Why LSU women’s sports is thriving and breaking attendance records

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LSU softball coach Beth Torina couldn’t help but smile.

A pair of trading cards were tucked into the back pocket of a 10U softball player on her daughter’s team. The cards featured LSU softball Danieca Coffey (third base) and Ali Newland (outfield/catcher).

‘She had Danieca so she could run fast and Ali so she could throw it far,’ Torina told USA TODAY Sports. ‘It was cute.’

Torina had to capture the moment. It symbolized the unique bond LSU women’s sports have with the local community.

According to LSU, women’s athletics has seen a sharp increase in attendance for multiple sports. For example, LSU softball averaged 1,580 fans at home games in 2018 and the number jumped to an average of 2,023 last season. 

This year, LSU softball has already eclipsed 42,000 total fans. A recent home game against top-ranked Oklahoma drew 3,073 fans. They say the increased support has positively impacted LSU’s ability to recruit and build successful programs.

‘I think it’s really awesome to bring up recruiting and show our facilities and our commitment to women’s athletics,’ Torina said. ‘It is something we can be really proud of and something that draws a lot of great athletes to LSU.’ 

Attendance soars for LSU women’s sports

LSU has 11 women’s sports, including basketball, gymnastics, beach volleyball, soccer and softball. The LSU women’s basketball team set records during their NCAA championship run. The Tigers drew 148,468 total fans across 36 games. Earlier this season, LSU had 11,475 fans against Auburn and 15,157 fans attended the Pete Maravich Assembly Center against Tennessee.

In the NCAA national championship game, LSU and Iowa set records as the most-viewed game in tournament history, according to ESPN. The game reached 9.9 million viewers and peaked at 12.6 million during the contest.

LSU gymnastics has also thrived with devoted fan support, averaging 12,075 fans at home meets to lead the Southeastern Conference.

‘Fans have so much admiration for [the players] and they are role models,’ Torina said.

In 2021, LSU soccer set a record with 3,021 fans for a single home game. Meanwhile, the LSU volleyball team reached 105,000 followers and generated 1.6 million viral impressions, which are engagements from non-followers, across platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

What has led to the increased fan support? LSU gymnastics coach Jay Clark said fans are drawn to the allure of the campus and its athletic teams.

‘This place is unique and different in terms of the passion that people have,’ Clark said. ‘It really wasn’t hard to build it. Now, you have to win to sustain it. They really got behind us very quickly.’

Geaux Tigers: NCAA championship runs trickle down

LSU made a big splash by hiring women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey after the 2020-21 season. Mulkey brought a championship pedigree to the athletic program. There was increased visibility for the basketball team, and it trickled down to other women’s sports.

‘I think women’s basketball winning the national championship puts LSU in front of a lot of faces and on a lot of TV screens,’ Torina said. ‘I think that’s good for all of us.’

LSU soccer and volleyball then both made the NCAA tournament. The women’s track team climbed to No. 1 in the nation, the women’s golf team is ranked No. 3 overall and beach volleyball is No. 5.

Meanwhile, the LSU gymnastics team is headed to the NCAA finals.

‘We knew we had unique situation in terms of a fan base that was kind of untapped 10 years ago,’ Clark said about his early years at LSU. ‘To be able to get out in the community and give our fans access to our athletes was sort of the key for driving that. Along with that, the program has become more successful than it has been before.’

A cultural shift for women’s sports helps drive recruiting at LSU

Overall interest in women’s sports has also impacted recruiting, according to LSU women’s coaches. Clark said recruits are drawn to LSU’s culture. He outlined vast facilities, fan support and athletic programs as key factors. Those things also helped Mulkey recruit nine new players ahead of the 2022 season. 

She recalled key standout Kateri Poole, who transferred from Ohio State, saying the Tigers’ fans swayed her decision to enroll.

‘She goes, ‘I’ve never seen anything in my life, like the LSU fans inside the PMAC,” Mulke said.

This offseason, LSU women’s basketball has the No. 1 recruiting class in nation. The Tigers will welcome top high-school recruit Mikaylah Williams to Baton Rouge. She won two gold medals and is the Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year. Williams will be joined by Aalyah Del Rosario, who the No. 7 in the 2023 class, Angelica Velez and Jane Kent.

LSU gymnastics has also recruited well. Clark brought in top athletes Haleigh Bryant, Aleah Finnegan and Bryce Wilson. Each have earned All-SEC honors. LSU also has Tik Tok sensation Olivia Dunne, who helps keep LSU in headlines and shattered records for NIL deals for women athletes.

‘I think it’s really awesome to bring up recruiting and show our facilities and our commitment to women’s athletics,’ Torina said. ‘It is something we can be really proud of and something that draws a lot of great athletes to LSU.’

Other top women athletes on campus include track stars Thelma Davies and Shani’a Bellamy and swimming sensation Maggie MacNeil.

‘I call it the light that draws the flies,’ Clark said of the fan support and team facilities . ‘I tell everybody, if I can get them on campus, I have an 80% chance of getting them.’

LSU continues to build towards sustained success. 

From top-notch facilities to increased benefits in sports psychology and cryotherapy, LSU has built a program that interests fans and prospective athletes.

‘Everybody in the state of Louisiana loves the LSU Tigers,’ Clark said.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY