LOGAN – From 2007 to 2011 Matt Sonnenberg was a Utah State University student. During that time he and his friends showed up hours before each home basketball game and sat in front of the Spectrum doors – often in the cold – in hopes of grabbing a front row seat. They weren’t the only ones waiting. Usually hundreds of students would be lined up with him, all of them ready to sprint down the arena stairs as soon as the doors opened. As unofficial student section leaders, Sonnenberg and his friends directed the cheers and heckles that were repeated by thousands.
Many believed – not just Aggie fans – that USU had one of the best home court advantages in the country. Opposing coaches feared the building, few escaped with a win. Now, Sonnenberg believes that’s not the case anymore. He said he used to dream of day when USU could host games against bigger name schools on a regular basis. USU’s inclusion in the Mountain West Conference helped do just that, but attendance has dwindled.
“You look now at the number of total students in the student section and it sometimes, at halftime of a game, has the same amount that used to be waiting three hours before a game five years ago,” he said. “So its weird to see that dynamic change. It doesn’t seem like people care necessarily to be a part of it and to really get involved in the gaming experience.”
During Sonnenberg’s time the Aggies had just two home losses in four seasons. Now the Aggies have already lost three at home this season alone. Many, including Sonnenberg and USU Student Association Athletics and Campus Rec VP Thomas Rogers, feel the home court advantage has been lost, and they want to fix it.
Rogers said he wants to see the Spectrum back in full force as much as anyone else and feels a responsibility to help fix it. He said there is a national trend of decreased attendance in student sections but doesn’t want to use that as an excuse. He wants USU to be an exception to the trend. He said he doesn’t know who or what is to blame for decreased attendance, but said it is everyone’s responsibility to get it back.
“The team, the students and the administration all come together to figure out how to go get as many students as we can,” he said.
Rogers said he has met with USU athletic director John Hartwell to figure out how improve the atmosphere. Rogers, along with the HURD, is trying to generate excitement. The first-ever blackout game will be held Tuesday night against UNLV. The HURD will also be distributing latex gloves to the student section during different games and implementing a HURD rewards system where students are rewarded with Nike gear for just showing up. Rogers has also helped put together a survey to be given to USU students.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to find a better consensus of why students don’t go to games right now and then keep working on the future to see what they want,” he said. “If students want Wi-Fi, then we work on building better Wi-Fi in the venue. If concessions is a big deal, that we work out a deal to be able to connect concessions with student meal plans.”
Sonnenberg, who still attends games, said he has noticed a steady decline in the student attendance since 2012. He has heard the argument that because the team doesn’t win as much as it used to it has caused fans to lose interest. He said there may be some truth to that, but believes the problem is bigger.
“Back then everyone kind of had this collective sense of pride that we’re going to create an atmosphere that’s so insane for the other team that its going to be an actual advantage for our team,” Sonnenberg said. “Nowadays it seems like that sense of pride is completely gone.”
Sonnenberg has also taken the time to talk to Hartwell and share his ideas. He said he believes the school should try to make it so each trip to the arena is “an experience.”
“One of the biggest things is the whole experience could use a little modernization,” he said. “There’s, if you go to the game between the time the team takes the floor and tipoff there is a lot of dead air where there is no music, no chants, no nothing going on, and that is hugely detrimental.”
Even though Rogers is concerned with the current issues, he is optimistic the Spectrum will return to its old self. He said the team will catch up and compete with the other Mountain West competition.
“I do personally think down the road we are going to have a very successful student attendance and program and we are going to have a very successful Utah State athletic basketball program,” he said. “I still think this year can be very successful, but in my opinion its just going to take time and I’m going to do my part as much as I can to help build that building block for the future years to get it what it was.”