Once again, the Syracuse Orange football program opened its season with a meager crowd. Things were pretty bad around kickoff, and only got marginally better throughout the game. Syracuse registered its fifth-smallest opening crowd since the Carrier Dome opened its doors.
How do we fix this?
The easy answer is wins, but that’s also a cop-out. As SU has trended more toward “basketball school” over the last 15 years or so, the standard for what gets fans to show up for football is a moving goal post. No matter the price, game time, opponent quality or entertainment factor of Syracuse (high this year, by the way), there’s always an excuse for why fans can’t or won’t attend.
Beyond wins, there’s also been a sea change in how we (as fans) consume sports. When you can stream a game from your phone while you’re out, you’re not even tethered to your couch, never mind a seat at the Carrier Dome. College football attendance is down nationwide for six straight years. No matter the quality of the on-field product, it’s simply a harder sell to get fans to sit and watch a game for four hours today.
The first game is always on Labor Day weekend, and with the State Fair and holiday plans increasingly taking precedence, that makes the idea of selling fans/families on a football game even tougher.
The notes above are also expounded by population shifts in and around Central New York. Depending on where you reference, CNY’s population is either flat or declining slightly. Job growth is up a bit, along with the local economy. But it’s still behind much of New York State.
That’s not to needlessly shit on the area. But just point out how it does play a part here, especially when combined with the other factors.
So given the fact that we’re not changing any of the above, how does Syracuse football realistically fix the attendance issue? A few ideas:
Open on the road
Syracuse is already taking steps here, as the next two seasons open away from the Carrier Dome. The Orange will start 2018 at the Western Michigan Broncos, and 2019 at the Liberty Flames.
You can’t change when college football starts, so changing when your home schedule starts is one solution you can control more often than not. This is yet another advantage of getting out ahead of your schedule.
Free student tickets
I didn’t get free tickets as a student, and you probably didn’t either. But kids are much more likely to go if there’s no financial outlay. Worried about the lack of income as a result? If you give kids free tickets, they’ll be more likely to buy concessions. I paid for my tickets at SU, so I rarely bought any food/drink at the Dome. Without having data to back this up, it seems like a simple solution that might end up making the Dome more money at the end of the day.
Actual fan giveaways
Syracuse’s promotional schedule is a bit fly-by-night for football, where there are “days” set out in advance, but there’s nothing motivating most fans to attend. Days to appreciate medical employees, the military and the band are quality events for those groups, but they don’t necessarily provide a BIG draw for others to attend.
Last year was a start, getting a Floyd Little bobblehad produced. But it was only announced with a few days’ notice. Most teams have these things set months out, so when you’re buying tickets, you know exactly what you’re getting.
Using our multiple jersey combos the same way other schools (Arizona State, Louisville, Cal, etc.) do and telling fans way in advance what to expect is another way to get people excited.
Moral of the story: plan ahead.
I tossed around a couple other ideas, including upgrading home opener opponents. But ultimately, a) I don’t agree with that and b) it’s not going to fix anything. If and when there’s a low fan turnout at the MTSU game next week, that hurts the “no FCS” crowd’s point. And we can’t just schedule Power Five teams in the hopes that quality brings people in. Not only won’t it (see: many of our minimally-attended ACC games), but it’ll hurt the program’s development. Also, there aren’t enough teams with openings to fill those spots anyway.
Open to other ideas here, but this is a starting point for a (realistic) conversation. Whats’ going to get people to come to the Dome for football games? And don’t say “wins,” because that’s false.