Dooley Noted: How can Florida football program address declining attendance?

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    Pat discusses the AAF, the upcoming spring game, declining attendance, college basketball excitement and other issues and interviews Tony Barnhart, SEC Network broadcaster and writer.

    Using the Gatorsports mobile app? Listen to the podcast here on Gatorsports.com.

    Podcast breakdown:

    00:30 — AAF

    03:15 — Spring Game

    09:15 — Addressing declining attendance at football games

    17:35 — College basketball

    23:30 — Interview with Tony Barnhart

    34:10 — Coaching changes

    41:03 — Three Things

    55 COMMENTS

    1. The best way to improve attendance is to do the one thing no athletic director will even consider: lower prices. It seems they would rather have empty seats producing zero revenue than risk the possibility that some middle class person might wander into the stadium and upset the rich people.

          • I saw the headline and came straight down here to say “lower prices”. Seems like a no-brainer — so why does it sound more unlikely then our political parties getting along?

            Btw, how many people skip the audio or video articles? I have absolutely never consumed one of those — despite the fact that I come read articles on here most days.

            • I’m with you on that. I wouldn’t read a 10,000 word article on spring practice any sooner than I’d spend 40 minutes listening to the same thing. I think a lot of us just want to pop in and read the latest article or two and a few comments before we move on to the rest of our day.

          • Exactly. It’s basic business. And before the UAA responds with their usual lie about tickets “only” being 75 dollars– the absurd seat licensing fees are part of the cost of a ticket and the biggest obstacle for many people who might want to go to a game. It drives me crazy how the UAA refuses to acknowledge these fees and constantly lies about the true cost of a ticket/

          • The sale idea has real merit, especially with the program on the rise again. Make it possible for people to get season tickets in the less glorious areas (upper deck endzone) with NO FEE this year, but require a two or three year commitment where the fees would ramp up. Get people hooked on Mullen Mania, and then keep them coming!

            I wonder if they could even tie attendance to some sort of reward system? Give people a bonus or a little cash back if their ticket is used for all home games (if they sell it someone who comes to the game the seat is still filled.)

            Anyway, probably a waste of keyboarding, as I am sure the UAA will just ignore all suggestions and throw up their hands blaming “big TVs and the intertubes.”

      • Jaws, normally I agree with you, but in this case, you’ve misdiagnosed the problem. Almost all Gator games sell out, or come very close to selling out at today’s prices. Lowering ticket prices will not sell many more tickets because there aren’t many more seats available to sell.

        The problem is one of attendance, not ticket sales. As Pat mentioned above, that problem is most pronounced in the student section, which numbers around 30,000 seats (give or take.) Students BUY season tickets and just DON’T SHOW UP on game day!

        The student section sells out every season because their season ticket price is only $140 TOTAL, for all 6 home games, and $20 for individual games sold on Thursdays before each game. That’s the equivalent of 4 double shot, mocachino frappes at Starbuck per week, which we all know our students can pony up for easily. They just don’t want to attend MOST games in sufficient numbers and the student section is right in front of the TV cameras for all the world to see their empty seats!

        Pat also mentioned that visitors just don’t travel to as many games as they used to. So, those 2,000 seats go unsold for most games. The solution to that problem is to give the visitors until 30 days before the game to sell their tickets or return the unsold ones for general admission sale.

        The solution to the attendance problem is to remodel Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, adding chairbacks and maybe a suspended open roof to shade the fans from the sun, as was done at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. The total seating capacity would drop from 90,000 to around 80,000 seats, with alumni seats not being reduced in number and becoming much more comfortable. The student section would be reduced in numbers to accomodate all the stadium modifications.

        Hopefully, ticket prices for alumni and visitors won’t increase AFTER the stadium modifications are done. However, THAT would be inconsistent with the capitalist principle of supply and demand.

        GO GATORS!!!

        • The UAA has a very imaginative definition of what constitutes a sell out. I remember a game last year they claimed was sold out and then I read they had given hundreds of unsold tickets to underprivileged kids. Do not believe them when they claim these games are sold out– because the lack of sales reflects poorly on the ADs, they will often lie about this and fudge the numbers.

          However, you are correct that even if you sell tickets it doesn’t mean people are going to come to the games, and I do think as someone said below making a less sucktastic schedule could help with that. You also make a lot of very sound suggestions there to improve the experience and make people more likely to come when the opponent is less than interesting. Can’t disagree that the student attendance is a big challenge. I can’t even believe it, actually, as attending the games was a huge part of the student experience when I was there. Kids today!!!!

