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Football is one of the defining aspects of the college experience. It’s also one of the things I miss the most about school. It feels weird not waking up on a Saturday morning, getting hammered, and watching my team play. It sucks not being able to go to games. I always assumed everyone else felt the same way about college football. I was mistaken.
A decline in student attendance is a trend that’s been sweeping the nation for a few years now. School administrations, and in particular, their athletic departments, are worried. Even in the SEC, where football is essentially revered as a religion, students aren’t going to games like they used to. This means that, of course, ticket sales are down, and that funds aren’t being raised for athletics as easily as they once were.
Take the University of Georgia as an example. Sanford Stadium is one of the best venues for college football in the country. Georgia fans are renowned for their fierce support of their team. However, over the past four years, 39% of student seating at Sanford has been empty. What the hell is going on?
Even Alabama, with three recent national championships, is facing the same problem. 32% of their student section went unfilled. So, if winning games isn’t the problem, then what is?
My personal theory is that people are just throwing better tailgates than ever before. I’ve personally witnessed this trend over the past several years, and it’s definitely got some merit. Fans are going all out. It’s not just showing up early, having some beers, and grilling burgers anymore. Tailgating is an all day affair. For some, it may even be the main event of the day.
Last year, when I went to the Georgia-South Carolina game in Columbia, I witnessed this firsthand. I was unable to get a ticket, and the friend I was staying with couldn’t get me one either. They were ridiculously expensive, and at that point, I was more focused on getting drunk. My friend told me I’d still be able to have a good time, even though I couldn’t make it into the game. His fraternity, along with several others, were set up in what was called “The Frat Lot.” The tailgates here didn’t stop just because the game was starting.
Aside from an endless supply of booze, their were bands, food, and a bunch of very attractive young ladies. Honestly, at that point, I wasn’t even pissed I couldn’t get a ticket. The game was being shown on a projector inside a tent. There were kegs, a liquor luge, and pledges to refill my cup. It was a pretty good gig, to say the least.
Some people who are much smarter than I am and analyze this kind of shit for a living have some similar theories. Some believe that students aren’t going to games because of poor cell reception at the games. Admittedly, that is always a huge pain in the ass, but would you really let it keep you from seeing your team play?
Others think that non-conference schedules are keeping students from coming out to games. I can see some truth to this. While it’s great to see your team win, do you really care about seeing them stomp some no-name team from a no-name conference? The big ticket games between rivals or ranked teams are always going to be big sellers, but the out-of-conference beat downs will not.
Still, there are other factors at hand. Some believe that the ease and convenience of watching the game in high def from a bar or the living room is beating out viewing it live at the stadium. I love the bar as much as the next guy, but come on, can it really beat the game day experience of the student section?
The SEC has even hired a market research firm, Now What, to look into this problem. It’s clearly a big deal.
“We can’t afford to lose a generation,” said Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin, a member of the SEC’s committee on the game-day experience.
Shit. Losing a generation? Come on, guys. Aren’t we better than this?
So, what exactly is being done? Athletic departments have identified that there is a problem. Surely, they must have some kind of solution in the works. There are, in fact, a couple out there on the table.
Numerous schools are considering putting Wi-Fi networks in their stadiums as a means of combating the problem created by poor cell service. According to experts, depending on the stadium, these new networks would cost between $2 million and $10 million. However, some schools are looking at more simple approaches.
Oregon will give free food to students who stay for the entire game, provided the Ducks score 40 points or more. Seriously? We need to be enticed by free food to watch a football game? Fuck, I need a drink.
I sincerely hope this problem gets solved. College football is a huge part of the undergraduate experience, and really, when you think about it, our culture as Americans. Have you ever seen the people who never went to college, but are still diehard fans? Why can’t we all have their enthusiasm about our teams? Sure, it’d help if more stadiums sold beer, but honestly, that’s just a minor setback. You can get drunk at the tailgate or bring booze in with you clandestinely. You only get one shot in your life to be a college student. Make it count. Go to every game, cheer on your team, and bash the opponents. Shit, guys. It’s not soccer.
[via The Wall Street Journal]