Decreased stadium capacity coming

31
1363
Helicopters fly over Steve Spurrier-Florida Field before the Missouri game last Saturday. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent]

When last week’s Florida football game started at The Swamp, you wondered if the Gators had accidentally scheduled a spring game instead of Missouri.

The east side of the stadium had so many empty seats it looked like a Thursday night game at Middle Tennessee. Some of those seats filled in, some did not.

Dan Mullen has been pretty vocal about it, both after the game and again Monday at his weekly news conference. He knows that empty seats can influence high school football players who are in attendance and who have heard about what an electric place The Swamp can be.

So it has been a hot button topic all week, especially after Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times did some research and found that it was the smallest Homecoming crowd since the stadium was expanded in 1991.

I heard from fans who went and fans who didn’t go, including one who complained about the heat (it was 68 degrees at kickoff). There are a lot of reasons why this happened and before we get to those reasons let us not forget that if the same crowd that went to the game in Gainesville showed up in Columbia, Missouri or Starkville, Mississippi about 20,000 of them would be turned away.

Certainly, if Florida had beaten Georgia the previous week, it would have been a different kind of crowd. But the Gators did not and Missouri had no conference wins and — as I wrote about this summer — college football is battling a decline in overall attendance.

That’s why you are seeing stadiums go the other way, decreasing capacity to make the experience for the fans more enjoyable.

And why you’ll eventually see that happen in Gainesville.

Florida has been out in front in trying to do different things to draw the fans. Saturday was the debut of a better WiFi system and there have been all kinds of amenities added for each home game.

“Our fan enjoyment committee meets every week,” said Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin. “This isn’t a Florida issue. It’s a nationwide issue. We have to attack it from a lot of different fronts.

“We’ve got to work real hard to add value for people to come to the games.”

Sometimes, it has to feel like a battle that can’t be won. The world is changing. TV ratings for the sport are up and — let’s face it — the casual fan who had tickets for the game could eat them and enjoy numerous big games that were played at the same time.

That’s one reason we saw such a small crowd (although everything is relative).

“There was no one issue,” Stricklin said. “There were a bunch of little issues.”

Here are five:

1. Florida’s loss last week changed everything.

The Gators were eliminated from the East race and any fleeting hopes of getting into the College Football Playoff. Those may have been longshots, but that’s better than no shot.

2. Missouri doesn’t travel.

Not to Gainesville, anyway. It’s 1,007 miles from one place to the other. The Tigers didn’t bring a band and only sold 924 tickets. Nobody’s blaming Mizzou, but if you had a few thousand visiting fans, it would have made a difference.

3. The networks aren’t doing anyone any favors.

I’m not saying that these six-day windows are hurting college football attendance, but they aren’t helping. If you live out of town, like South Florida or out of state, you can’t even plan your weekend until Sunday before the game.

As I Tweeted a couple of weeks ago, it’s the price fans pay for the price the networks pay.

4. The student attendance was down.

It’s an ongoing problem, but you can’t make them go and you can’t make them show up before the middle of the first quarter.

5. And here’s the big one.

Florida football hasn’t been that much fun to watch, especially at the prices. We all know about the record over the last nine years (a somewhat pedestrian 66-44) and we know about the quarterback drought. Here’s a stat that is almost hard to believe.

During the last nine seasons including this one, Florida’s average national ranking in explosive plays (20 or more yards) is 94th. Fans aren’t guaranteed anything special is going to happen on offense and this is a fanbase raised on Steve Spurrier.

One other thing, the league did Florida no favors with its schedule of three games at home, then 48 days with only one home game, then three more home games.

A lot of these are excuses. But a lot of it is reality.

The days when fans just showed up because the home team was playing are over. Opponents matter. The fan experience matters. Winning matters most of all.

There’s nothing embarrassing about 80,017 people showing up for your football game. We’re all just used to something better.

Just know that the day is coming when a crowd like that will mean standing room only.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

31 COMMENTS

  1. Three words for all the excuses/reasons/justifications in the world: Big freakin’ deal. It’s still the Gators. I don’t care if we are 0-12…..it’s still the Gators. Somebody please tell me what to think, because this Gator doesn’t get it.

