Sports

Popularity of Loyola Athletics Continues to Grow

Nick Schultz | The PhoenixMembers of the Loyola student section wear beanies that were given away prior to the game against Missouri State Feb. 17.

As Loyola Athletics continues to grow in popularity, the marketing team has been working to find new ways to fill Gentile Arena on a nightly basis.

Director of Marketing and Ticket Operations Brian Day said with increasing applications and attendance to Loyola, getting new students to come to the games has been his top priority. Day said he’s been working hard to get Loyola students involved well before men’s basketball’s Final Four run.

Loyola’s most recent undergraduate class, the class of 2022, is the biggest in the school’s history. The class of 2021 was 2,807 students and the class of 2022 increased that number to 2,924. Day said the marketing team has worked hard to get new students to come as many events as possible.

“Even before they step foot on campus, there’s two events that happen for admitted students at basketball games every year,” Day said. “They’re exposed to athletics right away. … We’ve done that prior to [men’s basketball’s] Final Four run.”

With every home game comes a new way to incentivize students to come to the games, according to Day. A more recent strategy is “90’s night,” where fanny packs are given to the first 50 students who arrive at Gentile Arena to watch men’s volleyball. Day has worked with local businesses, student organizations and other teams to draw support for the Ramblers with free merchandise to dedicated fans.

Nick Schultz | The Phoenix Loyola’s first sellout of the year came Nov. 9 against Furman.

“The fanny pack, the scarves, the beanies [are] unique giveaways that try to attract attention,” Day said. “On top of that, what we really try to focus on is the experience. … [We want them to] come back next weekend even though there’s not a giveaway.”

Men’s volleyball head coach Mark Hulse said it’s a team effort to attract students to games. While Day leads the marketing efforts, Hulse and other coaches work with him to determine the best games for which to host giveaways.

“There’s a real communal feel over here,” Hulse said. “We’re all on the same team working towards the same goal. We’re bringing ideas to the table and telling them, ‘Hey, this is going to be a really big match, maybe we could [give away] some t-shirts.’ That’s what we did for our playoff run in April.”

The Ramblers retained men’s basketball head coach Porter Moser after a job offer from St. John’s University came his way. Day said it’s Moser’s recruiting and charisma that has helped make the men’s basketball team as beloved as it is.

In its 2015-16 season, Loyola men’s basketball averaged 1,832 fans per home game. Now, in their most recent 2018-19 season, the Ramblers averaged 3,712 fans per home game, according to the Loyola Athletics website. Day said this explosion in viewership has brought about some challenges for the marketing staff.

“We’re bringing ideas to the table and telling them, ‘Hey, this is going to be a really big match, maybe we could [give away] some t-shirts.’

Mark Hulse, Loyola men’s volleyball head coach

It’s important for Loyola Athletics to keep this momentum going, according to Day. He said he has been working with student organizations and local businesses to keep halftime shows and giveaways unique. Several coaches have spoken at orientations for Loyola. Day said this involvement and the lack of turnover within the athletics department has increased fan interest. He said with the stability of the coaches as well as the rebuilding of many athletic programs, there is plenty of optimism surrounding Loyola Athletics.

In the previous two seasons, women’s soccer head coach Barry Bimbi has turned the program around from 5-11-3 in 2016 to 13-7 in 2017 and 11-7-1 in 2018. Under Hulse, men’s volleyball has come one win shy of making the NCAA tournament in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) tournament two years in a row.

Hulse said he’s seen an increase in student attendance at men’s volleyball matches, especially once the men’s basketball season ends. Along with students, he also said there’s been a large spike in non-student fans coming to the games.

“In the past for volleyball, it was almost entirely students and our guys’ parents, but not a whole lot of folks from the community,” Hulse said. “That’s the part for us that has changed the very most. Students have continued to come out and support us, and we appreciate that. But we’ve also seen a very big increase in attendance from folks in the area.”

Nick Schultz | The Phoenix A crowd of 4,712 people were on hand as Loyola defeated Southern Illinois 75-50 Jan. 27.

As success becomes more frequent for these sports, Day said he expects the number of students attending these games to continue to grow.

“If the coaches were changing over every year, you wouldn’t have that connection,” Day said. “It creates that connection with students and fans. … You believe in how they’re coaching their programs.”

Day said students are easy to market toward as they’re constantly surrounded by Loyola merchandise, signs and billboards. He said getting alumni involved is the most difficult part because alumni aren’t on campus as often as students and oftentimes are unable to go to games during weekdays. Day incentivizes alumni to come to sporting events through unique halftime shows during high stakes games against conference opponents. It’s all about creating the best atmosphere surrounding Gentile, according to Day.

Day said there’s really no way to incentivize someone to quit their job and spend all their free time watching Rambler basketball. If there was, he’d have figured it out by now.

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