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Knights athletics struggle to draw fans to games

Two weeks ago, the Knights football team fell at Laird Stadium to #4 Saint John’s University by a score of 56-10. It was the first time since 2014 that the Knights scored any points against the high-powered Johnnies. However, hardly any Carleton fans knew about this because, well, there were none there. In fact, the only way to tell the game was played in Northfield was the Knights’ logo at the 50 yard line. There was only a blanketing sea of red across the bleachers as the well-traveling Johnnie fan base outperformed Carleton’s yet again. The story was similar in the Knights’ first game of the season, the annual “Book of Knowledge” match against the Macalester College Scots. Though the Knights routed the Scots by a tally of 41-0, there were hardly any Knights faithful in the crowd to see it. Part of the reason could have been that the game was played before school started, but this is wishful thinking.

The harsh reality of the situation is that Carleton athletics has historically received low attendance from its students, a reality that other MIAC schools don’t always have to face. From the football field to the soccer pitch to the baseball diamond to the basketball court, the Carleton student body is known to never show out and support their teams. This is curious given that there are 20 varsity sports teams at Carleton, each with fairly large roster sizes. Though the football team has the largest roster at 58 players, the baseball team also has one of their largest rosters ever at 34 players. Men’s track and field has 48 athletes, and women’s track and field has 37. The point is that athletic rosters at Carleton are fairly large, so a sizable chunk of the student body is comprised of athletes or those who know and live with athletes.

“The academics are so rigorous and students hold themselves to such a high standard at Carleton that it doesn’t allow for them to take a break and come out and support athletics,” said sophomore soccer forward Bella Bettner. “However, student-athletes understand this and truly do appreciate it when people are able to come.”

The difficult academic environment is certainly grounds for many students to decide to stay in and complete work for their classes. The fast pace of the trimester system typically leads to large amounts of work to complete in small periods of time, so attending athletic events falls pretty far down on the list of priorities for non-athletes. Even so, fans making the extra effort to support their athletes would be appreciated, and perhaps even help to energize our teams. “I feel like our team is really excited when we see a lot of people on the hill. It makes us want to show out for our friends,” said senior soccer outside midfielder Madeline Marker. “The hill” she refers to is the area where fans sit, which overlooks Bell Field during Knights home games. Despite the men’s and women’s soccer success thus far in the year, they typically only see visiting fans on home game days.

Another potential factor for low attendance, especially in the fall, is the persistent cold weather that seems to hit earlier and earlier each year. Winter sports don’t compete outside, but soccer and football are not indoor sports. It can be difficult to ask fans to leave their homework behind, just to sit outside on a windy, overcast day in low temperatures. This is especially a problem at Bell Field, as the top of the hill is known to get particularly windy and therefore especially cold. Sitting further up provides a far greater vantage point but worse weather.

Carleton Men’s Soccer competes in a well-attended game at Bell Field. Attendence at Carleton athletic events is historically low.

The same issue doesn’t always present itself for spring sports. The Knights baseball team competes on occasionally warm and sunny Saturdays at home, and faces the same attendance issues as the fall sports. “I think that most people here at Carleton aren’t playing a sport because they expect a lot of fanfare around the games or anything, they’re playing because they love the game and love competing,” senior starting pitcher Owen Riley said. “You definitely see other schools get more fans, but I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we don’t have a lot of guys on the team from Minnesota. Obviously it’s great to have fans on those warm Saturdays, and it’s always kind of fun to get heckled by people at schools like Saint John’s, but for me the bottom line is winning games on the field and not worrying about how many people are there to see it.”

The Knights baseball team is by far the most diverse baseball team in the conference, with just four of their 34 players coming from Minnesota. Compare them to Saint John’s University, who fielded just two players from outside Minnesota last season, and there is a distinguishable difference in athletic culture. Beyond baseball, Carleton consistently has the most geographically diverse athletic program in the MIAC. This is due to the school itself drawing from a much wider sphere than others in the conference. This phenomenon leads to less family attendance at games because they simply don’t live close enough. Even families with Carleton athletes living in-state can easily opt to follow the broadcasts via Knights Online or other school’s broadcast services.

It is well-established that a focus on athletics is not primary at Carleton, and athletes accept this fact. Due to that, weather, a geographically diverse athletics program and Knights Online, crowd sizes are unlikely to change. It isn’t probable that Carleton football will ever see a Saint John’s-sized crowd, and Carleton baseball will never get fans to travel with the team like Gustavus Adolphus does. Athletic culture at this college prevents that. That being said, it wouldn’t be a negative thing for the student body to support the teams that represent them, or at least get to know them. The truth is, almost every varsity athlete at Carleton is involved in extracurriculars other than their sport. Varsity athletes here are just regular students with the same ambitions for academic success, internships, law schools and medical schools as the rest of the student body. Broader support for athletes would certainly be welcomed and overwhelmingly positive for campus culture.

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