Coaches aren’t the most marketable people in sports.
Some are curt with fans, stand-offish with the media or just totally aloof altogether. Norm Roberts, however, is none of the above.
He’s warm, friendly and almost always bearing a smile when he’s on campus. I’ve witnessed him greet random students graciously as he passes them by, even though he doesn’t know their name or who they are.
Oddly enough, it seems most St. John’s students don’t know who he is either.
In a recent survey administered by The Torch, 71 percent of students polled were unable to name the Red Storm men’s basketball coach.
There were answers of Larry Brown (New York Knicks coach), Mike Jarvis (former St. John’s coach) and even Bobby Valentine (former New York Mets manager). But only 29 percent of the 439 students polled knew Norm Roberts is their school’s basketball coach.
“It seems like it might be a little bit low,” said Chris Monasch, St. John’s athletic director.
Wait. It gets worse. St. John’s used to be synonymous with basketball. But don’t tell your current classmates that. They’ll look at you as if you had three heads.
Eighty percent of students in the survey said they had been to less than three men’s basketball games in their time here. Seventy-two percent of students said they have either minimal interest in the team or none at all. A mind-boggling 62 percent of students were not able to name a single player on the men’s basketball team’s roster.
All this is making my head hurt.
Of course, this is certainly not Roberts’ fault. The responsibility lies within two bodies of people (in order of importance):
2. Athletic marketing
I’ve been critical of marketing in the past, especially last year during baseball season. I understand why people are not going to see a 9-18 men’s basketball team and women’s hoops isn’t quite that popular in New York yet. But when All-American Craig Hansen, who was pitching for the Boston Red Sox in September, is closing games for you, there’s no reason to not have fans in the ballpark.
Baseball is huge in the New York City area and Ed Blankmeyer’s 2005 team had six players drafted in the spring. We’re talking about a team that was Big East regular season champs, went to the NCAA Tournament and won a school-record 41 games. I got sick of seeing less than 100 people in the stands game after game – most of whom were not students.
Students had no clue who Hansen was. Marketing dropped the ball in the worst way.
But they can’t take all the grief for the results of this survey. Getting the word out regarding where and when games are played is greatly improved.
Still, only 28 percent of resident students have attended more than one game – but the majority of the dormers are freshmen and sophomores.
Unfortunately, the majority of St. John’s students – especially commuters – feel no pride toward the men’s basketball team and have no desire to see them play. Marketing can only do so much in this situation. Which is why students need to bear the majority of the blame for this.
Forty-seven percent of those polled felt that school spirit is low at St. John’s. Marketing would be hard pressed to improve that kind of mindset.
And it isn’t like students are not attending games because the team hasn’t been good.
Why? Because 59 percent of students felt that the team is improving and only 19 percent felt that attendance was down because the team has struggled in past years.
“If you’re so disconnected to the program that you don’t know who the coach is, how would you know the team is improving?” Monasch asked.
But despite a positive perception of the team, students are still not going to games.
This is not just an isolated problem. Most students don’t vote in Student Government, Inc., elections. Most students don’t go to see speakers on campus.
Baseball games, volleyball matches, women’s soccer matches, and softball games are sparsely attended. Hell, we can’t even get SGI to meet quorum on a regular basis.
“A lot of students don’t care about what happens at St. John’s,” said John Kelly, co-chair of the school spirit committee.
I guess everyone is just too busy rolling dice in Marillac, playing cards in the UC or surfing the Web on their laptops in the library.
Students won’t even get tickets to games when they are free like they were last year and could be again next year, even though 51 percent felt that the $10 ticket price for men’s basketball games were too expensive for college students.
And that’s the biggest crap of all. Cover price for Traditions is the same price as one ticket.
Sure, you don’t get a few beers when you attend a game at the Garden, but you get to cheer on your school and share something with fellow students that one can only experience in college.
“Athletics at St. John’s takes [a] back seat to everything else,” Kelly said.
School pride at St. John’s has been killed like a keg at a frat party.