The increasingly alarming dilemma of Golden Bear school spirit

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School spirit… “Go Bears!” right? Or something like “This is Bear Territory!”

Last year, I wrote about my first impressions of the Golden Bear culture, and honestly, it wasn’t looking good. Now, here I am again after a whole year in the Bear Territory. I am not going to try to sell you an illusion that you can feel the school spirit walking by the Campanile, but consider this column a continuation of last year’s.

Now, we know what the problem is — we have Cal pride for sure (feel free to insert “No. 1 public university in the world” chants here) — but being a true Golden Bear is much more complicated and harder to achieve. Here is how we and the school administration can address the lack of genuine spirit and perhaps remedy it in the future.

First of all, the cutthroat approach to academic competition, whether it’s real or not, is an aspect of Cal culture that can be turned into an advantage. People thrive on competition, and that can be seen in post-graduation job offers and alumni connections, but I cannot do anything about that. Yes, I’m talking about you, Cal alumni.

Academics, however, are not the problem. The problem is the social culture. I talked last year about how students are detached from Cal athletics, and I believe that the best way to measure school spirit is to analyze the sporting events.

So, what does the picture look like in California Memorial Stadium, Haas Pavilion and other venues? The attendance at Cal’s home football games has gone down every year in the past decade. Last year, the athletic department’s solution was to start charging freshmen. Wait…

One of the biggest dilemmas in sports is how to approach the spectators — as fans who are part of the experience or as customers. The balance is really important, and I would argue that students should be the last people to be considered customers.

In an organization where students play the sports, they need to be able to watch the games free of charge. Do not take students’ money if you’re not going to give them any money, if you know what I mean.

Also, free admission of students can be seen as an investment. If they build up enough school spirit to be regulars at sporting events, they are more likely to continue that tradition when they graduate. Alumni attendance with family and friends would mean more revenue and higher stadium turnout for the athletics department.

One thing is for sure: Sports need a mix of athletes and fans to create spirit. Fan loyalty might seem hard to create from the perspective of the athletics department, but I think it can do more to attract students to the stands.

The cheerleading team and the school band do their best to entertain everyone in the stands, but I don’t think that has a huge effect on someone’s decision to go to the games. I’m thinking more activities with fan interaction would be effective.

People can be drawn to events if there are personal benefits. In sports, that’s usually covered by the pure satisfaction that comes with your team’s win. That doesn’t happen, of course, if the connection to the team is not that strong.

Then different approaches need to be taken.

Can you imagine how many more people would attend games if there were, say, a $5,000 half-court shot during the halftime of basketball games? Anything of that sort in every sport would bring more viewers for two reasons:

  1. Some people would hope to be the one to go home with the big prize (whatever it is).
  2. Fear of missing out. People would want to witness that improbable challenge be completed even if the person who does it is a stranger. That’s why, in professional sporting events, crowds go wild during those types of challenges.

Long story short, the fact that we don’t have the No. 1 school spirit here in Berkeley doesn’t mean we cannot get there. This is a call for everyone, from administrators to students, from professors to alumni, to take out their blue and gold and show the world what Bear Territory looks like, starting with the 2018 football home opener.

Can Sariöz covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @can_sarioz