Georgia State sports and sellout crowds: two things that are not said in the same sentence very often– but why? The Georgia State football team had its best season to date this year, even winning the AutoNation Cure Bowl under Shawn Elliott’s leadership. The football team had its stars in 2017, with Penny Hart and Conner Manning both having great seasons.
The new Georgia State football stadium holds 25,000 people and only came close to that number on opening day against Tennessee State with 24,333 people in attendance, presumably because it was the first game played at the stadium. In perspective, the team played at Penn State the following week, and the Nittany Lions sold a whopping 102,746 seats, over four times the highest number Georgia State sold.
Likewise, the men’s basketball team under head coach Ron Hunter had one of the most impressive runs in school history. D’Marcus Simonds led the team on a 10-game winning streak, a Sun Belt title and an NCAA Tournament berth, and yet the only time the GSU Sports Arena was full was against conference rival Georgia Southern.
The bottom line is that Georgia State sports teams such as the football and men’s basketball team are performing at an above average level but still cannot consistently get students in the stands. The Signal sat down with some students to get their perspective to try and solve the attendance conundrum.
Hunter Blanket, a junior majoring in business attends Georgia State games but not as many as he’d like. For Blanket, who says he would ideally be at every football game and most basketball games, it just comes down to priorities with class. Blanket’s class load is very demanding, and there is not always time for extra leisure events like sports games. However, Blanket had good things to say about the times he was there.
“I love how close the student section is to the field, those seats are for sure the best seats I’ve ever had, and they were free,” said Blanket, referring to the free tickets students receive.
Blanket was also optimistic that the acquisition of the Georgia State Stadium, which used to be Turner Field, will help increase school spirit and attendance at games.
“Getting Turner Field was a big step in the right direction. Everything else will fall into place eventually, it just comes with time,” said Blanket.
Marquis Baker, a graduate student, has attended only one game in his two years at Georgia State and blamed his location for this. Baker, a transfer student from Howard University, doesn’t live on campus, making it difficult to attend games. Baker lives 30 minutes south of campus, and it’s not easy to get back to campus around game times. This is a stark contrast from when Baker attended Howard and lived on campus; he attended almost every game because of the ease of access on campus.
This seems to be a common trend among students who do not live on campus – they do not want to or cannot come back to campus for sports events. Seventy-nine percent of Georgia State students live off campus, according to usnews.com, making transportation to optional events difficult.
So what could convince students to make attending games a priority in their schedule?
Baker says it’s all about student involvement at games – and the food of course. He said that more food options at games and student involvement in things such as half-court shots would be a big step in the right direction.
Blanket talked about the culture and spirit of the school, something that has traditionally been a pitfall at State but is changing year by year. Blanket noted that he had seen the overall school spirit improve over the past few years but said, “sometimes it feels like a high school game on Saturdays.”
Georgia State Athletics’ View
Mike Holmes, associate athletic director of sports communication, believes the addition of Georgia State Stadium is a step in the right direction, but he knows the importance of winning at home.
“Honestly I think the one thing that hurt us the most, even though we had a winning season, we went 1-4 at home,” said Holmes regarding the football team.
One of the biggest challenges Holmes sees Georgia State facing from a marketing perspective is the wide diversity of students at State. While Holmes was quick to assert that this diversity is a great thing for Georgia State, he said it does make it tough to target every demographic within the school.
“Part of it that makes it very tricky is that we have a very diverse student base, and obviously if you have a diverse base, it’s going to have a lot of diverse interests,” said Holmes.
Georgia State does, however, have some initiatives in the works to increase attendance and overall school spirit. The “Fan from Day One” program is one program Holmes talked about that targets students as incepts when they first come to Georgia State. This program gives students and parents information about the upcoming season and rewards students that sign up. These rewards are things like t-shirts and the chance to run on the field at Georgia State’s first game, which can go a long way with freshmen to make them feel welcomed and a part of the school.
“We need to go and educate the freshmen as much as anyone, so hopefully it becomes the norm for them,” said Holmes.
From Georgia State Athletics’ perspective, it’s about creating an early culture of sports that will eventually take over the school.
The Future of State Attendance
It seems that a lack of ease of access is a big reason students don’t go to more games, which may not be surprising considering how spread out Georgia State is. Traffic, work and rigorous classes don’t help the cause either.
Georgia State is confident attendance will rise as the new tradition of Georgia State Stadium becomes more solidified and the “Fan from Day One” program continues to evolve. On the other hand, students such as Hunter Blanket are leading the way to creating a new culture of sports at Georgia State by attending the games and taking advantage of the free tickets given out by the school.