Gardens fever won’t fix all

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By: Victor Ferreira

The Ryerson men’s soccer team earned its best finish in the school’s history this year, finishing in fourth place in Ontario University Athletics and narrowly missing out on qualifying for a chance to win the Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championship.

Too bad no one was in the stands to witness history in the making.

“It’s like an empty graveyard,” said Ivan Joseph, head coach of the Ryerson Rams and director of athletics.

Although soccer is recognized as the world’s most popular sport, Ryerson’s men’s team has one of the worst attendance records of any of Ryerson’s CIS teams.

“Ryerson has a soccer team? I didn’t even know,” said Rachel Szereszewski, a second-year fashion student.

The Rams play all of their home soccer games at Lamport Stadium, which holds 9,600 fans, nearly half of the 22,000 capacity at Toronto F.C.’s BMO field. However, the stadium is located on 1151 King St. W, approximately 30 to 45 minutes away from Ryerson’s downtown campus depending on traffic.

“Most games are on Saturday and Sunday. Driving through the weekend traffic isn’t the most fun thing,” Joseph said. “If we were closer we’d see a significant turn-about.” Fans gather in semi-impressive numbers to watch the men and women’s basketball and volleyball teams play at Kerr Hall Gym, but the only signs of life in the stands of Lamport Stadium are family members and close friends of some of the athletes playing.

One of the main objectives when the Gardens opens is to revive Ryerson’s dormant fan base and create excitement around their sports teams. Ryerson has even gone so far as hiring Global Spectrum, a Philadelphia-based company, to manage Maple Leaf Gardens and get students to show up by turning every home game into an exciting event.

Only time will tell if the facility will create a bigger fan base, but even if it does, the soccer team won’t benefit from it. They will not be making the move into the historic Toronto building.

In a country where hockey holds a high importance in the hearts of sports fan, Ryerson’s hockey teams should, in theory, have the largest following.

But they have as little support as the soccer teams and Ryerson is banking on the Gardens to bring new fans to the stands.

Currently, the men’s hockey team plays at George Bell Arena which is located near St. Clair Avenue West and Keele Street, and the women’s team play all the way up in North York. Like the trip to Lamport, travelling from campus to either of these arenas takes anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes.

“Distance is the main problem,” said Graham Wise, head coach of the men’s hockey team. “We’re quite far from campus.”

Szereszewski said she could not see herself travelling that far to watch a game, especially when more convenient alternatives are offered.

“If you want to watch volleyball or basketball, you just have to walk across campus,” she said.

With the $60 million acquisition and renovation of Maple Leaf Gardens, both the men’s and women’s hockey teams are scheduled to play their home games a lot closer to campus in the near future.

To Wise, this is the solution to poor attendance.

“Once we move to Maple Leaf Gardens and everything is closer, the opportunity to connect [fans to the team] will be better,” Wise said.

The men’s basketball and volleyball teams draw impressive numbers nearly every time they play at Kerr Hall Gym in front of their home fans. The men’s basketball team in particular averages more than 150 fans per game.

However, the same cannot be said about the women’s teams.

Dustin Reid, head coach of the women’s volleyball team, said he has no doubt that most attendance issues stem from scheduling and not because people are disinterested in the women’s teams.

“We usually average 50 to 100 fans but there have been a lot of times when we’ve gotten under 50,” Reid said.

“If you’re always playing on weekends, then it’s a challenge. We also usually play the first game of a double-header [with the men’s team]. When we’re by ourselves, we draw more fans.”

Joseph has planned events surrounding the games in order to draw some sort of attention to the team. This year, Joseph rented a bus and offered a free meal to lure students to a soccer game.

The men’s hockey team has also attempted to increase its connection to the student body.

“We had our athletes meet the first-years as they were moving into residence,” Wise said.

“It was a great way to connect.”

Spreading the word about the men’s soccer team is also something that assistant coach Kevin Souter is looking forward to tackling.

“We have to do more PR [public relations], have our guys reach out to the community and make lasting connections, and recruit more fans,” Souter said. “It’s going to take time, but ultimately it’s going to be a success. I would love to fill Lamport one day.”

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