Damn, if this isn’t the saddest thing I’ve read in a while, I don’t know what is.
… For Georgia, heat certainly plays a role, though the exact reason for the school’s precipitous decline in student attendance still seems to be a mystery. This year, the University of Georgia cut its student section capacity from 18,026 to 16,200. Despite overselling on purpose (17,212), the school’s scanners revealed this sad fact: An average of 28.8 percent of those who bought tickets didn’t show up to home games.
Benjamin Wolk, a senior at the school who is a football beat writer for the student newspaper The Red & Black, says one of the reasons for the no-shows is because of a stale game atmosphere that caters to the old money that wants the traditions of decades ago.
“One thing Clemson, Vanderbilt and Auburn all had in common was a crazy stadium atmosphere,” Wolk said. “At Georgia? Traditional music and a PA announcer barely yelling ‘Let’s make some noise ‘on third down.”
Vanderbilt? Dude, seriously?
This, mind you, after a year in which Georgia played two of the most thrilling games I’ve had the pleasure of watching between the hedges. But evidently it takes a shot or three of fake juice to get Wolk’s generation motivated to put in an appearance.
Or, even sadder, outright bribery.
Since taking the job in 2010, Arizona’s athletic director Greg Byrne says he actively has to push students to not only get to the game, but also stay there once they arrive. After he saw defections at halftime, the message on the back of shirts given to the students called the Zona Zoo this year was as blatant as he could make it: “Zona Zoo STAYS the entire game.”
He moved the band closer to the student section, brought in a group of people called the Zona Zoo Crew to keep people at the game and then actually decided to give away cash prizes, which students could only claim their prize after the game ended.
For its first two home games, the school gave away a total of $5,000 that was to be equally split among 10 student fans.
The punchline? “Even that wasn’t a complete success, as three of the $500 prizes went unclaimed.”
Overall, attendance may be up, but students sound like they don’t give a shit. And athletic department administrators sound like they don’t have much of a clue about how to rectify the situation. I mean, how much can better seating and Wi-fi access help fix this?
“People would rather stay at fraternity houses with unlimited food, booze and a big-screen TV than make the trek to the stadium… Phone service is terrible during games and it’s hard to stay in touch with the world for the three hours you’re in the stadium.”
Yes, because staying in touch with the world is what you worry about most when you spend your entertainment dollar. (No wonder I don’t go to the movies anymore.)
Hey, it’s Darren Rovell and a small sample size. I get that. But you can’t brush aside the attendance data he cites. The reality is that there’s a significant part of the student fan base at schools all over the country that’s tuning out of attending games. And once lost, it’s unlikely they’ll return.
There’s a limit on how convenient you can make the in-game experience. There are only so many entrances, bathrooms and concession stands you can cram into a 90,000-seat stadium. Immediate gratification is a losing proposition when you’re selling football tickets. Just ask some kid named Aaron Stillman:
“The problem is in all the other areas. There’s nothing to do while I’m waiting on line for an hour to get into the stadium, and there’s little added value from being in the stands watching the game.”
And he’s one of the ones who showed up.
The long-term consequences of this are troubling. If the number of folks buying tickets declines over time, there are basically two ways to embrace the suck: accept the shrinking numbers and raise prices to make up the lost revenue (see, Atlanta Braves) and tie your fate even more strongly to television revenues. Neither really thrills me.
Maybe I’m overreacting. But it sure feels like another way college football is slowly getting away from me.