(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Winthrop University is one of several NCAA Division I schools throughout the country experiencing a decline in athletic attendance, especially in men’s basketball.
The Winthrop Coliseum holds up to 6,100 fans, making it one of the larger arenas in the Big South Conference, however, the university fails to fill the seats on a consistent basis.
Winthrop averages 2,121 people per men’s basketball game and the Big South as a conference is ranked 29 out of 32 in terms of attendance when compared to the other Division I conferences.
Matt Martin, associate athletic director for external affairs, said athletic attendance is a priority, but that the size of the arena, at times, plays a factor into why people believe Winthrop has an attendance problem.
“Unfortunately for us, we have a 6,000 seat arena which, is one of the largest (in the conference),” said Martin. “When we get 2,000 people here to a game it feels like nobody is in the building, but nobody else in our conference had 2,000 people either.
“With that being said, there is always room for improvement and we wished there were 6,000 people in here every single night,” he said. “You have to build a product that students want to come to.”
Kinyata Adams Brown, assistant dean for student diversity and student engagement, said the decline in attendance could be the result of an oversaturation of events on the Winthrop campus.
“I don’t think we’re a school that has a shortage of things going on,” said Brown. “Whether it’s an athletic event, a DSU (DiGiorgio Student Union) event or club organization event, we can pretty much find something on schedule every weekend or weeknight.”
Martin said, in the past, there has been an effort to increase student engagement and attendance at athletic events by giving away promotional items such as free t-shirts, rally towels or hats.
“Students typically like to walk away with something, so we really try to give them a good experience and have them bring something they can take home with them and hang up in their dorm room,” said Martin.
Brown said attendance could increase, if campus groups start cooperating with each other.
“If we all have the same objective and we all have the same purpose and we are trying to build a community, how can we work better together,” said Brown.
“Some groups are open to do that, but some groups aren’t,” she said. “Some groups want to have their prime-time show and they want to get all of the credit and don’t want to collaborate with another organization.”
Martin said Winthrop’s recent decision to begin selling beer and wine at baseball and softball games this spring is an attempt to gain more attendance at their athletic events.
“Alcohol sales at collegiate sporting events is something that has been a really hot topic in our industry,” said Martin. “It started with football, it kind of made its way into basketball and in some of the spring sports.
“Introducing it to baseball and softball essentially allowed us to kind of use it as a guinea pig to see if there’s a market for it,” he said.
“Spring sports is an area where we are always trying to get more people to baseball and softball,” said Martin. “So far so good I think, and we are hopeful that we continue to see attendance improve at baseball and softball, which so far has been really good.”
He said Winthrop will continue to try things to increase attendance.
“Now people want club areas and they want more social and interactive areas and we don’t really have a lot of those,” said Martin. “We are trying to develop more interactive areas with suites, club settings, premium seating, courtside seats to make it a more comfortable game to sit and watch.
“We are seeing positive results, but it takes time, Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he said. “It also helps when our teams are good, so if basketball continues to win, like they have been, that is always going to get more people to come out.
“Same thing with baseball, they are having a good year so far, and we are hopeful that we see continued improvement and attendance numbers go up,” said Martin.
* Christopher Adams, Ryen Cohen and Eric Little contributed to this story.