. It seems more likely for them to attend a game if they are already living in the area. Eventually it should lead to seeing an increase in all student activities.
Players from the local area seem to draw the biggest crowds at the college. When teams have been good, but had players mostly from neighboring states, they did not see as much attendance as teams that featured local talent.
“A lot of our athletes are from around Madison, they’re from Dane County. They have friends, relatives and family members that come to the games. There are a lot of kids they went to high school with that are still local, and they come and watch. That’s the majority of the people,” Verhelst said.
Indoor sports, such as basketball, tend to attract more fans than the ones played outside like soccer or baseball. Baseball has seen higher attendance at times due to the team having a strong track record of success.
Madison College really tries to get the word out about its sports’ teams as much as possible. The boards around the school have many athletic postings, and there is always information on the sports Facebook page or on the school website.
“Say I’m going to a badger game. I’m going to go to uwbadgers.com and I’m going to look at the schedule. If I’m going to a Madison College game because I have a friend or something, I’m going to look at their website,” Verhelst said. “I think for the majority of people they are so online savvy they go find it out.”
The Wisconsin Badgers can cast a shadow over Madison College sports at times. Verhelst feels that if Madison College were in a small town, the sports program would be huge. It is difficult to compete with a division one NCAA program that regularly features teams in the national top 25.
“For me, when I open up the paper I want to see the Badgers, what the Packers did,” Verhelst said. “I’m not dumb. I know a lot of people aren’t opening up the paper to find out Madison College stuff.”
Verhelst believes that what Madison College sports really have to offer are great human-interest pieces. He explained that over the years such pieces have been seen in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and ESPN. There are a lot of great stories waiting to be told about the school’s athletes, Verhelst added.
Students can always attend games for free by using their Madison College OneCard. Younger students can attend games for $2 while non-students may attend for $4. There are convenient concessions for people to enjoy at the games.