“Life’s a Pitch” is a column by Elizabeth Islas about collegiate and professional sports.
You would think a sports team’s performance is directly correlated to game attendance, right? Well, that’s not the case with the USC women’s soccer team. In fact, it’s the exact opposite, and that’s a shame.
The Trojans boasted a 17-2-3 record last year, equating to an .841 winning percentage. They entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 4 seed and advanced to the third round before getting eliminated by soon-to-be champions Florida State. It was a much more successful season than the previous, ending with a slightly better winning percentage and going further into the tournament. Despite this success, there was a 35% decrease in attendance from 2017 to 2018.
There is not one sole reason for this decline. Rather, it is a culmination of many factors.
For one, USC’s social culture primarily revolves around football during the fall semester. The USC Athletics marketing department doesn’t need to do much to entice students to come to these games — they just show up. Students and die-hard fans around Southern California plan their entire weekends around gameday.
I’m no exception to this. I even know someone who missed a family member’s wedding to attend a USC-UCLA game. That’s commitment.
It’s the sad truth that soccer takes the backburner to football since they are played during the same season. Many fans don’t have time to be committed to two teams at once.
I asked several casual sports fans why they don’t attend soccer games at McAlister Field. Their consensus? There’s no incentive to go. The soccer team played only 10 games at their home stadium last year and there was only one giveaway item and one free food opportunity, not including the game at the Dignity Health Sports Park. Comparatively, the baseball season in the spring semester has about one promotion for every five games, with six giveaways and seven free food opportunities in 32 total home games.
The impact a giveaway can have on students cannot be overstated. Last year, the Trojans played UCLA in the Dignity Health Sports Park, previously known as the StubHub Center, about 13 miles away from USC’s campus. The first 3,000 fans to arrive received a USC themed beanie and the official attendance for that game was more than 8,500.
This year, USC played about one mile away at the Banc of California stadium with no special promotion. The game brought in less than half of last year’s contest in Carson.
The university does not have a men’s soccer team to draw comparisons to, but there is a professional soccer team just down the street. It’s understandable that the Los Angeles Football Club, an MLS team, doesn’t quite compare to the NCAA, but the LAFC team is proof there is a market for soccer in Los Angeles.
During its inaugural season in 2018, LAFC showed the nation how exciting fútbol can be. The now iconic 3252 section, which is the number of safe-standing seats, proved a team doesn’t have to be in Europe to have a passionate fanbase.
This passion for soccer doesn’t translate into the USC culture because the fan experience is quite different. If you’ve ever gone to a soccer game at McAlister Field, you’d see that most of the fans in attendance are parents or family members of the playing teams. So when students attend, it can seem like we are out of place. Moreover, since the venue does not have stadium lights, the daytime games are played don’t necessarily draw people in.
All of these factors overshadow the fact that the team is so good. USC went 10-0 at home in 2018 and have made the playoffs in each of the last five seasons. They are an exciting team to watch, with the Trojans dribbling all over the pitch and being aggressive in their attack.
In order to garner excitement around their season, the team needs to promote their constant success. If students knew the team won 19 of their last 20 home games, perhaps this would entice them to come to a game every once in a while. After all, it’s free and it’s convenient.
The USC women’s soccer team is set to play their first regular season game at McAlister Field Friday at 3 p.m. and with temperature projected to be in the high-80s and no promotion, it’s unlikely they will face a sold out crowd.
“Life’s a Pitch” runs every Friday.