    • I am with you. We were 0-10-1 my second year at Florida and we still had people jammed in the seats. If this is a nation wide problem , then it has nothing to do with us playing Mizzouri instead of South Florida . And we have one of the toughest schedules in the country every year and we want to make it tougher just to fill in seats? Bullshit. We should be packing it in because we are Gators. I can go to a movie or a play to get entertained. And college football is entertaining anyway. The students these days are not the same. You don’t see as many empty seats on the alum side. This group of kids are too used to luxury and silver platters, and that is our fault as parents. They want a remote control game in 65 degree weather that doesn’t get in the way of their cell phone. I also think many , if not most, of them never even grew up as Gator fans. A more comfortable stadium wouldn’t hurt either , though. I’m tired of sitting next to a 400 pound dude in a seat made for a 98 pound ballet dancer. It is archaic . It will also help with recruiting to beef up the facilities a little.But in the end, I honestly think that even if the Gators went 12-0, you would see more seats filled , but not as much as some may think. The alums would be there, but the students…

    • I get what you’re saying about schedule, but that’s not an easy as just adding teams. UF needs a certain amount of home games every year to work their budget. Teams like you named aren’t going to just agree to come to Gainesville without a return game at their place. I think the reduced stadium capacity will come from chairback seating thru-out the entire stadium for more fan comfort.

      • WiFi? Really? Fans are not going to games to have WiFi. If you are going to want to draw (or just stop losing) more season ticket holders at the prices the AD wants to have, then you are going to need to reconfigure the stadium seating for at least the alumni side or create a club level experience. Sitting on thin metal bleacher seats with knees in your back isn’t going to cut it anymore. It use to bring comraderie to have to get everyone to standup when your wife has to use the bathroom every 15 minutes. Not so much comraderie in the world these days.

        It is going to be a tough fix to reconfigure the seating to have seat backs and another few inches of legroom. I’m not sure if it is even possible structurally. It will likely be major reconstruction that will have to be phased over a few years.

    • I think Mveal may be on to something. Maybe not drop Missouri but schedule 4 non-conference opponents that fans would be interested in going to see and also within close proximity enough without having to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for transportation and lodging. They don’t all have to be Power 5 opponents either. I think FSU, Miami, UCF, and USF would be great draws. It would eliminate two complaints (i.e. cost and quality opponent) from the factors. I would do home and home with FSU and Miami. Then try negotiating 2 for 1 with UCF and USF (i.e. 2 home, 1 away deal). That should give us an average of 6.5 home games a year.

      I hear the argument about having too tough a schedule hurting our chances at national prominence but I’m not sure I buy it. I’m not advocating UF leaving the SEC and become independent but the UAA should do a deep dive into the Notre Dame finances and model. Granted ND struggled with staying relevant for a number of years because of their tough schedule but not this year. This year, they are relevant while playing only 1 non-Power 5 team and still have 8 home games. They are always relevant at the beginning of each year because of their brand and talent level. Maybe we can still have a tougher schedule and yet still remain relevant nationally. If we can’t beat USF and UCF, we don’t deserve to be prominent. As the saying goes, we can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results.

  2. I’m likely a very good typical example of some the change you mentioned above. Being a 1981 grad, as my income went up during the 1980s we attended more games, mostly away at Auburn and Knoxville, since we lived in the Panhandle 300 miles away. By 1991 I bought season tickets as a booster (nice ones underneath the cool SE overhang, top row) and kept them for 19 seasons. Here are my reasons for not going:
    (1) Expense, for 19 years the cost of hotels, eating and gas when up. But going in person use to be way more cost effective. We could afford and did go to the first five SEC Championships and 3-4 others after that, plus three Sugar Bowls including the glorious Championship Game. Also went to six Knoxville and UK games because we had friends there. Now a couple of SEC Championship tickets and travel will cost you +$3K!!! Most people just can’t afford the Atlanta experience.
    (2) Age, we’re not real old, but we got tired of the drive 4-5 times a season
    (3) The 2009 depression final made the cost call for me at the same time we purchased our first beautiful HD TV…now 65″ curve 4K-HD.
    BUT and a BIG BUT, we miss the game experience!!!! If I lived within 100 miles, we would go to some individual games. BUT, another BIG BUT….the crappy product over the last 8 years is NOT worth paying big bucks to see. Don’t mine losing some, but the hopelessness is too much to handle…I blame Foley’s coaching debacles for that.

    • DeWayne – I’d say this probably speaks for a lot of people. Having better quality home games would help, but the reality is, the cost of attendance gets higher and higher. $180 a night for a Holiday Inn Express in Alachua may be about the best you can do on game weekend and that’s just plain ridiculous.

  3. Mizzou is not a southern team and should never have been admitted to the SEC (the worst part of losing to them!). It was even more idiotic to put them in the Eastern Division, and highlights the arrogance of square-peg-in-round-hole conference administrator hammers.

