Too Much Blue at the Bren, Improve Parking and Promotions

On Nov. 14, the UC Irvine men’s basketball team concluded its Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament against Louisiana Tech at the Bren Events Center, falling to the Bulldogs 76-72. Just 911 attendees witnessed the team’s four-point defeat. Last season, former Golden State Warriors assistant coach and current UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner was surrounded by an average of 18,027 spectators at Oakland’s Oracle Arena. We’re no professional program but, with an enrollment nearing 30,000, there’s definitely ground to be gained.

In the Louisiana Tech loss, a stronger representation could have fueled the worn-out team, which competed in three games in three nights and lost their edge in the late minutes against Tech. Spread sporadically throughout the stadium, supporters were overwhelmed by the sea of blue seats surrounding them. When freshman Chris McNealy hit a free throw with eight minutes remaining in the first half, faint whispers from the crowd joined the cheerleaders and band, celebrating with the traditional, yet lackadaisical, “Zot, zot, zot.”

The previous evening, the ’Eaters defeated Seattle University, 85-77. As I parked blocks away from the stadium prior to the game, I couldn’t help but notice how inconvenient it is for students to simply attend an athletic contest at UC Irvine. Forced to either purchase a $10 parking permit at the Mesa Parking Structure next to the stadium, bus in and occasionally embark on a lengthy walk or to investigate free options in the University Town Center (which has time limits and is often frowned upon), the few devoted students not living in the neighboring dorms or apartments either open their wallets, sacrifice a 10-minute hike to the arena or skip games entirely. Despite hosting a talented team that is currently 3-3, students are still unlikely to dish out an Alexander Hamilton or trouble themselves after tuition skyrocketed 32 percent last year, with another 8 percent coming.

If the athletics and sports marketing departments want students to occupy seats throughout games, changes need to be made – starting with parking. For those commuting from beach houses in Newport, fraternity houses in Arroyo Vista, apartments off of Jamboree or residential tracks off of Main Street, imagine being able to present your UCI student identification card at the parking lot and conveniently parking for free from an hour before the game until an hour after the contest. At Angels Stadium of Anaheim, fans pay $8 for parking, at a professional sporting event. Why should it be more expensive for a supposed complimentary collegiate event? Enticed with promises of observing an intriguing collegiate athletics experience for nil, actions aren’t being taken in order to ensure our proper transportation.

UCI Athletics is on the rise. As a sporting enthusiast who prefers baseball, basketball and football, I’ll admit that prior to college I had never witnessed a collegiate or professional soccer game or volleyball match. I immediately recognized the promising men’s volleyball team when I became an Anteater. The men’s volleyball team is an annual national championship contender and students who consider themselves a part of the newly-formed Antourage, and those who are still clinging to ’Eater Nation, should undoubtedly be enticed by the promise of a men’s volleyball 2011 rebound.

Soccer, a sport regularly featuring low-scoring contests, was often a turnoff for me in the past, but after witnessing several captivating men’s and women’s soccer games at UCI this fall, I was converted. Make no mistake: it took devotion to attend home games, something many apathetic fans of Irvine are likely to pass on. For the novice observers, however, it should be simple to watch a sporting event at UCI, not an inconvenience. Athletics shouldn’t bank on the diehards, because even they will eventually tire.

On Ring Road, the cries of “Boba!”, “Korean Barbeque!” and “Gatorade!” resonate as students pass from class to class. It’s no secret why the wide walkways often clog; students are intrigued. UCI Athletics should cater to their audience and randomly survey students on campus. At basketball games, six Chipotle gift cards are dropped from the rafters, falling into the paws of all of the 6-foot-3-inch students in their respective cheering sections. Chipotle is tasty, but the method requires 5-foot-5-inch students to either acquire a 40-inch vertical leap or indifferently remain in their seats. Crunch Bars are passed out in the closing minutes of the second half, because it’s “crunch time.” That’s witty, but students won’t stick around for a candy bar. T-shirts are often dealt out along with tickets at the door. This is ineffective. Now hundreds of Antourage tees wander around campus on bodies that have never sat through an entire UCI men’s basketball game.

Chipotle and Crunch Bars can stay, but a wider variety of promotions serving the students who put off biology homework or a clubbing event should be rewarded. When it comes to t-shirts, they should be passed out after games at the exits, not at the entrance. This would require students to earn their apparel. School spirit would be on display when it matters most, when the team is within two points with less than a minute on the clock, not just for the opening tip-off.