Western Washington University students have the opportunity to attend all 2023-24 home games free of charge. This development came from the partnership of Whatcom Educational Credit Union and The Foundation of WWU & Alumni. Together the organizations donated $25,000 to the university.
The free tickets were spearheaded by Jim Sterk, the new director of athletics at Western, in collaboration with Kim O’Neill, CEO of The Foundation for WWU & Alumni and Jennifer Kutcher, president and CEO of WECU, in hopes of increasing student attendance at sporting events.
Sterk identified the disconnect between campus events and students shortly after stepping into his position this summer. With the Sam Carver Gymnasium having been closed for two years – starting in 2015 due to renovations and the pandemic hitting shortly after its reopening in 2017 – the athletics department has found it difficult to rebuild the budget.
“The Foundations stepped up, then WECU stepped up, it's all been a team effort," Sterk said.
Jeff Evans, the director of athletics communication, has been overseeing marketing and social media for nine years.
"We've noticed a small disconnect between attendance and financial support for our sports programs," Evans said. "It's not just about the sports; it's about the event itself. The donation helps bridge that gap."
Since the implementation of the free access to home games, Evans is in high spirits.
With an already higher-than-average turnout to volleyball and soccer games this quarter, Evans expects attendance numbers to continue increasing. To encourage the sense of community on campus, the athletics department is also launching new initiatives, such as halftime giveaways at home games and offering complimentary shirts to the first 350 students who attended the “Blue Out” volleyball match on October 12th, promoted by Western sports spirit group, the Carver Crazies.
Ralph Hutchinson, a junior at Western, is a passionate member of Carver Crazies. The organization, established in fall 2022, aims to encourage students to display their school spirit.
“I think offering free attendance is a great thing for students," Hutchinson said. "Money can really be an issue, especially when you want to support your school and take a break from academics.”
In addition to advancing attendance rates, those involved hope to combat the perception that Western students are not invested in their athletics, despite Western being a D-2 school.
“Western has a reputation that they don't support the sports, and they have over 300 student-athletes that represent us,” said O’Niell.
Previously, students would have to spend $30 for a Viking Territory Pass to attend home games for the academic year. O’Niell feels as if ticket prices disconnected students to the community.
It is part of The Foundation's job to remove barriers like ticket prices for students to access, O’Niell said, adding that she hopes to see the sponsorship continue.
"The Foundation might not always be the sponsor, but this was a great way for students to access home games, and we envision similar collaborations continuing."
Hannah Quinton (she/her) is a campus news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a third-year planning on going into journalism/public relations with a minor in international business. Outside of reporting, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading and yoga. She can be reached at email@example.com.