Last week, I wrote that the current three-week stretch of Pac-12 play would, in many ways, define the Oregon volleyball team’s season. Given the strong competition, I argued that while important, wins and losses weren’t as critical as the attitude and confidence with which the Ducks emerged from the stretch.
In light of a recent development, I’ve altered that stance, albeit only slightly. At the time I wrote my previous column, I wasn’t completely aware just how impactful today’s home match with Cal could be.
Over the summer, Oregon’s marketing staff was hard at work, trying to select one home volleyball game to, in the most basic sense possible, promote the heck out of. After consulting with the volleyball coaches, the athletic department chose today’s clash with Cal.
With Oregon’s football team playing the Bears last night, it made perfect sense — the athletic department could brand this ‘Beat Cal’ week and cross promote the volleyball match at the football game.
The stated goal is to set a new Oregon volleyball attendance record — the previous mark was set in 2008, when 3,817 attended an Oregon vs. Washington match at McArthur Court.
It already appears a near certainty a new record will be set — as of mid-week, more than 5,000 tickets had been sold, a figure that doesn’t include student attendance or football ticket holders that get free general admission by showing their Cal/Oregon ticket stub.
So while it’s hard to predict the exact number of actual fannies in the Matthew Knight Arena seats, eight or nine thousand isn’t all that far-fetched.
And that, in a nutshell, is why tonight’s match is so important. Let’s be honest – volleyball tends to be overshadowed in the Oregon sports scene – and college athletics in general – by football and basketball. That probably will never change.
But tonight presents unparalleled exposure for the Oregon volleyball program, with literally more than four times as many people in the stands as would normally attend a Duck volleyball match. In a sport that thrives on emotion and intensity, that could prove invaluable.
The goal, then, becomes finding a way to have those people come back. Maximizing attendance isn’t exactly a new problem for sports teams (save for a select few football programs), but a large quandary nonetheless. With the possibility of full cost of attendance scholarships looming, every dollar is more valuable to athletic departments.
Moreover, I think every coach and player in America would say having a large home crowd affects play. That’s the reason playing at home is so advantageous.
In many ways then, tonight is one of the most important matches in Oregon volleyball history. If the Ducks want to establish themselves as one of the premier programs in the Pac-12, on an even plane with the UCLAs, USCs, Cals, Stanfords and Washingtons of the world, consistent fan support must be part of the equation. Oregon doesn’t have the same built-in recruiting advantages as some of those programs, but it does have better facilities and potentially unmatched fan enthusiasm.
And while most fans won’t make a decision on whether to support a program based on one match alone, putting on an energetic and sharp display would be a good first step for the Ducks volleyball team. Just ask volleyball coach Jim Moore.
“If somehow we could get 4,000 students to come in, they would come back,” Moore said. “They’d figure out that it is quite a bit of fun.”
The same premise applies to non-student fans too. If the Ducks give a spirited effort, get the crowd involved and maybe even pull off a victory, fans will enjoy themselves. Therefore it’s pertinent — not just for the standings, but for the volleyball program — for Oregon to put on a show tonight. They certainly have the motivation to do so.