The University of Calgary Dinos football team is truly outstanding. Currently ranked second in the nation — and coming off a 41-point victory over their rivals, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies — the squad has their sights set on winning their fifth-straight Hardy Cup championship, a feat that would be the first in the history of the Canada West conference.
This year, the team will be vying for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Vanier Cup for the third time in four years. It seems as though the Dinos have picked up this season right where they left off. After blazing to a 5–0 start, the Dinos have amassed some pretty impressive numbers so far this season — except for in the bleachers.
Entering the 2012 season, it was no secret that the football team was excellent and had an outstanding home record — 4–0 at home and 8–0 overall last season.
In 2011, the Dinos cruised to yet another CW championship and a home game in the national semifinals. So far this season they’ve convincingly won their first three home games against the University of Regina Rams, the Kickoff game against the University of Alberta Golden Bears and their latest game against the U of S Huskies. In their first five games, the Dinos outscored their opponents by a staggering 242–50.
Despite the team’s continuing success, one thing that has incessantly frustrated coaches, faculty directors and players alike has been attendance records — or lack thereof — for Dinos home games.
In spite of tremendous success in the 2011 season, which featured an explosive offense, a virtually untouchable defense and an average margin of victory at 19.5 points per game, the Dinos had a minuscule average attendance of only 1,265 fans per home game.
A team playing at such a high calibre certainly deserves more support from the student body than what they have seen in previous seasons. In last year’s Mitchell Bowl — the western CIS semifinal — the Dinos played in McMahon Stadium in late November in -25 C. Regardless, the team was coming off their second-straight appearance in the national championship game, and all the fan support they could receive was a measly average of 1,265 fans for four home games.
Sadly, this troubling trend is all too familiar for the university as poor attendance records have been a concern of the program since their first national championships in 1983 and 1985. This season, the Dinos averaged 3,292 fans for each of their first two home games, putting the U of C 16th out of 26 in football attendance for schools across Canada.
One problem has been retaining students who attend the Kickoff game during orientation week. Game one of the season had 1,818 fans versus the Rams whereas the Kickoff game brought 5,309 fans.
The most recent game on September 29 versus the U of S at home was an important game in terms of gauging the progress of fan support this season. The first game was before the start of the semester and the following game was the Kickoff game, which usually produces the highest attendance of the season.
The Kickoff game gave U of C marketing directors and faculty some hope that student attendance may be improving. However, Saturday’s pounding of the U of S only managed to bring out 2,089 fans — a major disappointment once again, bringing their average home attendance down to 3,098 per home game this season.
So the question that remains is, What keeps students from attending home games? It couldn’t be the location since the football team plays in a top-notch facility in McMahon Stadium right next to campus. By comparison, the University of Manitoba Bisons play on a barren field surrounded by what looks like a high school running track with nothing but prairie flats behind it — this makes McMahon look like the Roman Colosseum.
It certainly couldn’t be the level of talent on the field considering the Dinos haven’t lost a home game since September 4, 2010. Furthermore, this September has been delightfully warm every weekend so far, ruling out weather as a possibility. What is left? Perhaps the lack of football culture around the university makes it a challenge to entice students to games.
“It’s a long-term problem this campus has faced,” said Dinos communications director Ben Matchett. “The fact that it’s become so deep-seeded is a part of the problem. It’s not just about culture, it’s about pride. Once we engage with the whole campus and the community, a lot of other things will become easier to do.”
Universities all over the country take pride in their football programs. Pep rallies and homecomings that were once a staple for uniting students and building team spirit for upcoming football games are almost non-existent in western Canada, but remain a rite of passage in smaller schools out east. However, a major problem Matchett expressed was playing in a major city.
“The other major cities all have the same problem as us: there are always other options for entertainment and sports,” said Matchett. “We need more creative marketing solutions.”
Matchett’s argument gains strength when you consider that smaller universities throughout Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces have some of the highest average attendances in the country.
“It’s like the double-edged sword,” said Dinos marketing coordinator Alex Molotsky. “Someone will want to go to a game but their friends won’t and vice versa. There are almost always other things to do.”
Unfortunately, students around campus had many reasons for not attending games.
“I usually don’t know when the games are — they’re not very well advertised around campus,” said Shakiyl Payne, a second-year natural science major.
“There’s no reason to get excited,” said Andrew Fahim, a fourth-year health sciences major.
Nevertheless, Molotsky is optimistic that future support is not out of reach: “We need to focus on three groups: U of C students, under-18 athletics programs around the city and university alumni. The hope is that these three groups will help spill out support into other areas of the university and the community,” said Molotsky.
However, the number one issue Matchett has determined for student apathy was simply that U of C students “don’t know when the games are. And if that’s the excuse, then let’s eliminate it. We need to start at the basic level — raising awareness.”
Dinos athletics have made great strides with their social media campaigns over the past year, in addition to the “Proud to be a Dino” campaign that started in the spring to help students build pride around athletics programs. The campaign focuses on getting students, staff and faculty to associate as Dinos, regardless of their relationship to athletics. The goal is to instill pride in the university as a whole.
Nevertheless, the U of C Dinos deserve to be celebrated within the student body, starting by filling the stands. Unfortunately, the issue of dreary attendance expands beyond football. With some of the best athletic teams in the country, fans should come out to cheer them on. And in case anyone has forgotten: games are free for students. Show the Dinos some love.