If you’re reading this, chances are you’re an Aztec fan and you likely have a Twitter account. To be frank, The Show has taken its fair share of hits this year – but to be fair, so has the team. That is no coincidence. As the team has begun to come into their own, winning 5 out of their last 8 games, the 2017 edition of The Show has begun to improve as well. This is one reason why shrinking the size of the student section – as a local beat writer has suggested – is the last thing the SDSU basketball program needs right now.
SDSU is playing its best basketball of the season … and the student section is smaller than ever. Maybe not even half full. #shrinkit
— Mark Zeigler (@sdutzeigler) February 19, 2017
It’s no secret that The Show does not like Mark Zeigler. What with his propensity for blocking us on Twitter, his tendency to refer to Aztec stalwart “Winston Spencer”, his general negativity toward the program, his dependency on calling out a student section’s creativity instead of writing about basketball, and his downright dismissal of the atmosphere The Show has created at Viejas Arena over the years, it really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.
Over the last couple of years however, this feud has escalated as Zeigler has waged a misguided war
in his attempt to shrink the student section as a way of generating more revenue for the athletic department.
Despite what Zeigler and other older fans believe based on what they read in his articles and tweets, it is NOT The Show’s job to get students to come to games…nor has it ever been. That responsibility lies with the team on the court and the athletic department off it. It’s The Show’s job to create an atmosphere that gives SDSU a home court advantage. Instead, home games are now marred by the Aztec Mesa crowd yelling at the front rows of The Show that they aren’t doing enough. They’re telling us, the students who dedicate their time and energy to do whatever they can to help the team, that we need to get more students to come to games (even though we gave out shirts to students just a couple games ago).
Unfortunately, the game against Colorado State on January 28th marked the end of SDSU’s 80-game home sellout streak. Technically yes, the streak ended because the remaining student tickets (the only tickets that are available, as the rest of the arena is season ticket holders) weren’t picked up, but it’s not as if the rest of the arena was full either – a fact Zeigler fails to ever mention. According to Ziegler, donors and season ticket holders get a free pass if they choose to not attend a game, while our students are yelled at, belittled, and reprimanded when they make the same decision.
Not a single mention – not ONE – about the thousands of empty seats during the loss to Fresno State or the hoards of season ticket holders heading for the exits before the final whistle sounded. Why? Because they pay for their seats? Well guess what: students do too, through fees incorporated into their tuition. Is it too much to ask for season ticket holders and donors to sit through an entire game? Or maybe, if you insist on beating the traffic, not walk to leave the arena directly behind our basket as the team is shooting free throws?
At the time the streak was snapped, SDSU was 3-4 in MW play and coming off a loss to Air Force. Is that an excuse for waning interest and empty seats? Not a chance in hell, but when you compare it to the record through 7 conference games the last few years it begins to make some sense. 2016: 7-0, 2015: 5-2, 2014: 7-0, 2013: 4-3, and 2012: 5-2. Never once in those 5 years was SDSU below .500. In fact, the last time SDSU was under .500 that far into conference play was the 2006-2007 season (an entire decade ago!) when it was still called Cox Arena and student turn outs like those seen this year were very much the norm. As Coach Fisher himself said earlier this year, “Win and they will come.”
Now, Zeigler wants to reduce the size of the Show to 1,500 seats. This would allow the athletic department to sell an additional 500 season tickets, with an additional 500 kept in reserve if the student demand is there or, if not, sold to the public prior to each game. Here’s the problem: this plan that will only serve to degrade the atmosphere at Viejas even further. Not to mention the fact that with prices for the final home game of the year starting as low as $6 on Stubhub, there’s no guarantee the tickets will actually sell anyway and the seats will remain empty. The current supply of tickets just doesn’t meet the demand. Econ 101 would tell you that in that case, you don’t flood the market with even more tickets.
Over the years, the improved atmosphere at Viejas Arena has been a result of the hard work of The Show. As Fisher puts it, “It has been generated, as a rule, by our students. They have driven the atmosphere, the vibe, the feel in this arena. It’s been one of the best in the country.” While no one will argue that this year’s Show hasn’t been quite as boisterous as in years past, the answer doesn’t lie in reducing the size of the student section; it lies in trying to find new and more creative ways to get students to games.
The UNLV game saw the release of the 2017 Show shirt and while the crowd as a whole arrived late, by the middle of the first half the student section was mostly full. When SDSU pushed the lead to 15 in the first half, Viejas was as loud as it has been all season. When SDSU got off to an 8-2 lead on Wednesday against Fresno State, the Show was again rocking, despite another late arriving crowd. Finally, when the Aztecs went on a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to 1 with 7:30 to play, Viejas as a whole was louder than ever. Once again, this arena-wide hype was spurred on by The Show.
Back in the day when The Show was at its most raucous, basketball was THE thing to do on campus. It didn’t matter what day of the week or holiday it was, you had to be at the game and no organization or sorority event was more important. Granted, the team had a better record then – but from ticket pickup to waiting to get the best seats, everything about basketball was an event. Now, tickets are given out at 10 AM, smack dab in the middle of most students’ schedules, and students can only get there an hour before distribution begins. There is no building excitement through camp outs or long lines, no way to get students excited, and no other ways than actual WINS to encourage student attendance.
Clearly, whether it’s returning to the days of multiple giveaways directed at students each season, offering improved arena-wide WiFi, directing social media campaigns at students instead of just the fans who might buy tickets, promising free food at games, hosting more pep rally-like events on campus, something as simple as making the student ticket distribution schedule more prominent/easy to find, or distributing tickets at a time that doesn’t interfere with class, there are ways to generate and improve student interest and even increase attendance in a “down” year. Or, better yet, how about not scheduling one of the largest Greek life events of the year on campus for the same night as one of the final home basketball games of the season?
Making it even more difficult for the 33,778 students currently enrolled at SDSU to experience a basketball game by reducing the amount of tickets available to them is NOT the way to solve this problem. If we want to position future generations of The Show for success, we need to strive to foster student involvement. If this can happen, Viejas will continue to enjoy a home court advantage worthy of a winning program for years to come and The Show will go on.