Fans flock to Santa Barbara

Fans flock to Santa Barbara

Nov. 10, 2010

As a teen, Sam Garza traveled the world for soccer. The Highland Village, Texas, native and current UC Santa Barbara player represented the U.S. at overseas events and played all the elite domestic club tournaments. In addition, he led his high school team to a 30-0 showing and a national No. 1 ranking during his junior year of high school.

More often than not, however, Garza's play was witnessed by a limited number of spectators.

Such is the nature of youth soccer.

Now, Garza's play is witnessed by thousands of fans every time he and his teammates play at Meredith Field at Harder Stadium.

UC Santa Barbara leads the nation in average attendance among NCAA men's soccer programs, bringing in an average of 6,619 fans per home contest. The Gauchos are on pace to break the NCAA average attendance record, which UC Santa Barbara established last year at 4,335.

"The reputation that Santa Barbara has created with two Final Fours [since 2004] and winning one has helped a lot," Garza said of the program's staggering attendance figure. "Youth players attend the games, and we get a large fan base from that.

"And, then there's the Gaucho Locos," Garza added, paying homage to a campus organization that promotes student involvement in the university's sports programs. "They're all wearing yellow T-shirts, standing the whole game and cheering. They really get into it."

Garza said the home-game environment helps stir an emotional reaction from the players.

Sam Garza transferred from Denver and was impressed with the passion for Santa Barbara.

"When I was at Denver [before transferring to UC Santa Barbara], we'd get 200, 300, maybe 400 fans," he said. "When you play in front of 6,000 people it gives you more passion for the game. It makes you play for the fans. It makes you have more energy, and it's a dream come true, basically. It's almost like a pro environment."

Soccer America recently reported that attendance at the top 20 highest-drawing programs is up over last year. The report also stated that 35 NCAA Division I schools are averaging more than a 1,000 fans per match and eight are averaging more than 2,500 per match.

UC Santa Barbara, which plays host to the 2010 College Cup, shattered its home attendance record during an early season 2-0 victory over UCLA, which drew 15,896 fans -- 4,500 more than any previous home game in the program's history.

"That was ridiculous," Garza said. "Wow, that was electric. I expected we'd get a lot of people for that game. But then I saw the whole stands were packed. I was like, 'This sport is really taking off.' It was so loud you couldn't even scream at your own players and you couldn't even hear yourself scream. It was so lively, it really made me want to play harder."

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