    The other obvious, ridiculous reason is scheduling. Whether the Gators were 0-10 or 10-0, I would not miss other, better, more relevant games on TV to watch this contrived pageant. Yeah, yeah, “da playoffs…!” We’ve GOT to protect a schedule that gives us a chance for a title!

    No we don’t, and I don’t give a damn. I want to be entertained and enjoy real games. You wanna close out the home schedule with a cupcake, then expect lousy attendance. You can get away with that for the home opener, and I wish that didn’t even happen. Open w/ Miami every year, and figure out some home/home’s w/ VaTech, or the Domers.

    But don’t bore me, or I won’t show.

  4. This day and age it’s a simple concept, Build it they will come! Granted the LSU game was NOT sold out to Gator fans. Tiger fans get that credit! I guarantee if UF was challenging for a NT a lot more Gator fans would travel just to watch them! If the Offense was fun to watch, EVERY GAME, more fans would come, IF UF was more consistent , more fans would come. I disagree with CDM on this point because he has to give the fans something to watch before they are going to spend their hard earned money on an over priced “fan experience” . That’s just the way it is and nothing will change that. We have endured 8 seasons of pathetic Offense and fans are not going to waste their time and money. Why waste my money at the game when I can turn it off if it gets ugly? Sorry, That falls to the University! They haven’t done a great job of bringing in awesome coach’s, SOS and urban liar, even though they tried, they failed. Now they are going to have to give fans what they want to get them to spend their money! Plain and simple! They build a contender, I GUARANTEE that stadium sells out even for the cupcake games!

    • Maybe Mullen should put his money where his mouth is by subsidizing ticket prices with his $6M salary? Set the example and then ask local businesses to do the same. The higher the attendance, the more we win, the higher the profit for him and local businesses. Win-win-win.

    • A big part of Coach Mullen’s point is, a better atmosphere (i.e. a sold-out, crazy loud crowd) dramatically helps recruiting. And better recruiting makes the product on the field. And a better product on the field helps attendance. Which came first…. the chicken or the egg?

  5. Need to get more students to the games. If they don’t go as a student, they will not return as an alumni. Back in the 80’s, seemed like almost every student went to the games, win or lose. Now I speak with recent graduates who never went to game when they were at UF and have no plans to go back for a game. Also, hotel price gouging and the two night minimum stay results in cost issues.

    • We have to face reality. This new generation(s) is not like our older generations. I have two sons, 21 and 19 and they LOVE e-sports but could care less if they ever experienced a live football game. I literally have to beg them to go to a game with me or even watch on TV. And when they do…they’re “doing it for dad”, not because they want to. And if you banned cell phones in the stadium……you’d have exactly zero fans in attendance age 30 and below. So wi-fi is a bona-fide tool to get them in the stadium. Yes, I know, it’s very sad. I think it’s going to continue to be harder and harder to get younger folks to attend live sports.

  6. Excuse me while I take time to take off that sport coat I wore to games in the 60’s and pin that mum on my girlfriend’s game day dress. My grandkids don’t care much for sports and don’t want to leave their 60-80 inch screen tvs if they do. Won’t see the crowd shot of a Hurricane game because there is no one in the stands. The toothpaste is out of the tube and our world is changing so much I hardly recognize it.

  7. And now is a perfect time to sing the first verse of the Sunshine Gator, a song I wrote in the 70s to the tune of Rhinestone Cowboy:

    When the Autumn season arrives
    And football fever thrives
    I get out my old orange and blues
    My Hat and my shoes

    A raincoat is not there
    The weather has to be fair
    If the climate’s not right
    Well I just stay out of sight.

    It took a long time realizing
    I was born for criticizing
    I bitch and complain
    Whenever they lose them games

    IM THE SUNSHINE GATOR
    If we don’t have a win
    It’s the coach’s sin
    We all know

    IM THE SUNSHINE GATOR
    A helluva man and a great Gator fan
    Through thick and thin
    Just as long as we win.

  8. The students aren’t going to show up. The university is not taking legacies and putting very little stock in continuing the loyalty to UF. You can see it by the lack of attendance at Alumni Center events and at events at the different colleges. As a parent, if my kid doesn’t get into UF, then my money wont be going to UF, even though I went there and my parents and grandparents went there. That is the university’s prerogative. The students we have just don’t care.

    That being said, they should have the number of seats drastically cut. They need to lower capacity and develop a club level and chairbacks throughout the stadium. It is not fair to put this problem on the alumni side. The west stands are always packed and so is the lower south endzone. The upper south endzone and the north endzone Sunshine Seats are expensive and basically neglected by the UAA. The amenities up there are a joke and basically that entire sections are just pissed on by the athletic department. They are empty because that is where all the season tickets that don’t sell are located.

