BYU baseball faces attendance challenges

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A tarp covers the field at Miller Park during a rain storm. BYU Baseball everages a little under 1,000 fans per game. (Universe Photo)
A tarp covers the field at Miller Park during a rainstorm. BYU baseball averages a little under 1,000 fans per game. (Universe Photo)

The BYU baseball team faces many issues in Utah that indoor sports do not have to worry about, the biggest being the weather. A few other sports are played outside, but with indecisive Utah weather the baseball team can experience adverse weather conditions. The baseball team also plays many games in three- or four-round bursts, which makes it hard for their fans to make it to every game.

“It gets really cold here, but as it gets warmer we tend to get a bigger turnout,” said BYU baseball assistant coach Brent Haring. “What makes it hard, too, is that we play on Thursday and Friday night, when the students have class. Most other schools in the nation will play Saturday and Sunday.”

These challenges don’t stop the Cougars from bringing big crowds to their big games. More than 1,500 fans came to support BYU against Pepperdine on March 14, and more than 1,700 attended the game against Portland on April 3. In a stadium that seats 2,204 fans, that many people coming to the games makes a big impact to help out the team.

“We have one of the best environments in the league, and our stadium is one of the best in the state,” Haring said. “As we have progressed and gotten better each year the turnout keeps going up, and that might be because we are trying to get the student ROC section more involved.”

With close to 6,000 followers on Facebook and 1,500 on Twitter, the BYU baseball team has learned how to reach out on social media and get people more involved with the team. New recruits are announced using those social media platforms, which helps motivate the fans to get out to the games.

The Cougars have had 19 games where more than 2,000 people attended since the construction of Miller Park in 2001. Most of these games were against in-state schools like Utah Valley University and the University of Utah. Since joining the WCC in 2011, the Cougars have averaged a little under 1,000 people a game, each season, according to Ralph Zobell, sports information director for the baseball team.

“Our fans are getting used to the West Coast Conference as we develop rivalries,” Zobell said. “The higher up in the standings we are, the more interest there is. Friday nights are traditionally our best nights for fans.”

BYU has done well getting an audience for its baseball games within the state of Utah but still can’t quite compete with other major schools across the nation. According to Tami Cutler, who works for Wichita State’s athletic media relations, BYU is not ranked in the top 50 of all Division I baseball teams across the nation with regard to attendance.

This may be the result of not getting enough marketing out to non-student fans. Many who do not follow BYU regularly, like BYU alumnus Ryan Daniel, do not receive enough information about  baseball games and, because of that, do not go.

“I have not gone to any of the games here at BYU, but I might start going more now that my kid is older,” said Daniel, who considers himself a baseball enthusiast. “BYU baseball is just not widely marketed, and I feel like the crowd and environment keeps me away currently. I attended intramural baseball games when I was at BYU, but never the BYU intercollegiate games.”

Zobell said the Cougars’ marketing team has the goal to get attendance close to where it was in the past, when the BYU baseball home games had 3,000 people or more in attendance. The Cougars need to find their rhythm and start making it to some championship games again. BYU played SDSU in 1983 for the Western Athletic Conference Championships and brought in 4,664 people at home.

“From what I’ve personally witnessed in the 38 years I have covered baseball at BYU, we do well for a cold-weather school,” Zobell said. “We want to return to our glory days and believe that is happening under Coach Littlewood’s influence.”

For some fans, like Tessa Schrader, a BYU student from Portland, Oregon, going to the games is fun regardless of whether the team is winning or losing.

“I grew up playing and watching baseball, and so I understand what is going on,” she said. “I just love the environment and being outside enjoying the sport. I especially like getting up and singing during the seventh-inning stretch.”

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