Who knew that on 10-10-10 the temperature in South Bend, Indiana, would be a sun-blazing 85 degrees? Certainly not the person who decided on the concessions special of the day at Notre Dame’s Alumni Stadium as the No. 5-ranked Irish women’s soccer team faced Rutgers. The sweet deal, an elephant ear and a drink for $6, couldn’t hold a sticky finger to ice cream that afternoon.
As I sweated through their final regular season home game, when the Irish women defeated Big East rival Rutgers 3-2 in a game broadcast on ESPNU, one Notre Dame sports strategy was clear to me. The best way to draw spectators to non-revenue sports is to make the events family friendly — and cheap.
Because I’m a Notre Dame employee, it was definitely cheap, as in free. For others, it was either $5 or $3. Youngsters and oldsters got the $3 deal. But a deal it was, and the crowd clearly reflected that.
Lots of kids, from the stroller set to the run-up-and-down-the-metal-bleacher-steps-screaming types, baked in the sun. Some even paid attention to the game, especially the high school girls who were checking out top college play. Others, like the tween trio in front of me, only perked up when the Irish scored. They had a reason.
You see, when Notre Dame scores, a couple guys show up at the bottom of the stands and throw out free T-shirts. And the threesome had figured out that being higher up and in the middle of the stands offered the best chance of grabbing one. So after a ND score, the boys would dash up the steps to place themselves in the optimum spot.
I was impressed by their strategic planning, but, sadly, the future receivers never managed to snag a prize. The T-shirts, by the way, say more about South Bend Orthopedic than Notre Dame, but, still, a freebie is a freebie. And wisely ignoring what those What Not To Wear people say, those boys knew that you can never have enough T-shirts.
Getting fans in the stands isn’t the same as getting them fired up, I learned. Maybe it’s just the pace of soccer, but despite the best efforts of the Notre Dame leprechaun and cheerleaders, few went for the “I, I, Irish” cheer, perhaps because, like me, they couldn’t figure out exactly what they were cheering. I am Irish? I am I? I don’t know.
But a couple ND fans weren’t so quiet about their displeasure, as some first-half play resembled a squad in search of a sport. “You’re the No. 5 team in the country,” one disgruntled fan yelled to the Fighting Irish. “Play like it!!”
The ND women did play well enough to get the W, which did fire up the crowd a bit. Or maybe it was just an ice-cream sugar rush. No matter. On a surprise summer-in-October day, it was the place to be. And it was cheaper than a babysitter.
Check out ND Free Pass for a sampling the less-heralded side of Notre Dame competitions: the rowing and the running, the putting and the spiking. Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.