Every year when freshmen move onto campus, they learn about a few of Penn’s “secrets” that they just couldn’t elicit from the Admissions Office’s marketing material or even the coolest Kite and Key tour guide.
Some of these secrets are better kept than others. Most people know about the cursed compass on Locust Walk, fewer have been taken up the stairs of the Philomathean Society, and, as a senior, I’m still dubious about whether the secret underground Quad tunnels actually exist.
But the worst-kept secret of all? That our school has almost no athletic spirit.
It’s been well-documented that Penn students would rather spend their hard-to-come-by free time doing things other than cheer on their sports teams. And while it’s great fun for the few Quaker enthusiasts on campus to complain about the way it is, I thought, for a change, I’d propose a solution — or at least a start.
I’m not here to make the argument that our school spirit can rival the likes of Alabama’s or Michigan’s, but I know we can definitely move in that direction. We have some seriously talented teams and players — from national contenders in squash and lacrosse to outstanding individual performers in track and swimming, to a basketball team that regularly competes with March Madness heavyweights.
In my view, a big reason Penn students aren't passionate about their sports teams is that there is not an easy way to watch their peers play — it’s not like they’re being broadcast on national television. But they are being broadcast somewhere — and that place is ESPN+.
That’s why Penn Athletics should make the platform broadly accessible to the undergraduate student body. Almost any Quaker athletic event — from women’s lacrosse to football to baseball — is available on the streaming service.
There are multiple ways to go about this. Penn could give every student their own subscription. But at $10 a month for about 10,000 students, even with a big group discount, I would understand if there was pushback against this method.
Another, much cheaper, idea is for Penn Athletics to pursue a commercial business license from ESPN+. This would allow Penn to broadcast games and matches in dorm gathering areas, classroom hallways, rooftop lounges, Pret-a-Manger — anywhere you can think of. It would also encourage community viewing environments, which is what really brings about passion in sports fans.
If students start seeing our teams on TV, they might be more willing to go to games in person. Once our reputation for school spirit improves, I envision a nice feedback loop where more highly recruited athletes will choose our school over some of our upper-tier competitors.
While Penn Athletics already devotes a lot of resources to home-game student engagement (nearly all home events are free to attend), this investment would be by far the largest of its kind towards away-game engagement.
At a yearly price of a low five-figure sum, Penn's $32,017,644 annual budget can certainly withstand it.
Now before you think this is some paid promotion coming from ESPN’s marketing team, know that I am no huge fan of the network. From its over-sensationalizing for the sake of analysis to its bias towards certain teams and sports, and perhaps worst of all, what it has done to our once-beloved Monday Night Football, the company surely has its faults. But right now, ESPN+ is the best and only way to view “obscure” college sports.
Penn Athletics knows it has a problem on its hands with school spirit. If the often empty stands don’t already paint the picture, look no further than the 50% Papa John's pizza coupons they use to try to entice us to attend games (heads up guys, Penn students prefer &Pizza).
Of course creating national contenders in football or basketball is the best way to improve school spirit, but that's hard and takes years. My idea only requires a couple phone calls and a credit card.
All I’m saying is an investment in ESPN+ is a better use of the marketing budget than some two-bit pepperoni pizza.
Three years ago, the Penn Champions Club raised over $60 million for Penn Athletics, a large portion of which was said to be dedicated to “student engagement.” For a small fraction of that sum, Penn can ensure that the next time Penn squash is competing for a national championship, the next time Matthew Fallon is breaking a record, and the next time Penn basketball is beating Villanova, there will be a good group of freshmen cheering them on together from their TVs.
BRANDON PRIDE is a Wharton senior from Morgan Hill, Calif. studying finance who was a Senior Sports Editor for the 137th Board of Editors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.