          • The student attendance dynamic changed dramatically when first the UA started televising ALL games, then inexpensive HD TVs came along, then the UA implemented the current student ID policy for entering the stadium with a student ticket, which denies less affluent alumni the inexpensive option to buy individual student tickets.

            To show the student attendance problem is NOT caused by student ticket prices, the student section sells out almost completely every season. So, 25,000+ students are choosing to pay $140 for a 6-game package, then showing up for only the 2 or 3 big games and watching the rest at home, on their big screen TVs, with plenty of food and beer in the fridge, nearby bathrooms and their best friends coming over to party and watch those games with them. Not a bad strategy at those low prices!

            • When I was a student season ticket holder you had to go down to the ticket windows and claim your ticket the week of each home game. Unclaimed tickets were then put on sale the to GP. Is that still not the case? So, if a student bought a season ticket, they still had to make the effort to pick up the actual ticket, ensuring more likelihood of using it.

              In any case, my belief in pricing has to do with the ridiculous seat licensing fees charged to non-students. People can’t afford them, or feel they exceed the value of the experience.

              As for the students, I still say make it more of a you had to be there event for the garbage games. Trotting out some feeble geezer before the game or at halftime and giving them an award because they played badmiton for UF 40 years ago== super boring. Try harder. Surprise people. Make it awesome. These lame events they plan totally suck.

    2. Hey I have been a fan of yours for years. we love reading your articles but I don’t like listening to them. Pat is there a way I could get it in print.
      Thank you for being you, following the Gators would not be the same without you.

        • Free vape cartridges? I’m all in! I’ve been TABACCO FREE for 5 years now, and vaping helps immensely. And Gator-6, we were so non-apathetic, even as mere middle school kids growing-up here in Hogtown, that we would sneak in to some of the Gator Football games (thru the old North End Zone). God bless the older gentleman taking tickets, who probably saw us sneaking in, but let us slide in anyway. Now many years later, a lot of these U.F. students are practically getting tickets for almost nothing, and they’d rather not show up, or on time to the home games (just see LSU game this past season on YouTube, the student section at kick-off was embarrassing). But to each their own, I just don’t understand it… at all! But I’m from ”Gen. X” so…
          Go Gators!

          • I’m with ya GI. I’m Gen X too (barely between baby boomers and gen X) and I just don’t get the fascination with the phone 24-7. Different generation I guess but dang, I go to a concert or game to watch the concert or game, not to instantly go to social media to tell everyone I was at a concert or game. One selfie pic of yourself with the field in the background and then dang..put the phone away and watch a great spectacle (unless we’re playing Towson St, etc). Watch the game with friends and then go out to the Purple Porpoise afterwards…it’s ain’t that difficult.

            • Amen, Rog! I used to go to the Porpoise before, halftime, and after the games. And EVEN IF I COULD’VE, I never would have ”told the world” where I was, especially while I was drinking. LOL. But still, they were, ”Good times!”

            • Rog and gi, I guess I’m close in age to you guys, being the tail end of Baby Boomers or early Gen X, depending on whose definition you take. I’ve always been of the opinion that the one thing UAA can do to “enhance my fan experience” is “Just win, baby”!

    3. Lower prices would bring in more people within a 100 mile radius of Gainesville. Also not discuss, is the fact over the last 15 years, Tampa/USF and Orlando/UCF have infringed on our territory. USF/UCF have huge student bodies. They very easily could/may have taken 10k regular attenders from our stadium, slowly over the last 15 years?

    4. Noticing a recent article about Georgia scheduling home and home games with Clemson and FSU, I am wondering why Florida has not started scheduling home and home inter-sectional games with schools outside of the SEC. Georgia’s schedule is exactly the same as Florida’s. They play their SEC schedule, and then Georgia Tech every year. Yet they seem to be able to go out and play schools like Clemson and Oklahoma State on home and home basis. Why doesn’t Florida do the same thing? Quite frankly, having 3 cupcakes every year in The Swamp isn’t getting me jazzed to go to those games. Opening with a Power 5 Conference School, at Gainesville, not Orlando, would be great. There’s already a hum about Florida and Miami. Could you imagine what this season would be looking like if Penn State was coming to town, and next year Florida was traveling to Happy Valley? Think what the ratings would be for a Florida vs Notre Dame home and home series. Talk about selling out some seats! If you want to increase attendance today, the entertainment value has to go up. For the entertainment value to go up, you have to put a quality product on the field. When you put a quality product on the field, you have to put quality competition on the field. Florida can do nothing about SEC schools that are not quality competition. But at least Georgia will do it. And Alabama has too.

