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2/09/2023 12:14 pm  #1

Solving The Attendance Problem

Moneybox brought this up in the Richmond game thread, but I think it merits its own thread.  I don't think there's any one reason why attendance is still down. I am optimistic that the lack of attendance can be somewhat reversed. I will say in general attendance seems to be down all-around college basketball.  Go on a VCU message board and they'll be complaining students don't show up like they did during the Shaka/Wade days.  These are some of the reasons I came up with and the % of responsibility.

1. Lack of Recent Winning (40%)
2. Past Scandals (15%)
3. Current Composition of Student Body Not Interested in Sports Generally (15%)
4. School Not Doing Enough to Promote Teams (20%)
4. Availability of Streaming (10%)

I'm sure there are others that I've missed.

Personally, I think the lack of recent winning is a big factor but is the easiest to fix: just win baby.

Clearly the past scandals contributed to the lack of winning and may still keep people away from the team to this day, but honestly, if we get back to the NCAA tournament in the next couple of years will those same people continue to stay away because of how the whole ML/PN thing went down?  Other scandals during the Penders/Hobbs years certainly didn't do that.  Again, just win baby.

I think the student body reason can be fixed but requires A LOT of effort.  Ryan and George's Army have done a great job increasing student engagement, but I do think the administration has some role in the lack of student interest by the decisions they made to try and turn GW into a STEM school and one where grad programs were prioritized.  College sports is best when it unites all parts of the school, including those students who aren't predisposed to liking sports.  Even the biggest engineering nerd at Michigan will go to the Ohio State game to feel that sense of school spirit and community.  I worry that even if GW starts winning more, there will be a non-insignificant part of the student body who is not feeling the peer pressure to show up to games and cheer on their fellow students.  I really hope the new Prez is able to Make Undergrad Great Again.

Last, as much as the increase in streaming has helped out of state fans stay in touch with the team, I do think it gives an easy out to not show up to every game.  I'm local and I know I went to more games in person prior to ESPN+ than after.  I don't think you necessarily have to "fix" this because if the atmosphere in the Smith Center gets better and if the caliber of visiting teams gets better, locals will want to go to the game even if it is streaming on ESPN+.  I almost skipped the South Carolina game given the 9pm start time but I wanted to experience the Smith Center that night in person and I was certainly happy I went.

Last edited by GW0509 (2/09/2023 12:24 pm)


2/09/2023 12:41 pm  #2

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

1. I absolutely agree that winning brings people in. 15-16 crowds were significantly higher than they are now even against not so relevant opponents for this very reason. Students would go to see their RANKED team play anyone. A 10 game winning streak? Hell yeah let's keep it going. This matters more than most schools will admit. 
2. That will have to run its course. Unfortunately that may require GW to step up and take some responsibility for their decisions the last few years, including backing Nero, ignoring complaints by multiple staff members, etc. Time will tell if they are willing to ever do this. 
3. This argument never sat right with me. Any college kid is willing to get hammered and watch a sport. Even if they don't know a thing about the sport. The student section is the most consistent thing about recent attendance. The regular fans are the ones who need to start showing up. Until then only one section will be loud. 
4. The school would cite the above reasons for why they aren't gonna risk more money for a program that brings in so little to begin with. Plus with the recent string of suits I guarantee they don't have the funds they used to to just be able to throw at basketball. From what I heard the budget was cut almost in half under the last coach. Times are tough. 
5. Streaming would mostly apply to out of towners. If the team was meeting the above people would want to see them live. Streaming isn't a causation it is more of an effect of the poor play, scandals, etc. 


2/09/2023 2:12 pm  #3

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

Some other new headwinds I'd add post-pandemic:
1. There's a good number of folks, particularly of the older, long-term loyal set, who are still skittish about being in crowds.
2. People aren't in their offices downtown anymore, making getting to Foggy Bottom much harder for many than it used to be on a weeknight.
3. The Metro is a shell of what it used to be, especially out in the 'burbs.
4. The inability to get into the arena for a year screwed up people's habits, and new activities, hobbies, etc. filled the gap left by the pandemic and made GW basketball feel less important.

It's clear that for program insiders, the fallout of 2016-18 is still a sensitive subject (in no small part because of specific folks continuing to pick the same scabs with the same dramatic declarations of good and evil). And while all that stuff is a black eye for the university, I think GW has to bear the blame most for failing to provide the resources and support to help the program recover from the circular firing squad of 2016-18.

