Attendance issues at sporting events aren’t a new topic at USC. The problem was further magnified when the football team got off to a slow start last fall. There were swaths of empty seats in the Coliseum throughout the season, and it hurts my soul to know that one of the smallest crowds in the USC-Notre Dame rivalry’s history witnessed junior cornerback Adoree’ Jackson’s breathtaking performance last November in what turned out to be his final home game.
But I’m not here to talk about football: It’s a titanic program, and after last season’s Rose Bowl run, I’m sure the stadium will be stuffed to the gills come September. We have another exciting team, though, that has been growing in national prominence while consistently playing in front of thousands of empty seats.
It’s unfortunate that that sentence could apply to a large number of Trojan programs. I remember when I was the beat writer for the women’s volleyball team in 2015; despite being the No. 1 team in the nation and going undefeated at home until the penultimate game of the season, USC often played in a cavernously empty Galen Center.
To his credit, head coach Mick Haley would go out of his way after almost every match to thank the crowd for coming out anyway, but he really should’ve been frustrated. Though over 6,000 fans crowded into the arena to watch the team take on UCLA, you rarely even saw a third of that number week-in, week-out. And this was a team that ran away with the No. 1 ranking and won the Pac-12.
Today, we have a 16-3 men’s basketball team playing in that same arena and drawing the third-fewest fans in the conference. USC’s attendance numbers last season — when the Trojans topped the Bruins three times in one year — ranked in front of only Stanford and Washington State in the Pac-12. The Cardinal have a notoriously lukewarm fanbase, while the Cougars haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2008, when O.J. Mayo walked the USC campus.
As a school and a student body that supposedly takes great pride in its athletic tradition, we have no excuse for not showing up to watch a team that made it into March Madness last year (and almost pulled off a first-round upset against Providence to boot).
We hate losing to UCLA, but the Bruins crushed us in attendance in the 2015-16 season, averaging around 8,000 fans per game and drawing over 150,000 total. USC’s numbers? Around 4,500 per game and 80,000 total. It’s a bitter pill to swallow: We’re getting blown out by our crosstown rivals by almost double the score, and we have to turn things around.
I’m not talking down at you from my high horse, either, because I am just as guilty as anyone other Trojan of this spectator apathy. I can’t remember the last USC game I attended as a fan and not as part of a Daily Trojan assignment — maybe a football game back in 2015?
And it’s not even because I’ve been busy covering events: I just haven’t gotten my lazy rear off the couch on an off day. In fact, as much as I lamented the women’s volleyball attendance earlier, I myself didn’t attend most of the team’s matches during that season if I wasn’t assigned to work them.
But there are still many students out there who love their school’s athletic programs, as evidenced by the Trojan Knights and their unbridled enthusiasm at every USC sporting event.
That rah-rah attitude used to be ubiquitous. Where has the passion gone for the rest of the students in our campus community?
Perhaps it’s USC’s vaunted metamorphosis into a more “academically rigorous” school and its climb up the college rankings that has decreased our overall interest in sports. Or perhaps we have proven ourselves to be just another L.A. fanbase that can’t be bothered to tune in unless we’re watching the biggest team on the biggest stage.
I hope neither is the case: I hope even if (when?) we become the most prestigious academic institution in the nation, we will pack thousands upon thousands of students and fans into our sporting venues. And I certainly hope we’re not fair weather fans.
There is an opportunity to put my doubts to rest tonight, 6 p.m. in the Galen Center. Men’s basketball takes on No. 14 Arizona, which rolls into Los Angeles undefeated in conference play and with a slightly better overall record than the Trojans (16-2 versus 16-3).
The Wildcats’ freshman forward Lauri Markkanen is a top NBA prospect and will undoubtedly be a handful for the USC defense; besides, the Trojans have a few pro prospects of their own in sophomore forward Chimezie Metu and freshman guard De’Anthony Melton (and sidelined sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright, who made a thunderous debut for the team last year).
It should be a fun game, and after a scuffling start to conference play, USC will need a strong night to show they mean business to the rest of the Pac-12. The team could use a raucous crowd behind it to pull out the upset victory.
It’s time to put our money where our mouth is, Trojan fans. Do we really care about USC teams?
I know it’s a Thursday, but hey, next Wednesday’s game against UCLA was confirmed as a sellout weeks ago, and that’s an even more inconvenient date. Plus, the dinnertime tipoff means everyone should get out of the Galen Center with plenty of time left for activities. It’s a marquee matchup — and a key one for the future of this season for the Trojans. There’s no excuse to keep the arena empty for this one.
See you at the game.
Ollie Jung is a junior studying print and digital journalism. His column, “Jung Money”, runs on Thursdays.