For what it's worth, I was a 3 on this morning's quiz. Love what Fleck brings to the table and I'm super optimistic about the future, but, man, I am not in his target audience when it comes to the hype. I love excitement around the program, but the vernacular is over the top for me. But, hey, if 17 - 22 year old dudes who can ball out embrace it and we're in Pasadena on 1/1/20, I'm not afraid to get 'Nekton' tattooed on my throat.
Tonight's topic is on attendance and the overall atmosphere at games. In my opinion, the atmosphere has been a lot better this year: the music, particularly has been an improvement and I've appreciated that they've front loaded the sick kid tributes to the first half and let the game flow largely without interruption during second half breaks. It's still a bit herky at times - DJ Kool's 'Let Me Clear My Throat' has been interrupted by game play two games in a row and we didn't even get to sing the chorus of 'Livin' on a Prayer' this week before it was forced to stop as the game resumed (some of us did anyway, much to the chagrin of our section mates). So there's some kinks to work out, but it's at least moving in the right direction.
Attendance, though. Bleh.I recognize it's 78 degrees colder on the home side than the visitor's side, as Mr. Sun never peeks over there; but good lord, there are huge swaths of seats open in the upper deck between the 30s. Those are rich people/and or corporate-sponsored seats, so either people bailed due to the seat donations or our corporate friends can't give them away. Regardless, it's a pretty bad look, particularly on a beautiful fall day with the team coming in 3-0.
Our friends over at 247 put together this chart that shows game-by-game attendance at TCF from the opener against Air Force to Saturday's Maryland game:
Kind of a sad banana, isn't it? My theory for a while is that Kill and Teague instituted the seat donation plan as a build toward last season. The 2016 schedule was favorable, we were finally winning some games and had a legit shot at the West division title. Consequently, people would be willing to pay more for a product on the come and be part of history. Of course, that all came crashing down with Kill's retirement and an awful 2015 performance. Despite halting the rise in seat donations and a decent performance of the team last year (I still maintain they underperformed, but that's just me) attendance never recovered and bottomed out for last year's game against Northwestern. A change had to be made on that basis alone, one was, and we've seen a slight uptick in attendance relative to last year's numbers, though certainly nothing to shout home about.
But there's more than to this than just seat donations and underperformance of the team. I think - and there are some signs this is changing - the U just hasn't done a very good job of taking care of its fans. Namely, they've done very little to reward loyalty and encourage the sorts of fan behavior that would help the team. For example, while the Gopher Points system does provide some benefit to long-time ticket holders, say, those poor saps who had season tickets all the way back to Gutey and Wacker, it's pretty easy for a donor - and not even a Daddy Warbucks - to come in and buy more Gopher Points than those long-suffering fans and snag preferential treatment from the U in terms of fan perks and bowl priority. Imagine going to games since 1983, watching this mostly disaster of a program, and then when we finally make the Rose Bowl, Denny Hecker's kid comes in and snags your spot. I would definitely burn something down.
On the fan behavior side, we've lost all but four people in our area of the section we sit in in the last three years. Those seats are now occupied by people purchasing from StubHub or through the U. I mean, it's fine - I guess it's good the seats are mostly occupied - but the situation kind of blows by not having shared experiences with the same people every week. Sometimes people are rowdy with us. Sometimes we get told to sit down and shut up (we don't). It's just a mishmash of transience from week to week that detracts from what college football is supposed to be about.
So, great, Frothy, tell us what we don't already know. Well, fine, I have some ideas about Gopher Point issuance that I think could remedy some of what ails us.
1. For god's sake, stop running off long-tenured fans. If you've been a season ticket holder for 25 years, you have paid your effing dues and deserve a break on the seat donations. Yes, I understand revenue is important, but those fans are probably more likely to donate money without being required to via seat tax and forcing them to fork over several hundred dollars per seat after the fistings they've witnessed over the years just makes the U look like ingrates. So, for every five years a person has been a season ticket holder, the U should knock off 20% of the required seat donation.
2. Additionally, ensure these poor bastards don't get screwed if we finally make it to a major bowl game. Yes, I know we have to take care of our corporate friends, but our corporate friends won't give any money to a program whose fans loathe it. So if you've been a season ticket holder for 20 years, you're guaranteed a spot in Pasadena, a Playoff game (lulz) or a NY6 bowl game.
3. Don't require a probate lawyer to transfer tickets to another party. Sweet Sassy, do you know what we've put up with as fans through the years? If we want to transfer our tickets to a friend's name or if, god forbid, the person in whose name the tickets are listed cacks, don't penalize the whole damn group by shucking them off into the purgatory of finding new seats. It shouldn't require everyone to form a damned LLC in which to hold the tickets to ensure they're transferable. We've been here through years so lean they're transparent and, frankly, today, it's cheaper to buy individual tickets on the secondary market than it is to be a season ticket holder. How about you cut us some slack for still being here?
4. Create a digital ID for each fan that can be scanned as a ticket when entering the stadium (you know, using smart phones). This will let you know which fans are actually using their tickets versus selling them on StubHub. Reward those fans that regularly show up with, you guessed it, Gopher Points. That's your currency. We like currency. It will incent the right behavior and, I suspect, create some fan continuity in sections that today are largely transient. Further, and this is the amazing part, you could ask people to use that app when purchasing beer, food, merchandise or attending other events! You could have a legit profile of the buying behavior of every fan! Technology! People can still get the physical tickets if they want, perhaps by charging a small fee for printing and mailing.
5. Finally, give your Gold Coats the ability to give Gopher Points to fans who are, you know, being fans. Standing, cheering the team on, doing the Rouser with particular exuberance. It's mostly dead in the stadium and I think you'd have a more engaged fan base if they knew there would be a chance of getting 100 Gopher Points for helping the team out. Plus, energy and passion begets energy and passion: start rewarding people for being Elite in the stands and other people will follow suit.