Seven different classes of students have enrolled since Mike Lonergan was on the sideline at GW. There have been two presidents (with a third en route), three provosts, and three men's basketball coaches. We have a new Athletics Director. The staff has, for the most part, turned over at every level of the institution. And when most folks talk about the malaise surrounding the program for these last few years, I don't think they're talking about unsatisfying conclusions to lawsuits or unnamed sources in the Post or the lack of a GW Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They're pissed that when the wheels fell off a fast-moving train, the university seems to have walked away and left the program and department to crumble. 

GW is opaque about *why* it has its failings, but its failings are pretty transparent. Despite the incredibly hard work by the AD and the coaches and staff to keep the same level of enthusiasm and community alive, it's obvious that they've been doing all they can to move deck chairs on a sinking ship. 

GW fans have stuck through some tough times over the years, and I think each time we knew that some person or people in high places cared about the program as much as we did. I'm still looking for a sign of that in Rice Hall right now.


2/09/2023 2:52 pm  #4

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

Creeksandzeeks: Bingo. Hammer finds the nail’s head.


2/09/2023 3:27 pm  #5

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

This is a thought-provoking thread.  Great points, particularly the one about the wheels falling off a fast-moving train while the school walked away, failing to provide the needed support.  Since the days of Dr. Chernak, who has this program had in its corner aside from those in the athletic department?  We had a university president who was a year from retiring and hid his head in the sand throughout ML/PN.  We had a Provost take on his responsibilities who was completely ill-equipped to handle such manners.  We've had another president who while seemingly a proponent of athletics, stuck his foot in his mouth one too many times to stay at GW long enough to help get this program back on track.  We've had a CFO who may have eyed the right coach for us all along but pulled a very unprofessional power play on our Athletic Director and at the expense of our former coaching staff to get him here (and who has since resigned).  I never would have imagined how important it was to have a Dr. Chernak-like figure on the inside, but this appears to be apparently so.

Going to a game is not at all like going to an NFL game where you've invested an entire day and no less than $400.  So to anyone locally who can attend but opts to stream instead, all I can say is that the experience you had last night streaming the game was 1000% different than the one I enjoyed being there live.  IMO, there is no better live sports experience than attending college basketball, bigtime college football, and NHL playoff games in person.

Finally, I must call attention to GW0509's easy fix to a lack of recent winning....just win baby.    This reminded me of a very old Steve Martin routine:

"You can have 1 million dollars, and not pay taxes.  That's right, 1 million dollars can be yours without you paying any taxes on this.  First, get a million dollars (said very softly and quickly)....." 


2/09/2023 4:39 pm  #6

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

While the team is heading toward winning (hopefully), maybe the sound system could be fixed, the railings tightened up, and the food offerings improved. The Smithy looks nice, but many things have the flavor of bush league! So many things to fix and an apathetic fan base to boot (with the exception of the few people on this board and in the Buff and Blue Club).  


2/09/2023 5:48 pm  #7

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

I continue to beat the same drum - tilt admissions towards students who have an interest in some sport - any sport.  


2/09/2023 8:10 pm  #8

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

You are all missing the COVID thing. Attendance at many schools/events has been down post-COVID. Whether that's residual fear or just that people aren't doing the same things they did before COVID I can't tell you. The problem is more noticeable at GW because we were losing fans before COVID for the above-mentioned reasons. COVID might have been a multiplier on the reasons stated above.


2/09/2023 11:55 pm  #9

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

Shifting to remote work is having a very big impact, I think, at least among youngish alums. Speaking from experience, it was nice to be able to grab a drink and food with a couple of friends after work and then head to the game. Even if the team wasn't good it was still a good midweek social outing. Now there are so many fewer people working from offices regularly in DC, and even those who are probably don't have many friends who are also doing it. I'm willing to go see a midweek GW basketball game by myself, but more casual fans -- the ones who were showing up at least partly because of the social aspect of it -- probably aren't. Maybe this is just my specific experience but I'd be surprised if there aren't others in the same boat.

And for the youngest alums -- those who were in school in the past 5 years -- there's compounding factors upon factors. 1) the team was bad when they were in school; 2) the pandemic; 3) more have remote jobs and aren't a short walk or metro ride away from foggy bottom during the week 4) because of more remote jobs, there are probably fewer who stayed in the DC area after graduating than in previous years.