      • Grump E is dead on again. I really don’t think it is the ticket prices as much as it is the quality of competition on the field. Living in Orlando, I won’t spend the time and money to drive up to Gainesville to see a cupcake game, but for UF vs a power-5 non-conference game….I’m there!!

      • Excellent point. I remember when the USC Trojans came to town in 1981/82, and all the excitement it brought. As well as putting the gators and Wilbur Marshall on the map. As a student at the time, my friends and I all were all totally pumped up for that game, and the excitement carried on throughout the season. We all got to see and take part in the gameday traditions (and create a few). Yes, the cupcake games are a complete bore, and a deflation to the start of the season.

      • A very good point. I am sure people see so many garbage games on the home schedule and take a pass. Maybe now that we have a decent coach we can bring in some better teams– they don’t even have to be contenders, but even just brand name teams we don’t usually play– UCLA, Boston College. Make it fun and people will come!

      • I agree with some of what you said Grump in that the Gators probably shouldn’t have 3 cupcakes a year. They should have 2 like every other program. I don’t agree that UGA’s schedule is exactly like ours though. Yes they play similar SEC schedules, but Georgia Tech isn’t anywhere near the caliber of FSU. In 50 years GT has only beaten them 14 times. When UGA schedules teams like ND or Clemson, then that actually makes their schedule more similar to having to face the Noles every year. You definitely won’t see them adding another powerhouse on top of it, which is what the Gators would be doing if they added teams of that caliber. As long as the Gators take care of business, then they’ll never be left out of the playoff because of a weak schedule, so there’s really no need to make it even more difficult just to make a game more watchable or exciting for fans. You really want to have to face teams like that the week before facing UGA or LSU or FSU? Personally, I’d rather watch a boring game and have a better shot at the playoff. If anything, add another power 5 program that isn’t of that caliber, instead of an FCS team.

      • Agree 100% with you Grump! I too was at the USC game in the early 80’s….man what a great event! As a fan I’d take the risk of a loss against a better opponent just to be able to watch a better game. Eight SEC games, FSU, and another quality Power 5 home and home. And the two cupcakes don’t have to be Div II ….. heck, play Kansas 🙂

        I now live in Tennessee and I’m not coming down for Southwestern Idaho Tech. But play a home and home against Oklahoma or Clemson ….. when can I purchase my tickets!!!

    5. The cost definitely has to be at least 50% of the problem, especially if you want to travel to away games. The price of hotel rooms double on game day weekends, I know it’s all market driven, but why isn’t this price gouging? I agree with you guys, they really don’t want to address the elephant in in the room and that is cost. Yes they can up-grade your experience with new luxury box seats. But this comes back as part of the problem, they have taken the game away from the every day working common man. This includes all sports, not just college football.

    6. as far as listening to pat instead of reading him, sometimes you learn more from the comments anyway, because gator fans are much better than most places! so a podcast is better than no article.
      All of the above ideas sound good and i advocate most of them, but maybe we focus on the wrong things with attendance anyway. large no shows usually tell you something, either brand is suffering for whatever reason, or the opponent not interesting. Rule #1, keep the program profitable and thriving. As far as scheduling notre dame, our brand doesnt need that the way lesser programs like georgia do. we made changes for the better, finally, maybe its time not to do something we arent sure about.

    7. What a topic! (again). It brought two of my faves (that’s hip & happenin’ for favorites) out of their slumber to weigh in — Grump and Alum — and while a yearly topic at this time of year, it will most likely be absent any action by UAA once again. Do we have a bunch of communists up there? Don’t answer, I already know about the cultural Marxism that has a grip on our universities…….☮☮☮ 😜

      The logic that is StL seems to be spot on point, however. You any kin to Sly, by any chance? All I can say is that had I been smart enough to actually be admitted to UF as an undergrad, I would’t have missed a home game even if I had to start robbing 7-11’s to afford it. It’s a new world, y’all.

      Jaws, write one of your famous missives to the Florida state legislature. If that doesn’t work, this Gator is all in favor of dropping seats to 80K, as well as cutting the cost if possible.

    8. I always find it funny that the solution to people not buying enough of something sports-related is to add lots of new amenities (which will undoubtedly RAISE the price in the long run). Doesn’t basic economics say the opposite about the relation of price and consumption?

      Make students use their student IDs to log their attendance. If they don’t show up to two of the games they paid for, then don’t allow them to buy tickets next seasons – PROBLEM SOLVED!

