Fans absent at Calvin basketball games


Photo by Patrick Roelofs

The bounce of the ball, the squeaks of players’ sneakers, the referee’s whistle are always heard at Calvin basketball games. What’s missing? The lively roar of a crowd.

Attendance at Calvin basketball games, both men’s and women’s, is dropping at an alarming rate and it’s time for the Calvin community to take notice.

The men’s team averaged 1,372 attendees per game from the 2014-15 season through the 2016-17 season, only to see the number drop to 1,049 per game last year, and 862 this year. The women’s team averaged 570 fans per game in the same three-year span (including 807 fans per game in 2015-16), and they now only average 253 per game.

The performance of the men’s team this year didn’t seem to have much of an affect on attendance. The 2015-16 and 2017-18 men’s teams, which both finished with an overall record of 10-15, averaged 412 and 187 more fans per game than this year’s team, in spite of the fact that the team this year is an improved 12-11 record overall.

Declining enrollment numbers aren’t the sole source of Calvin’s attendance issues, either. Calvin’s enrollment in the 2014-15 school year was 261 students higher than the 2018-19 school year, but men’s basketball attendance has disproportionately dropped by 593 fans.

Calvin athletic director James Timmer credits the poor attendance rates to four main areas: the philosophy the school has towards events, poor marketing, interim and a recent lack of success on the court.

“Calvin would rather have five events with a couple hundred people than one event that is totally full,” said Timmer. This philosophy leads to students being pulled in many different directions during sporting events, causing fewer fans to be free on game day.

Photo by Patrick Roelofs

Timmer blamed himself for the athletic department’s marketing efforts: “You can throw me under the bus for that one.”

Calvin students tend to agree that marketing efforts could be improved, citing a lack of knowledge about upcoming games and events as the biggest reason why they don’t attend.

“I would go [to games] but I tend not to because I don’t hear anything about them,” says Calvin junior Mackenzie Wiegers. “When I hear about them it’s either during the games, through social media or after the fact.”

After explaining that interim pulls students away from attending games, Timmer went on to say that Calvin’s basketball teams haven’t had the success that the Calvin community is used to over the past five years. Even though the men’s team has seen an improvement since last year, Timmer seemed to believe that the lack of success on the court over the past five years is more important to fan attendance than the year to year success.

Calvin’s dropping attendance rates are eyebrow-raising by themselves, but they become even more concerning when compared to those of rival Hope. Even though many students and alumni of Hope and Calvin have very similar backgrounds, Hope’s basketball fans attend games far more faithfully than their Calvin counterparts.

Hope has averaged 2,225 fans per men’s game this season, while only 862 have attended Calvin games on average. The numbers are even further apart for women’s basketball, as Hope has averaged 925 fans per game compared to Calvin’s 253 fans per game.

The staggering differences between the two schools aren’t exclusive to this year. Since the 2014-15 season, both Hope’s men’s and women’s basketball teams have led Division III in attendance every year, while Calvin has never finished higher than fourth overall for either team.

Calvin’s inability to keep up with Hope can’t be credited to stadium size, as the Van Noord Arena can seat 5,000 fans, opposed to Hope’s Devos Fieldhouse which can only fit 3,400 fans. Once again, enrollment numbers are not the source of the problem. Approximately 3,894 students have attended Calvin per year since 2014-15, 717 more students per year than Hope.

Calvin would rather have five events with a couple hundred people than one event that is totally full ”

— Timmer

Hope junior Mitch Evenhouse believes there are a few factors contributing to the difference between the two schools’ attendance rates.

“I would say the reason that Hope is good attendance is because a lot of alumni show up, and that the Dew Crew (Hope’s fan section) gets perks such as first priority for rivalry games, a shirt, and Mountain Dew at every game. Also Hope has been giving out raffles and gifts, such as hats, to the first 100 people in the stadium.”

Evenhouse went on to say that Hope sends emails to students to alert them about upcoming basketball games, something Calvin doesn’t currently do.

Whatever Hope is doing is working, as they consistently see over 2,000 fans per men’s basketball game and create a sense of excitement among students and alumni alike.

Unless the Calvin community wants to continue to see declining attendance numbers, the school needs to bring back the excitement that used to surround Calvin sporting events, and encourage more people to attend games.