The Ontario university football community will descend on London this Saturday for the 110th Yates Cup. Or will they?
It's the crown jewel of the Ontario University Athletics banner season, featuring an enticing matchup as the hometown — and undefeated — Western Mustangs meet the defending champion, the Laurier Golden Hawks, in a rematch of last year's thrilling title tilt.
The game has all the makings of a classic and, if played a decade ago, would easily have filled TD Stadium with students and local football fans.
But barely a student on campus knows it's happening. It's an issue that has plagued Mustangs football for the past few seasons. The marketing of major events, or lack thereof, has led to dismal attendance at some of the biggest sporting events here at Western.
Wednesday was the first day that signs promoting the Yates Cup were spotted at the campus main gates on Richmond Street, and on Thursday, a banner was put up above the entrance to the University Community Centre. It's short notice for potential fans, and it might be too little, too late to improve attendance this Saturday.
This is the issue with Canadian college sports. In the U.S., university sports are big business. ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC and CBS are among the national networks airing National Collegiate Athletic Association football and basketball. College athletic departments at the University of Notre Dame and University of Alabama don't need to promote their big games with their rivals, the University of Southern California and Auburn University, because everybody knows about them.
But it's different in Canada. Students aren't generally aware of the sports schedule on campus, and I can guarantee you that, unless a student goes on the Mustangs website or reads the Gazette and has to suffer through my football stories, they wouldn't know the Yates Cup was being held this Saturday. It's almost entirely up to the athletic department to garner attention for events.
Now, it's easy for me to call out the marketing department as a snot-nosed sports editor of the student newspaper. And with the recent hire of Jeff Snyder to head the department, things are sure to improve in the future.
But it was disappointing to see such a small crowd at last Saturday's semifinal game between the Mustangs and Guelph Gyphons. This year's Mustangs football team is elite and a potential Vanier Cup champion. They should be playing in front of packed stands with a raucous student section.
But if nobody knows the game is happening, that's never going to happen.
I'm no marketing expert, but if your student body has to research when an event is happening, they're less likely to attend. There should be signs all over campus. There should be arrangements with campus media outlets to constantly advertise the game. Let students know about the beer garden at TD Stadium. Hold giveaways to incentivize students to show up and cheer on their team.
A great example of an excellent marketing campaign was the blackout game against the Queen's Gaels on Sept. 23, which was easily the biggest crowd of the year for Mustangs football. Western advertised the game well in advance and specifically reached out to first-years.
I'm not some sort of sports marketing guru. But I've been to every Mustangs home football game this season, and the attendance has been abysmal. An elite program with the rich history that the Mustangs football team has deserves a home-field advantage.
Especially since they're poised to take home the Ontario title this Saturday.