      I really read all these articles saying that stadiums need better WiFi to get people to attend with lots of incredulity. Is that really why people don’t attend games? I’ve NEVER said, “well, I’d like to go and do that, but the WiFi stinks, so I probably won’t go.” Not once. Okay, maybe if I am going to the library to do work on my laptop using the WiFi, then the lack of WiFi is an issue that might deter me, but nowhere else.

      “Want to go the beach?” “No, the WiFi is bad”
      “Want to go the zoo?” “No, bad WiFi”
      “What about Disney World?” “No, the WiFi makes me not want to go”

      Now that I live within 3 hours of Gainesville again, the only reason I don’t go to games is because of $$$. I don’t have the disposable income to pay $200 or more PER GAME for my son and I to go the game, park and eat. I think these sportswriters live in a bubble, since they get to go to games for free as part of their jobs. Talk about first world problems.

      I think College Football is losing a whole generation of fans because they’ve trapped so much of it behind paywalls. Whether it is games that are only available on high priced specialty cable networks or actual game attendance that is even more expensive than TV subscriptions, they’ve kept a lot of people from watching games regularly. I listen to all the games on internet radio, but the only two years of the last 7 that I’ve had cable TV with ESPN and SEC Network were 2013 (4-8) and 2017 (4-7). Hard to get my kids excited about listening to a sport on the radio that they rarely get to watch on TV. Nonetheless, my son loves the Gators, and I’d love to take him to a game, until I see how much ONE game will cost me…

    9. I’m against reducing seating for luxury suites. This is a university, not a professional sports franchise. I don’t see how the student body or the faculty would benefit from a major expense like this.

      This is the Swamp. Every seat you take out is a little bit of the Gator bite.

      Beyond student tickets, let the market rule. You could sell every seat if you price to demand. Besides, a full house adds to the theater of the event.

    10. GUYS AND GALS. HERE IS MY OPINION BASED ON A MARKETING SURVEY BY MY SON’S COMPANY:

      EVERY GATOR GAME IS ON TELEVISION, EITHER FREE OR PAY-PER-VIEW. THE SURVEY FOUND THAT IN THE DEMOGRAPHIC AGE GROUP OF 45-70 YEARS OLD, THOSE FANS PREFER TV BECAUSE THEY NO LONGER WANT THE HASSLE OF DRIVING, FINDING AND PAYING FOR PARKING, WALKING A LONG DISTANCE OR SITTING IN HARD, CONCRETE SEATS.

      THAT’S JUST FROM A SURVEY

    11. GUYS AND GALS. HERE IS MY OPINION BASED ON A MARKETING SURVEY BY MY SON’S COMPANY:

      EVERY GATOR GAME IS ON TELEVISION, EITHER FREE OR PAY-PER-VIEW. THE SURVEY FOUND THAT IN THE DEMOGRAPHIC AGE GROUP OF 45-70 YEARS OLD, THOSE FANS PREFER TV BECAUSE THEY NO LONGER WANT THE HASSLE OF DRIVING, FINDING AND PAYING FOR PARKING, WALKING A LONG DISTANCE OR SITTING IN HARD, CONCRETE SEATS.

      THAT’S JUST FROM A SURVEY. I BELIEVE STADIUM SEATING UPGRADES MIGHT HELP

    12. One Man’s Summary of these comments:
      1. Build some sort of roof or shading. It won’t cover the entire stadium, but it would help in many seating areas.
      2. Install chair back seats and get rid of bleachers, or most of them.
      3. Schedule better opponents. (Rog feels pretty strongly about this)
      4. Adjust pricing to a level that guarantees (true) sellouts without sacrificing revenue. Surely there are some smart folks in the UF Business School that could help with this (similar to how the airlines have seat pricing down to a science).
      5. Take a long look at the student attendance issue and find a workable and fair solution.
      6. Just Win Baby. An exciting and winning team cures many ills. Hiring Coach Dan Mullen solved this problem so we need to keep him and his excellent staff happy in Hogtown.

      Doing these things will bring a few folks away from their comfortable big screen TV into the stadium, despite the legitimate game day hassles cattrick mentions.

      If you must improve the wifi experience, go ahead. But doing the things on the list above may make wifi less of an issue, in Rog’s humble opinion.

      You’re welcome Mr. Stricklin 🙂 (I’m here all week…. don’t forget to tip your waitress)

    13. Here we go with this stupidity again.

      A program that became a national power in the 90s and was known for prolific offense, suddenly takes a precipitous nosedive and has one of the worst, most unwatchable offenses in the country(2010-2017). And …… SHOCKING COINCIDENCE …. Attendance declines.

