There are plenty of reasons the men’s and women’s basketball teams each lost their first game of their conference tournaments. One could argue that all the reasons were on the court. But I can’t help but wonder what could’ve happened if the Ramblers had more fans to cheer for them.
Once again, the Rambler fanbase was hardly represented at the Arch Madness and Hoops in the Heartland conference tournaments. At the times when the teams needed support the most, the fans were nowhere to be seen. In St. Louis, teams such as Wichita State and Illinois State had fanbases that seemed to take up half of the Scottrade Center’s 19,000 seats. With so many fans, those teams must have felt at home.
But I suppose that was nothing new for the Ramblers. Try as they might, the teams couldn’t get fans in the seats of Gentile Arena this year. In 16 home games, the men’s team averaged 1,862 spectators per game, and the women just 511 in 13 games, according to the Loyola Athletics website. Gentile can hold 4,963 people.
Men’s head coach Porter Moser has said numerous times that the fans make a difference. Given how much Moser appreciates his team’s fans, it’s a shame so few came to the teams’ aid when it mattered most. So many times during a game in Arch Madness, crowds would get deafening, and you could see the various teams feeding off that energy. Loyola only lost by five points to Southern Illinois University. Who knows what could have happened if the Ramblers had some support to at least equal the cheers of the Saluki fans.
I don’t totally blame the fans for this, though. In part, I blame the university.
The Athletic Department has offered fans information on the team, but very rarely any guidance in buying tickets to the most important games of the season.
On Feb. 25, following the regular season finale loss to SIU, there was one tweet from the men’s basketball team’s Twitter account stating the Ramblers would be the five-seed in Arch Madness and detailing when the first game would be played. The next day, the account posted a tweet with the same information. Then there were two tweets from the main Ramblers account, one on Feb. 27 and March 1, asking fans to join the team in a send-off rally.
In all, there were five tweets mentioning Arch Madness between Loyola’s regular season finale and the day the team arrived in St. Louis. Yet there was no information on where people could get tickets, including students, who could have bought tickets at a discounted price.
There were three tweets from the women’s team’s Twitter account between the Ramblers’ regular season finale and the morning of their first conference tournament game. Again, there was no information about purchasing tickets.
There were no email blasts and seemingly minimal outreach to students. I’m not a marketing major, but even I can tell you there’s something wrong about that.
The failure to advertise the only postseason action the teams often see every year is a shame on multiple levels. For one, the conference tournaments are the time when Loyola needs fans the most. Secondly, it’s reflective of the student interest.
Loyola fans are not entirely comprised of students. There is a faithful group of alumni who show up to games in Gentile and feverishly defend the teams on social media. Homers such as these are good; every team needs them. But it’s not enough for the university to count on its diehard faithful; it needs to actively grow its fanbase, and that starts with marketing to current students.
I doubt anyone in the Athletic Department would disagree that more fans in seats would help their teams. That’s why I’m trying to figure out why it seems there was so little an attempt to market the tournaments.
I understand why a fan may not want to go. This year has been a struggle for the women’s team. But the team is still our own, and it deserves our support. First-year head coach Kate Achter inherited a dumpster fire of a situation when she took over. The program was all but in shambles, and she’s had to build the team from the ground up. That in itself is admirable. The fact that there is no information about the conference tournament isn’t fair to her hard work and that of her team.
For the men’s team, Moser has a passion for his team and the university that is second to none. In a year that the media predicted the Ramblers to finish seventh in the MVC, Moser’s team headed into its conference tournament the fifth seed, the highest Loyola has placed since it joined the MVC in 2013. Many predicted Loyola to be a dark horse candidate to win it all.
Some have questioned his coaching style at times, but nobody questions his dedication. Moser has built and is still building a successful program. He appears at every first-year rally, speaks to classes and his recognizable “Students, YOU make a difference” sadly seems to fall on deaf ears. He pours his heart and soul into the team’s success, and when the Ramblers arrive at the biggest stage to prove their worth, there are next to no students there to support them. It’s unreasonable to expect alumni to show up in droves.
In a year such as this — one of the men’s team’s most successful in a while — it’s a shame the Athletic Department hadn’t actually informed students on how to be a part of it. Arch Madness weekend kicked off spring break. Even though there were classes scheduled for the Friday afternoon Loyola played, not every student has class that day — including myself. There could have and should have been more students, plain and simple.
I don’t want to be unfair to the Athletic Department. The people behind the social media also write the press releases, manage player-media interaction and so much more. In my opinion, the lack of tournament information is a result of the department being understaffed. But on a macro scale, it’s inexcusable if Loyola wants to have a respected athletic program like it has said it wants numerous times.
If they need more help, I’m graduating soon and looking for a job. I’d be glad to help. If students really make a difference, there needs to be a change in strategy in getting them to games.