Wish Field struggles with attendance due to lack of soccer culture

A late, brilliant goal is blasted into the upright corner net. As the player celebrates his winning goal, his teammates rush over to him one by one and he pauses. He looks over to the sunlit stands, as sweat drips down his face and sees emptiness. He wondered, who was he playing for?

In a field that can hold 1,200 fans, Wish Field struggles to bring in much less than half of that for games.

DePaul men’s basketball season-opener saw 3,710 fans in reported paid attendance. Many are complaining that the basketball team is struggling to fill the seats at Wintrust Arena, but even in their struggle, they’re bringing in more than Wish Field can even hold.

Chicago is known for its vibrant sports culture. History has shown the strong bond between Chicagoans and their teams—except for when it comes to soccer.

While soccer is growing in the United States, it has been a largely followed sport in Chicago—a multicultural city, full of immigrants that come from countries where soccer is a way of life.

Most support for soccer goes to European teams that Chicagoans follow religiously at local bars like A.J. Hudson’s, The Globe Pub and Fado. These bars are home to Chicago’s most authentic soccer fans. But there isn’t an outpour of support for the local footy teams, like the Chicago Fire.

This lack of support is also reflected in the soccer culture at DePaul.

“I think there is basically no soccer culture here,” DePaul junior defender Max De Bruijne said. “I think the only thing that most people are really focused on is basketball. I love the sport—but from a soccer point of view it’s a little sad.”

De Bruijne was born and raised in Amsterdam, Netherlands—where soccer is the dominant sport and where some of the world’s top soccer players have been manufactured.

“Back home, everyone plays soccer, and everything is focused on it,” De Bruijne said.

AFC Ajax—the most loved and loathed team in the Netherlands—has an average of 49,711 home game attendance, according to Eredivisie’s 2017/18 season report.

The average home attendance this past season for the Chicago Fire was 14,806, according to Chicago Fire’s all-time attendance table. England’s second-division teams have higher attendance than Chicago’s major league team. Portsmouth FC 2017/18 average attendance was 17,917, according to World Football.

Sasa Labovic, junior defender, believes that things have improved since his father, Dragan Labovic, played soccer at DePaul.

“When my dad played here, the men’s team didn’t even play on campus,” Labovic said. “They had to go to an external park to play on a field back then. But I definitely feel like aside from the athletics of soccer, the student body is not as soccer-oriented as the Chicago area reflects.”

Despite the increase in soccer interest in the city of Chicago, students still aren’t convinced enough to fill up Wish Field.

“I think the part of the lack of soccer culture on campus is that people are obviously not going to show up when you’re not winning,” men’s soccer coach Mark Plotkin said.

Plotkin played for the Blue Demons from 2006-09 and helped them to four consecutive appearances in the Big East Tournament.

“When I was in school here and we were winning—we did get a ton of students into our games and it was really fun,” he said. “When we played UCONN—and they were ranked number two in the country—the entire sideline was packed with students and when we beat them, they all sprinted to the field and jumped around with us.”

It is no secret that the Fire and Blue Demons haven’t been winning titles lately, but what happened to passionate, loyal fans? Are victories the only thing that will bring people to the games?

With the growth of soccer in the country now compared to when Plotkin was in school, he believes the campus’s interest will grow along with the team’s wins.

“So, it’s on us to put a winning product on the field in order to have fans want to come, cause obviously no one wants to support a team that’s losing all the time,” Plotkin said.

When asked what the University could do to make soccer more appealing to the non-fans, Plotkin said scheduling, since games are usually weekdays at times when students are in class.

“I think that weekends we could do a better job,” Plotkin said. “If the university promoted it a little more and brought different events down to the field, we can get more support at the games.”

A DePaul student was asked what he thought about DePaul soccer. 

“I don’t follow it,” said Nicholas Moreano, a sports journalism major. “I don’t get the feel of its presence here. I think doing more articles and pictures of the team around campus would create more awareness so that I could feel like we do have a soccer culture.”

De Bruijne emphasized the importance of social media to spread the word.

“I think nowadays with social media, posting game day shout-outs will stimulate people to come,” De Bruijne said. “Especially to the freshman that are new on campus because you’re creating a soccer culture for them.”