    The east stands are the problem so kick them out and offer more premium seating to alumni. Also, do something with the endzone seating sections. They are still paying booster premiums and just badly neglected. This goes back to Foley so Stricklin needs time.

    Basically, if you aren’t going to win every game, then the athletic association needs to stop bitching about the people who aren’t there and show some appreciation to the fans that are there.

  9. My first year as a Gator was the season that we went 0-10-1, but I was hooked nonetheless. I attended every home game during my 4 years at UF and most of the time, we just weren’t that competitive, but I went and enjoyed every game.

    Now that I’m back in Gainesville, as an adult, and making a comfortable living, the number one reason why we don’t go to every home game is cost. The price of a ticket (much less, season tickets) is ridiculous and the cost of the marginal food is likewise, ridiculous. And while most of us don’t mind supporting our school, doing so through required booster cost (over and above ticket prices) is unfortunate.

    I can only imagine, on the limited budget that most students have, that football tickets are not a high priority. AT $20 per ticket and easily $10-$15 in concessions, that can add up over the season. And not to mention that when we haven’t fielded a terribly exciting team to watch for the past 10 years. Why spend $35 per game when you can watch most of the games at home, at your dorm or for free at a bar?

    “When” our team gets back in the mix for SEC Championships; I’m sure that more alumnae and fans will be willing to pay more to watch the games, but in the meantime, upgrade the seating, add more leg room (even my 5’1″ wife complains about the lack of leg room), upgrade the food without upgrading the cost and provide no-cost wi-fi for all fans.

    Thank you,

  10. 1. Early season games in the afternoon, including noon, so my wife says never again!
    2. Expense: ticket prices are up while performance is low.
    3. Stadium experience: we still recall being in the Swamp along with our two girls ages 13 and 8 and our five-year old girl. Two drunken young men started pestering our girls with sexual come-ons and vulgar profanities. Two stadium cops stood behind us watching and laughing. I asked the drunks to leave our daughters alone. They challenged me to a fight. I turned to the cops for help. They told me I was about to be removed from the stadium for disturbing the enjoyment of the two drunk men. I returned to my seat five rows down. A group of women students turned and shouted profanities at us. Shortly the two drunks left for a bar, having difficulty staying on their feet and didn’t return. That was our very last visit to the Swamp for 15 years.

    I want go go now, have had good experiences since there, but it’s a huge expense and the security and comfort of our home feels so much better.

  11. I get what everyone is saying. The way it used to be*sigh*, the good ole days. That was then and this is now! In the 80’s and before you could leave at the half, run across the street and drink til you had to run back before the half ended. Can’t do that in 2018 either(bummer). Different era , different society, pretty much everything was different including college football. The game isn’t the same, the stadium isn’t the same and the fans are not the same, the sport’s writers are not the same and the players are not the same as the good ole day’s! Now fans want wins, points and entertainment. They wanna see explosive Offenses, stifling Defenses and Undefeated season’s. Doesn’t seem Bama has a problem selling out their stadium! Wonder why? Great Offense? Great Defense? Both? Build a Champion, they flock from all over! Not comparing the 2 , just saying fans want to see wins , great Offense and Defense, Lots of points and blow outs. I even read on here everyone wants the day’s of the Fun n Gun back at UF. Build a Champion, they will come. They are not coming to watch pathetic Offense or Defense. Fan’s today WANT a consistent, year in and year out , Champion! Not buying into that thought? Scroll up and read these posts again! Check the next article and read those posts too! Everyone today want’s a Champion. UCF manages to sell out now, how? You think 23 – 0 has something to do with it? Of course it does! Build a Champion , they will come!

  12. My wife and I used to go to a couple of games every year. No more. Why? I got tired of dealing with drunks, uncontrolled brats, Prime Rib ticket prices to watch sow belly opponents, parking issues, obnoxious fans not included with the drunks and brats, Delmonico Steak prices for hot dogs, did I mention the drunks? I go to football games to watch competitive football, win or lose. I have never enjoyed a game that is over in the first quarter as you see with the cupcakes that Florida regularly plays out of conference. Other championship caliber teams find a way to schedule home and home games with quality opponents. I don’t see why the Gators can’t.

  13. All the games are now televised and can be watched on so many devices. Times are changing and the way people like to consume their sports is changing, especially students. For Alum it’s a big commitment of time, effort and money so those not in the best of seats in the stadium can have the best seats to watch game action by staying at home.
    More people than ever are watching the games. Smaller better equipped and more comfortable stadiums are the future.