“And the crowd goes wild!”
It’s a common enough phrase in the sporting world, just don’t expect to hear it at UCD.
No matter which sport you love, at UCD there is unlikely to be a crowd.
UCD boasts some of the best sporting facilities in the country. They host top-performing teams and athletes. Yet for a university of more than 30,000 students, the turnout of supporters at sports events is shockingly low.
In terms of crowds, observes Brian Mullins, UCD Director of Sports, “There wouldn’t be a lot of that. Sometimes at a hockey match, maybe 20 or 30 people. At a GAA match, you might get 100 people once a year.” He says that rugby and football, which are played in the UCD bowl, would draw the biggest audiences.
Diarmuid McNally, Director of Football at UCD, says at a UCDAFC game there “could be anything from 200-300 to 1000-2000” depending on who they’re playing and what division they’re in.
“We would love to have bigger crowds,” says McNally, “We have some of the best young players in the country.” He describes the low turnouts as “disappointing.”
University athletics in the United States, by contrast, pack stadiums with tens of thousands of spectators and generate billions of dollars each year through television rights. That lost revenue opportunity is not lost on UCD Sport. There have been many attempts to increase the level of support over the years.
“We’ve done promotions, offered free tickets, free access to the clubhouse, free beer,” says McNally, who laments that UCD has “made loads of attempts at it over the years to try and engage college support, “But it’s been really, really difficult.”
A recent UCD AFC vs. Cork City match drew an impressive number of spectators. Interviews with many students there revealed that supporting the team itself had very little to do with why they came out.
“We really didn’t have anything better to be doing,” one student admitted.
“We just like football,” another said.
Many crowd members were there supporting family members on the pitch. The real struggle was to find any diehard UCD fans.
“A lot of students go home on the weekends so maybe that’s a part of it,” one student speculated as to why many people don’t come out in support.
“People are already attached to other clubs within their community. You’d support your county, or your local club and your university team comes beneath all that,” another observed. McNally affirms, “People in the local area don’t really consider the university as their community.”
“The interest just isn’t there,” Mullins agreed.
Yet students interviewed at the recent match said they long for a UCD sports teams fan culture that they could be part of. Dozens of students affirmed across the board it is something they would like. Several cited the popularity of university sports in America as something they would like to see in an Irish setting.
It’s hard to see the situation changing any time soon. Paradoxically, the primary factor preventing UCD students from going to games is the lack of turnout.
One second-year student sums it up: “If all my mates were going then yeah I’d go.”
Maeve Dodd – Campus Correspondent