In a city like Halifax, with its endless stream of activities and shows, it can be tough to attract a crowd — something that the Dalhousie Varsity Athletics team is well aware of. Over the past few years, the Dalhousie Student Union, Dal athletics, and the Varsity Council (a society composed of varsity athletes from all disciplines), have been working together to improve the historically abysmal spectator turnout at varsity games and their efforts have been met with mixed results.
In his first year as director of varsity athletics, Tim Maloney came into the position knowing spectator turnout was going to be a challenge.
“It’s been my focus and will be for a long time. It’s an important element to overall student experience,” Maloney said.
Though the in-depth analysis of audience turnout won’t be done until the summer months, Maloney said there has been a minor spike in attendance this year. However, he says there is still a long way to go.
Men’s basketball gets the most consistent turnout, despite their somewhat tumultuous season record, but being an indoor sport helps bump those numbers. Football and soccer, where seasons extend into the tail end of autumn, makes getting fans out in the cold a challenge. Varsity Council co-president Kristy McGregor-Bales, a veteran of the women’s soccer team, said hosting the AUS soccer championships last November was a positive change for the team.
“That was a great experience. I’ve never played in front of that many people before.” said McGregor-Bales.
From her four years on the team, she said residence nights and special promotion events, like the chance to win $500, have made a big difference in fan turnout.
“I’ve never seen it that packed. I’ve never seen that many people elsewhere in the AUS conference either. But on non-special nights, Dal is fairly even compared to the rest of the AUS,” said McGregor-Bales.
One of the things McGregor-Bales credited to the improved turnout was the council’s increased relationship with Danny Shanahan, the Dalhousie Student Union vice president of student life.
For Shanahan, promoting varsity athletics is just a part of his portfolio, but says that incorporating varsity athletics into every day student life is a key initiative.
“Since 2012, there has been a greater effort to include varsity athletics in orientation week and fun day-long sports tournaments for students with varsity athletes refereeing. Just in trying to foster relationships between the students and athletes,” said Shanahan.
All three said raising awareness of varsity athletics among the general student population is an ongoing problem they’re trying to grapple with.
Despite all the progress, the lack of student pride on campus is in stark contrast to comparable schools like Queen’s University or St. FX, where school colours are proudly sported on campus every day and varsity games attract sell-out crowds. Maloney understands, however, that with Dal’s highly diverse student body, varsity athletics are not for everyone.
“We face a few challenging factors that places like Antigonish don’t have to deal with. But they’re not insurmountable.”