2/10/2023 2:11 am  #10

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

Reasons given above for attendance problems are all valid and excellent.   At the expense of being accused of being a dinosaur, I'm going to offer up a few of my own.   Certainly, lack of winning and Covid residue are probably the big 2, but don't ignore the fact GW sports effectively gets ZERO coverage/publicity in the local media, whether it be press, TV, whatever, and hasn't for many years.   Specialized blogs and accessing THE HATCHET might work for those already aware of and interested in GW sports, but will not build interest broadly.   I can hear everyone now, "Don't you know no one ever reads the paper or watches news/sports on TV anymore, old timer !"  I will respectfully disagree.   My FIRST introduction to football was going with my uncle to GWU games at DC Stadium (he got free tickets somehow regularly).   I can remember the headlines and action photos in the Post Sports section trumpeting a Dick Drummond 100 yd rushing game or the like.   GW sports was a KNOWN quantity to lots of locals (and others) because of the media.   Most importantly, local media coverage was a signal to everyone - including our own students and alumni - that GW sports had relevance and some importance to the city and its people.    Conversely, no coverage sends the opposite message.   I'd also like to see our Sports Information Director (do we even have one anymore ??) and staff get pro-active .   Let's invite local youth basketball teams to EVERY game and host local HS teams at EVERY game.   Let's let people know we exist and that the game experience at the Smitty is lots of fun.   Let's have some fun acts at halftime.   It's sad, but we're in the position where we need to publicize the very existence of our program much more aggressively.   With the right people on the job and a real commitment from the school, I'm convinced we can be regularly filling up the Smitty within a very few years.


2/10/2023 8:03 am  #11

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

Winning will get the students back.  That problem will solve itself.
As a season ticket holder since the end of the Hobbs era, I can tell you I ended up attending less games over the past few years.  Living outside the city and committing to long drives in and out to watch “unwatchable” teams the last few years was just not worth it.  Still purchased the tickets to support the program but left it at that.
Now  the new coach has the team playing team quality basketball (let’s forget Duquesne) and it is fun to watch.  Still missing some games due to life but it is fun to commute back in to the Smith Center.
In general need better “out of the box” marketing by the GW staff.  Maybe start having free “snacks and drinks” for registered alumni - those not in the club.  Do this for a few years while the team is getting better.  You get the people “hooked” - everybody wants a freebie - and you get their contact information.  Build it as a networking event .  You can use that main concourse leve room that just goes empty.  Will take a small bit of $$now but will pay dividends in a few years.  Have a GW Lawyer night? 
If not this idea a different one.  Use all those students in the MBA program to good use.  Brainstorm.


2/10/2023 10:22 am  #12

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

I do not ever recall a time when the Smith Center was consistently selling out.  In the best of times, we might see attendance for conference games range from 3,000-5,000 with a handful of these being sellouts.  Post-ML but pre Covid, this dropped quite a bit.  Conference games went from say 2,800-4,000 under ML down to about 1,600-2,200 under MoJo.  Then JC coincided with the Covid years and attendance took another big hit.  Last season, our average home attendance was less than 1,200.

So while Covid has served to hurt matters, the precipitous drop began well before 2020.  The ideas mentioned in this thread are all solid.  That said, I will again point out that there are more GWU alumni living in the Metro Washington area than any other area school aside from College Park.  This includes both Georgetown and Mason.  The school should be targeting alum with children old enough to attend games.  Before having my children, I went to a few games but was not a season ticket holder.  Once I took my children to their first game, we were all hooked, and I became a season ticket holder.  Our games represent affordable entertainment for most young families.  If you are an alum over the age of 50 and live in the area, you're either at the games already or you're not likely to buy season tickets.  


2/10/2023 11:01 am  #13

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

Random but hopefully relevant thoughts...

This is a universal problem.  I teach a class in event management at Mason and every semester I do a day on event marketing (the premise being you can have the best event in the world, but if nobody comes then you might as well not had the event).  As part of that I do a case study with the class with the premise: "How did George Mason Basketball see a significant lack of student interest after their Final Four year, and why do virtually no students attend now?

