__Student attendance figures up in reward program’s second year__
Last Saturday night’s Old Dominion -Tribe basketball game at Kaplan Arena barely qualifies as a rivalry game akin to the Tobacco Road rivalry between UNC and Duke. Up until a Jan. 5 loss in Norfolk, the Monarchs had won 15 of their last 18 games against the College.
p. However, with the match-up being televised locally on WSKY-TV and 5,284 fans in attendance — the biggest crowd to watch a basketball game at Kaplan Arena in a decade — Saturday’s night game certainly achieved the aura of a rivalry.
p. For a program in the process of rebuilding, it was a groundbreaking night. Even though they lost, the Tribe still managed to split the season series with the Monarchs, who have earned bids to the NCAA tournament two of the last three years. The Tribe has also become a relevant attraction on a campus whose student athletic support is known for being fickle.
p. It’s obvious that winning more games has helped bolster student attendance at Kaplan Arena. Through nine men’s home games in 2006-2007, an average of 281 students came out to cheer on the Tribe, who finished the year with a respectable .500 record. This season, 358 students have attended home games on average, despite a majority of those nine games being played when classes were not in session. Additionally, in each of the three home games after winter break this season, student attendance has eclipsed last year’s record of 669 against Georgia State.
p. Increased fan support is also mirrored at Tribe women’s games. A week ago, the women’s team played nationally-ranked ODU before 1,124 total fans and 134 students at Kaplan Arena. Considering the team only averaged 362 total fans and 70 students per home game last season, it was a solid turnout.
p. What may be at the heart of the increased student attendance figures is the Sixth Man Rewards Program, now in its second year. Last year, there was a 58 percent jump in attendance compared to two seasons ago before the birth of the program, according to Ann Ekberg, Assistant Director of Marketing and Promotions.
This year, the program still allows students to accrue points in hopes of earning free Tribe gear, but instead of tallying total games attended, home games are assigned a point value ranging from one to three.
p. Some students were upset that the game over Thanksgiving break against Houston Baptist was worth three points.
“It’s unfair to weight break games higher when you’re coming from out-of-state and traveling. That was poor scheduling,” said senior Mike Peck, a California native and last year’s Sixth Man grand prize winner.
p. In the past two years, Peck believes Sixth Man prizes and promotions have lured some students who normally don’t care about basketball to both men’s and women’s home games.
“People are going to talk about the team more as it wins more. It’s about creating momentum. If our team dropped off, it would be different, and it would be hard for the basketball program to recover,” he said. “The Sixth Man program has just brought even more people in the door … People feel like they should go to games.”
p. While Peck believes that support for the men’s and women’s programs is on the rise, Tribe pride is still lacking. “You can’t deny we’ve made progress. ODU was a groundbreaking night,” he said. “For now, where we are in all of Division I, we’re still in the lower half of student support.”