“Be relevant.” That is the slogan that is painted on the walls in the locker room of the Mount Royal University men’s hockey team. However, despite being MRU’s most popular sports team, they still struggle to get consistent attendance at their games.
The average attendance for a Cougars Men’s hockey game sits at around 150 to 172 people, with the exception of the Crowchild Classic, which draws roughly 13,000 people.
Listen below when Calgary Journal reporter Peter Brand was at a Cougars' practice on October 30, 2017 to talk about attendance.
Mount Royal’s marketing coordinator, Katya Sodamin, is one of the people who take on this task of making Mount Royal’s sports teams relevant. Sodamin says promoting hockey is easier said than done.
“Cougar athletics has eight teams and over 100 events a year. On any given weekend there are multiple events happening. We need to look at how we're balancing promotions across those sports, so if we have a volleyball game and a hockey game on a Friday night, it's hard to promote both of them equally,” said Sodamin.
MRU athletics prioritizes their schedule based on what time of the year it is and other events that are going on around Calgary.
MRU athletics also has a partnership with the MRU ski club. Through their partnership, they choose two events each year; one with the goal to make Cougars games more of an event, and one that is attractive to students. MRU athletics purchases prizes and those prizes are given out to students at the games.
Across Crowchild Trail from the MRU campus is the Flames Community Arena, which houses the Cougars home games. There, head coach Bert Gilling strives to keep his team relevant.
Since Gilling joined the MRU men’s hockey two seasons ago, the Cougars have excelled. Gilling took the Cougars to unfamiliar territory by winning two playoff series with the team, the first time that has happened since they joined U SPORTS. U SPORTS is to Canada, what the National Collegiate Athletic Association is to America, high level university sports. Gilling has enjoyed his own personal accolades by being named coach of the year in back-to-back seasons. The Cougars have also been nationally ranked in the top ten of U SPORTS since Gilling took over coaching. Being relevant has come to fruition for the team in terms of performance. However, when it comes to attendance, irrelevant might be the best word to describe it.
“In the hockey community of university hockey Canada, we've accomplished a lot. But, we're still battling to get the attention of people on campus, in the community and the media,” Gilling said.
Despite low attendance, the Cougars play on. Although, if they are to stay “relevant” in the U SPORTS Canada West, they need to play well down the stretch coming out of their winter break.
- By Peter Brand