A sold-out crowd witnessed the Loyola men’s basketball team lose its first game of the season against Furman University Nov. 9 at Gentile Arena. The Ramblers’ first sellout comes after Loyola’s Athletics Department altered their rules for student attendance.
The roughly 1,000-seat student section filled up more than an hour before tip-off against University of Missouri-Kansas City Nov. 6. After reaching capacity in the section, students were denied free entry into the game. Senior Jackie Sowa was among the students who were turned away.
“I texted some of my friends who were working at the game and asked if the student section was full,” Sowa said. “They said no it doesn’t seem like it, there are a bunch of seats that aren’t filled … they told us to go to the box office and buy tickets if we wanted to get into the game.”
The athletics department has since sent out emails to address this attendance issue. Brian Day, director of marketing and ticket operations at Loyola, said this amount of student attendance is uncharted territory. According to the athletics department, student attendance was an average of 231 from 2012-16.
“It was only a few years ago that we had a student section of about 1,000 seats and were only averaging a couple hundred [students] per game,” Day said. “We’ll have to keep growing and adjusting to make sure that the entry for both students and fans is as smooth as possible.”
Athletics sent a mass email to students Nov. 8 addressing the issue and said students will still be allowed free entry if the student section is full, but only if there are still unsold tickets. Previously, students were only allowed to sit in the general admission sections of Gentile Arena if they purchased a seat for that section.
“I think that’s the right thing to do, give students the unsold tickets and not charge the students because we have to pay for food and stuff too, you know broke college kids,” Sowa said.
In an additional email Nov. 13, athletics said that students will only be allowed to enter Gentile Arena through the Damen Student Center entrance gate until the student section is full. Then students must go to the southwest gate near Mertz Hall to receive their free, unsold ticket. To accommodate for this increased traffic, students will be allowed to enter Gentile 90 minutes before tip-off compared to the normal 60 minutes for fans.
Sowa was positive about the changes being made, and said she agreed with the athletics department’s decision to do more to accommodate students.
“I think it’s better that they’re letting the students in first,” Sowa said. “There’s a designated student section and the people who bought tickets it’s not like it’s general admission. They have assigned seats where it’s different with students, it’s just first-come first-serve.”
The amount of extra seating for students will vary each game based on the amount of tickets sold to outside fans, according to Day. There will be no additional tickets available for games against the University of Nevada Nov. 27 and Illinois State University Jan. 12, as those games are already sold out.
“We are going to allow the students to fill up the normal student section,” Day said. “Once that gets filled, students can go to the ticket office, and if there are any unsold tickets they can get a free ticket for a ticketed seat. They don’t have to wait until tip, it’s as soon as the ticket office is open they can do that.”
The athletics department said the policy has already led to an increase in overall attendance. In Loyola’s first game of the season — a 76-45 victory against UMKC Nov. 6 — the overall attendance was 3,795. After the change, 4,963 total fans came out to Gentile to watch Loyola play Furman.
“Our goal is that if there are going to be unsold seats we’d obviously rather have students sitting in them instead of them being empty and unsold,” Day said.
Day said he’s optimistic the new rule will continue to boost attendance and possibly add to the amount of games Loyola sells out this season. However, he said he recognized it doesn’t guarantee students will get tickets.
“We’ll do our best to make sure that as many students can get in that we have seats for,” Day said. “Recognizing that we have about a 5,000 seat arena and over 10,000 undergraduate students, we can’t accommodate every single student if all 10,000 want to come. So there will be games where we don’t have any more tickets to offer students.”
Next on the schedule for the Ramblers is a home game Nov. 14 against Niagara University at 7 p.m. This is the first game for Loyola in the Fort Myers Tip-Off, an early season tournament in which the Ramblers will play two games at Gentile before traveling to Fort Myers to play a pair of games over the course of a week.