      Then said program brings in a coach who can produce offense and win games and again, … SHOCKING COINCIDENCE …. Attendance rises.

      This ain’t rocket surgery folks. Field a team worth watching and you’ll have butts in the seats.

      • Agreed that winning is the number one ingredient. But 2019 is different than 1990. The world is different.

        Without a winning and fun-to-watch team, nothing else matters. But to fill the stadium and make it exciting again will take more than just that. The world evolves…either you move along with it or you end up like Kodak or Blockbuster

          • DEFINITELY agreed on that one! It’s all about the money and TV eyeballs are in charge.

            Attendance is all about atmosphere and yes, cosmetics. And from Coach Mullen’s viewpoint, it is another weapon, the home field advantage, that can really help … or quite possibly hurt …. the team’s performance.

            I love my TV experience: very comfortable chair, easily accessible, less expensive food (my wife does a great job), clean restroom, and I can watch 10 games on Saturday (thanks to recording and fast forwarding games). But from time to time, nothing beats the in-stadium experience. But I’m from a different generation and the newer generation is fine with watching a game on a 7″ phone screen while tweeting about it and could care less about stadium atmosphere as long as they got 100 retweets and 500 “likes”. Different generation. Wait… did I just go on a mini-rant? 🙂

            Oh, and TV timeouts in the stadium …….. suck!!!

    14. If you combined everyone’s comments, you have your answer Mr. Dooley. Societally, we are different today than ever before, especially with the students. We have a lot of students at UF who are not big football fans to begin with. It is not a sport for foreign students. As for others, social media and the lightning quick info age has made kids less patient.They don’t want to sit through a 3 hour game. They don’t want to get hemorrhoids watching a game when they can sit on a couch. There is no alcohol sold at games. You can’t leave the stadium at halftime to grab a beer any more. We don’t have student rituals in the stands like we used to in the old days when we passed girls up the bleachers. And there are good reasons for that, by the way.I think a lot of these college stadiums should take a lesson from minor league baseball.They promo games better than any one. A lot of it is cheesy, but still fun. They make it fun to go to games and to stay. We sell tickets. We just don’t sell the experience . Coach Mullen has done a good job of at least letting the students know, in a subtle way, its not just about the entertainment value to them. It’s about their influence on the game and being the 12th man. He has done a good job of making them part of the game and thinking more unselfishly about it. He should tour the dorms and frats and give them nick names and their own identity to be displayed at games. I would love to see 90 k people screaming at the top of their lungs from the first whistle to the end again at home games.

    15. I have another perspective. When attending Florida football games in the late ’70’s the games always had flow. There weren’t the endless stoppages for commercials.
      That has changed. Today everyone in the stadium must sit through many pauses in the game that make it difficult to enjoy. The University, the NCAA and television Networks are in the “feather plucking” stage of killing the golden goose.

    16. Win. That will solve a LOT of the issues to begin with.

      Stop jacking up ticket prices every other year or so and work with local vendors and business owners to keep prices down for visiting fans (hotels, merch, eateries, etc). To be perfectly honest, this is what has happened to a LOT of fan attendance, is UF ticket office and local merchants pricing themselves out of business when fans have comfortable homes with A/C and big screen t.v.’s to watch instead.

      And aggressive negotiating on t.v. scheduling contracts that will eliminate more early, noon kick-off games in The Swamp and fight for more prime time games which fans will attend.

    17. Well here’s my worthless take. Sell tickets by seat width. When my two older kids attended UF my youngest daughter and I would drive up from Clearwater to attend games. Our primary purpose was to visit her brother and sister. We had access to tickets from elderly friends that were season ticket holders and didn’t care to attend games anymore. I remember our first game 2002 UAB, Sec 19, row 72. My daughter and I shimmy down the row to our seats and we can’t find them. They are covered up because the fat students and parents have encroached on our space. We look at the people on either side of our seats and they look at us like “what?” Six years of that was enough and I am sure it hasn’t gotten any better. Rubbing the soft sweaty shoulders of my fellow Americans is not gonna happen. Wearing orange and blue doesn’t warrant forgiveness. Exiting the game and stepping over completely empty nacho trays and super size “diet” sodas adds to the ambiance. Our genes favor small and lean. Let the season ticket holder send in their weight and then adjust the bleacher seat width accordingly. I don’t care to listen to Pat complain about his knees when he is overweight. I won’t go into airlines selling passenger seats by weight.

      Universities are going to continue making a ton of money off athletics especially football. This is just like everything else in our society “more is never enough”.