Empty Stands, but Full Hearts: How UCSD Fans Can Stay Engaged in 2020–2021

Sports are back at UC San Diego. Athletics have been on pause since before the Big West Conference announced the postponement of all fall sports. However, basketball, men’s and women’s, is set to go into full swing by the new year. The 2020–21 season will kick off with women’s basketball, who open their season with their sole scheduled non-conference game of the season against California Baptist University on Dec. 21.

Fans, however, will not be returning with sports. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, San Diego County has prohibited in-person fans at sporting events. With COVID cases on the rise within the county and nationally, that restriction is likely to remain in place for some time. So how can fans stay engaged if they can’t attend games? I sat down with Jessica Roswell, Assistant Athletic Director for marketing at UCSD Athletics, over Zoom to ask her that very question, and discuss what fans can expect from the season as well as the athletic department’s plan for fan engagement. The following is a summary of that conversation.

How was this season planned?

The athletic department’s original plan for this season was completed back in December of 2019. Since then, a lot has changed, and they’ve had to adjust. Their first major pivot came July 29, when the Big West cancelled fall sports; the second was when it was announced there would be no in-person fans. Because of this, many planned events, like tailgates and t-shirt giveaways, had to be scrapped and alternative avenues explored. Many planned events were moved to virtual.

What are some upcoming fan events?

There are two big fan events being planned. The first is Triton Madness on Dec. 10. Organized by Triton Tide, it is an event for students and fans to come together. Both basketball teams will be involved, and fans [will have] an intimate and fun opportunity to engage with players and other fans. Triton Madness takes the place of the Winter Whiteout game: a home basketball game that took place around week ten and was a chance to take a break from finals. It is the kickoff to the Cup of Cheer, a spirit competition between the colleges that will feature events and activities leading up to the Spirit Night games on Jan. 22.

The second big event is Blue and Gold Night. With the move to the Big West, UCSD has the opportunity to play new opponents and develop new rivalries. When looking at the other Big West schools, the most similar school, and most likely rival, happens to be UC Irvine, another UC school, with the same colors. Eventually, as UCSD and UCI play more often, a rivalry can begin to develop. The first Blue and Gold Night is set to take place Feb. 26.

The athletic department also plans on having several community-based events. Girls and women in sports will have a virtual event. The athletic department is also working with the Black Resource Center on virtual events to celebrate Black History Month.

How can people watch games?

People can watch home games on ESPN3. ESPN3 is available for free to anyone on the UCSD network. For off-campus students, they can access the network through the VPN — the same way we access library books from home. The athletic department plans on setting up workshops to help teach on- and off-campus students, alumni, and other Tritons fans how to access the games.

Will the broadcast feature anything new this season?

The athletic department finished building a new production studio for the ESPN3 broadcast. This is part of UCSD’s transition to Division I and investment in improving its TV production capabilities. From watching basketball and volleyball on ESPN3 over the past few years, the broadcasts were relatively simple. I did not get any specifics on any new production features, but we might be in line for new transitions, some graphics, or even slow-motion. My fingers are crossed for some crazy Monday Night Football-level graphics.

How can I stay up-to-date on fan events?

A lot of the aforementioned events are still being planned. People should stay tuned to the UCSD Triton Tide and UCSD Tritons social media accounts for up-to-date announcements on fan events.

What will be waiting for fans when they come back to games?

There are a number of new pre-game and in-game experiences planned for when fans can return in-person. Before the games, people can attend Fan Fest, a tailgate-like event where they can get free food, get their face painted, participate in swag giveaways, and gather with other fans. Fan Fests are planned to extend throughout the year, so fans will have something to look forward to at the end of the week regardless of which sport is in season. There’s plenty of new things in-game too. The athletic department has invested in improvements to the video board. They’ve looked at software that allows you as a fan to use #tritonfanzone and you’d show up on the video board.

Photo courtesy of Steven Calista / UC San Diego Athletics

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