The results from my most recent case study discussion:
- When asked how many of my 15 students have ever attended a game, the answer was just one.
- When asked what it would take to get them to go (I gave them choices), 1 said she would go if there were free pizza, 2 more said they would do it for a $25 discount at the bookstore, and 3 said they would if they were entered into a contest (by attending) in which they could win free or reduced tuition via some kind of scholarship/grant.    
- The other 8 wouldn't go under any circumstances.

The above is a telling stat about the interests of students versus the alternative (whatever that is, and often which could be just staying in and doing nothing).

I also asked about Greek organization participation at games and found that they don't attend.  I found this surprising as I always felt this was such a great marketing and bonding opportunity for them. There are certainly incentives they can do with Greek organizations via points toward some kind of reward.

When I worked at Virginia Tech back in 2004-2005, to earn first dibs on football tickets and also to get the best seats at basketball games, students could earn "points" by attending just about any school sporting event.  

There are all sorts of ways to motivate casual fans into becoming committed ambassadors who show up every game.   It's like PKGW said..everybody likes a freebie.  They also like chances to win something big (not some random giveaway).

I was at the LaSalle game last week and there's free parking for all fans.  That's a win in my mind and makes it more likely I'd attend. 

Anybody in business (or who watches Shark Tank) can tell you there's a cost to obtain a customer.  There's also a cost to keep them when it comes to coming to games.  If it's important to GW (or any school), they have to treat it like it's a vital existential element of the business of being a university.

OK...that's my two cents.


2/10/2023 12:08 pm  #14

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

So much good stuff in this thread.  I never had really thought abuot Covid being a factor in keeping attendance down.   I had considered "streaming" as one of the causes,  especially for the fan who once saw going to the game as the only means of truly following the every game is broadcast.   Barry brough up some faciniating points, the scariest of which was the generaly lack of interest in the game.   I suppose parking and inadequate public transportation (read that as Metro sucks) is also a factor.   A good starting point to rebuild the base is to reach out to what I suspect is hundreds of season ticket holders who did not renew.  I would also consider reaching out to schooll groups, rec leagues and others that may have more of an interest.  And of course there is free pizza, with the hope that if you expose the product to larger numbers, then it may catch on with at least some of the group.    And of course reach out more to the community.  Sell it as a relatively inexpensive event in the Foggy Bottom and beyond communities.  


2/10/2023 4:52 pm  #15

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

Win and they will come--at least some more will.  But even in Mike Jarvis" heyday, sellouts were rare. I'll feel better if sometime soon I just don't have to be surrounded by our opponents' fans in the Blue Seats no less. Very sad! GW has never been a "sports school" and it never will be. The administration has never really given a damn about real and consistent sports success-- even since the mid-1960s when the school was down to one revenue-producing sport--men's basketball. 


2/10/2023 6:38 pm  #16

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

I’ve been a fan for 50 years and remember the place being full for big games. When we moved from the DMV, we no longer could attend in person but I have an anecdote about engaging young fans.

My 7 year-old grandson and I watch the weekend games together (thank goodness for ESPN+) and he is now a fan. He wants me to take him to a game, which I hope to do some day. He also wants a James Bishop jersey but, of course, they don’t exist for sale. In fact, the bookstore doesn’t have much in the way of basketball stuff. Here in Madison, you can buy the jersey of every U of WI player, as well as former players. I know, apples and oranges, but still …

Anyway, he’s hooked on the Colonials, and no reason why other youngsters wouldn’t respond the same way if they were exposed to GW basketball.

Not sure how he’ll respond to the name change, though. Have to break it to him gently.


2/10/2023 9:54 pm  #17

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

I will start by saying that I think attending college basketball in general-- and GW games in particular-- is one of the best values your entertainment dollar can obtain. If attending games did not involve long-haul flights for me, I would go to every home game.
Even in the Before Times when maskless breathing in public was an acceptable social behaviour, in-person attendance at entertainment events was waning, GW basketball included. After shelling out the money to build a "man cave", fewer and fewer fans were willing to struggle with transportation, cost, uncomfortable seats, bathroom queues and putting up with the "bro" on his cell phone next to you talking loudly about his crypto deals instead of watching the key play to bother to attend in person. Add in the high def multiple camera angles, the ability to choose one´s adult beverage of choice and being able to pause the action on the TiVo when the call of nature necesitates, and the home-viewing experience was beating the schlep to the old barn to see it in-person, even before the End of Times. 
This was true not just for college basketball but for sports, theater, movies, opera and even live music. Add in the COVID-era discovery of streaming and the realization that being around other humans is not all it is hyped up to be, and the drop off in attendance is understandable. Sure, the fact that GW hoops has not exacly had a "can´t miss" product on the court has contributed, too. But when they give people what they want (the Top Gun and Black Panther sequels, for example) even movies are having a hard time putting butts in seats because audiences are happier at home in their bathrobes watching Tiger King and Stanley Tucci putterring around Italy. 
I thought student turnout for the Richmond game was lousy and a surprise given how supportive they had been at games earlier in the season. And the frats/sorrorities thing is a pretty crummy excuse (I was proudly a member of GDI -- God Damn Independent-- and I seem to recall we were the majority so  if the emotionally needy members of the little boys and girls clubs were too busy reinforcing their social status there were still plenty of students left to fill the stands). But the trend throughout entertainment is to expect fewer butts in seats for anything but the biggest events (apparently scalpers are making less of a premium on this year´s Super Bowl than last year´s, for example).
So, how does GW compete with the stay at home and/or do other things experience? If I knew I would be rich. To start, I would say all the above suggestions sound good (although free pizza for all might not be financially viable, and without vegan options it will be seen as an "exclusionary" promotion by those who want to whine anyways). But short of halftime performances by Taylor Swift and Bad Bunny, I am not sure if we will ever see the Smith Center become a hot item on the resale market.


2/10/2023 9:56 pm  #18

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

WisconsinColonial2021 wrote:

I’ve been a fan for 50 years and remember the place being full for big games. When we moved from the DMV, we no longer could attend in person but I have an anecdote about engaging young fans.

My 7 year-old grandson and I watch the weekend games together (thank goodness for ESPN+) and he is now a fan. He wants me to take him to a game, which I hope to do some day. He also wants a James Bishop jersey but, of course, they don’t exist for sale. In fact, the bookstore doesn’t have much in the way of basketball stuff. Here in Madison, you can buy the jersey of every U of WI player, as well as former players. I know, apples and oranges, but still …

Anyway, he’s hooked on the Colonials, and no reason why other youngsters wouldn’t respond the same way if they were exposed to GW basketball.

Not sure how he’ll respond to the name change, though. Have to break it to him gently.

That is a great story, however I will tell you right now that if the 2 of you ever make it to the Smitty,  I only have 2 tickets and I use one of them, so one of you are going to have to sit by yourself.
I have a somewhat similar story, but different, regarding the exposure of a team to a younger person.   My sister lives in Central Jersey, and I would generally go to the GW games at Rutgers when they were still in the conference.  I would take my young nephew (my sister's kid) to the RAC with me for the games and he became addicted.   Unfortunately, he ultimsately went to URI so he became a lifelong Rams fan, but he had never been to a college game before and fell in love with the just a little bit of exposure.


2/11/2023 7:49 am  #19

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

WisconsinColonial2021 wrote:

My 7 year-old grandson and I watch the weekend games together (thank goodness for ESPN+) and he is now a fan. He wants me to take him to a game, which I hope to do some day. He also wants a James Bishop jersey but, of course, they don’t exist for sale. In fact, the bookstore doesn’t have much in the way of basketball stuff. Here in Madison, you can buy the jersey of every U of WI player, as well as former players. I know, apples and oranges, but still …

Go to amazon or ebay and you can have one made for you.  Does James B have an NIL - merchandise site?


2/11/2023 9:11 am  #20

Re: Solving The Attendance Problem

All good points. But, I believe the central issue is that the team persists in a “failure to disappoint mode” Last year losing so badly to Mason and Umass put a dagger in the hearts of Alums who travelled to the games. This year having a three game losing streak to Fordham, Duquesne and LaSalle caused great disappointment. With a 5-2 start in the league, with wins against South Carolina and Dayton, did anyone expect this three game losing streak? Again “disappointment” seems to follow the team and their fans.Additionally, during games, a less  than thought out fan strategy exists. I am in strong favor of providing pizza and snacks to the students. But, whoever decided to bring these to the blue seats and members of the Colonials Club is not very bright. Spend resources and gifts on the students. Old farts like me do not need pizza after eating in the cLub. I like the ides of giving points to students who attend consecutive games. Reach a point level, pick  a lottery number for iPads or a flight to Miami during spring break. The management needs to be creative and efficient. No more  having a repair man with a cast on his hand taking 20 minutes to repair a basketball net.


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