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Huge dreams and small crowds: Building a tradition at the AESC

When I talked to UFV Athletics marketing director David Kent last June when the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (AESC) doubleheader was announced, the one question I couldn’t bring myself to ask was this: How do you expect the Cascades, who pull 300 spectators on a good night at the Envision Athletic Centre, to fill a 7000 seat arena? Why are you doing this? Who is paying for this? And will there be mini-donuts at the concession?

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By Paul Esau (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: February 1, 2012

When I talked to UFV Athletics marketing director David Kent last June when the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (AESC) doubleheader was announced, the one question I couldn’t bring myself to ask was this: How do you expect the Cascades, who pull 300 spectators on a good night at the Envision Athletic Centre, to fill a 7000 seat arena? Why are you doing this? Who is paying for this? And will there be mini-donuts at the concession?

Okay, I realize that was more than one question, but I think it can be argued that they are interrelated. Obviously somebody in the UFV brass was experiencing VISION (in the capital sense), and the rest of us were being swept along in the wake of that VISION, until that somebody returned to the reality and practicalities of an institutionary funding crunch. The fact that the AESC planned to charge 15 bucks admission for students and public alike was salt in the wound, prompting other visions of disastrous failure, a furtive game of basketball in a silent, grave-like arena, etc.

Now I have some bad news, some good news, and some more good news.

First of all, the number of paying attendees of Saturday’s massively publicized, exhaustively planned doubleheader was exactly 649. The doesn’t count officials, staff, groupies, media and other parasites (if it did the number would be closer to 800), but it does prove that if I had spent the night moving from empty seat to empty seat at the rate of one seat every 10 seconds, I still would have run out of game before I’d run out of vacant real estate. Not that I would have considered this a productive use of my time.

Instead I sat at my complementary media courtside chair and occasionally munched my complementary media cookies and pizza, and felt a little ashamed that Abbotsfordians weren’t showing up in droves. It was amidst this musing that I remembered that this was the first time the Cascades and TWU Spartans men’s teams have met since that blistering first round of the CIS playoffs last year. I then further realized that the women’s teams occupy consecutive positions in the standings, and therefore were fighting as much for rank as honour. “Blimey,” I said to myself, “we may have ourselves a ball game!”

From that point on, I had a memorable night. I cheered as UFV’s Kayli Santori drove the rim, dishing to Sarah Wierks inside at the last, impossible second. I laughed as Jasper Moedt crashed into the Fanzone behind the basket and gave a couple Baker House females a truly personal encounter. I even thought about booing when TWU’s Sean Peter playfully flicked a ball at James York’s crotch, a little reminder of last year’s game three hostility. I was waving my ubiquitous UFV “Bam Bams,” staring myself in the face on the overhead Jumbotron, and trying to figure out why Nicole Wierks has “Warning: Gang life is a dead end” written on the back of her promotional playing card. In other words, I was having a good time.

After the games, I mustered a little courage and prepared to ask David Kent a second round of harder questions. While I already believed that the night had been about as much of a success as was realistically possible, I wasn’t sure what Kent, whose vision was central to the event, was thinking. Abbotsford had not descended en masse upon the AESC, and the vaunted UFV/Trinity rivalry had been significantly more apparent on the court than in the crowd. Yet Kent, smart man that he is, beat me to the punch.

“It was brilliant,” he said, “I’m just so happy. We do need a larger crowd in the future, the AESC and the City of Abbotsford took a bit of a hit on this because the crowd was smaller, but crowds grow as you build the product.”

Thus he immediately informed me the venue was a success (something I affirm), that the event will happen again next year (something I also affirm), and that somebody else is footing the bill. This, of course, made me very happy as well.

But in all seriousness, I am looking forward to next year. A lot of great events have humble beginnings (Nascar anyone?), and I’m confident that the increasing prestige of UFV’s basketball program will pay future dividends. I’m also glad that UFV Athletics has someone like David Kent who can take vision and turn it into a promising reality. Lastly I’d like to thank the AESC and the City of Abbotsford for… well… you know.

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