The original plan for this piece was how this year’s Clemson game is likely the last chance for the Syracuse Orange to get one final crowd in the Dome’s Top-10.
Then we realized how many tickets are still left.
At this point, SU doesn’t appear to have surpassed 40k in sales for what should easily be their biggest draw of the season. So what gives?
After some Slacking off, the Nunes staff all have thoughts on why SU is in this situation:
Mike: Recency Bias
While I haven’t been following SU football as long as many others here, I did get a clear sense of what last season did to the “on-the-fence” portion of the fanbase. Every team has some diehards, as well as their own versions of Johnny from the Major League films - but winning over those in between is key.
2022 seems to have hurt more than it helped simply because of the way Syracuse finished. Yes the Orange started the season red-hot, but hitting a big skid against the likes of Clemson, Notre Dame, and FSU diminished short-term perception of what chance SU has against their top opponents. The general feeling now seems to be: “Yeah, they beat four teams they were supposed to, so what?”
Meanwhile, SUA is using their slight string of success to jack up ticket prices. (Maybe testing the waters for reduced capacity in coming years?) I get it’s against a national brand... but isn’t Pitt in NYC supposed to be your donor game? Plenty of people in the region can’t afford to cough up $73 per ticket at minimum, plus parking, food, etc. to go, and SU looks out of touch for failing to realize that.
Andy: There just isn’t a large “hardcore” college football base in CNY right now
Look, I know this will get blasted, but look with your eyes around the fanbase: very few fans actually followed the team this offseason, and the prevailing narrative around the team when I encountered fans was “will they lose six in a row again?,” with no thought to much else. We know SU can pack the Dome for a name opponent in a night game, but look back at recent attendances for mid-season ACC contests that have featured good-not-great teams: it’s about what we’re seeing this week.
It doesn’t help that this kind of environment is why SU Athletics felt it could move the Pitt game to NYC: “growing the base” becomes a priority when the base is small. But all that move did was tick off the hardcore fans you need for a game like Saturday’s. I’m not going to bemoan ‘Cuse chasing the money as they renovate the Dome and build new facilities, but a decade plus of apathy towards the college football product on and off the field by both the department and the fanbase leads to situations like this that can’t be solved with reduced price tickets or snappy Instagram videos.
Steve: Misplaced Nostalgia
Well, as the resident local season ticket holder, I can’t disagree with Pregler or Mike. Another piece of the puzzle is that it seems people have wiped the past 20 years from our collective memory. Fans pine for the 80s and 90s, when if you objectively look at those times, they were better than now, but not world beating. I find myself guilty of this as well. Assuming you consider the heyday of Syracuse football to be 1987-2001, the average record in that span was 8-3, winning 71% of their games. Extrapolate that to a 13 game schedule and you have 9-4. If this team is good, and there’s a non-zero chance at 9-4 this season, it’s on par with the top era of Syracuse football.
The average record of those Pasqualoni teams was 7-4, MacPherson similar at 6-4 (Yes, these are rounded). In the 1998 season, one of the most hyped seasons around, they ended up 8-4, with question mark losses (NC State, West Virginia) and some good wins (Miami, Michigan).
The perpetual Sickos Committee question of “Is Syracuse Good?” is still valid, but at present we’re on track for 7-9 wins this season. That’s a major milestone in reaching back towards that heyday compared to where we were earlier this century, and yet the fans still aren’t showing up. They did last year for NC State and Notre Dame, but are we in a situation where this hot start feels like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” a little too much for the local fanbase?
Dom: The value just isn’t the same
Coming from my perspective as a student, both points brought up by Mike and Andy resonate strongly among the current student body. The deja vu over what happened last season still looms, and the situation doesn’t help itself considering that a) the Orange lost a home game (Pitt) and b) Syracuse will go the entire month of October without an appearance in the Dome.
Mike and I previously brought this up before with men’s basketball and the Orange’s annual rivalry game with Duke — do we actually believe the Clemson game is a rivalry game for Syracuse at this point in time? The Orange are 1-9 in their 10 ACC matchups versus Clemson, with the only win being the miracle in 2017. Even in a “down” year for Dabo Swinney and company, Clemson is still a seven-point favorite on the road versus Syracuse.
Maybe this is just a sign of the times, much like men’s basketball with the Duke game.
Kevin: Casual fans want an event
It’s frustrating to watch the annual “you aren’t a real fan unless...” battle, but the reality is that live sports experiences are entertainment events for casual fans. Those are the people that turn 30k crowds into 40k crowds. People want to come out for a winning team. They also want an event.
Clemson being 2-2 takes some luster off this match-up for some in this group. They don’t look at the process, so if the Tigers were also 4-0 there would be more interest in this game. So how do you solve the problem? Look at the Syracuse Mets, Crunch, and even the Savannah Bananas. They aren’t selling the game, or even the team aa much they are selling a special event. Giveaways, reduced food/drink prices, and other promotions convince people to leave the comfort of home and commit to attending. Syracuse doing the food/beverage discount pre-game is a start, but cheaper beer at 10AM isn’t like offering things like a ticket and two craft beers or $1 Dome Dogs.
Syracuse is playing its fourth September afternoon game. If you live around here, you understand that spending 5-6 hours inside and not outside in the best weather of the year in CNY is a choice many aren’t willing to make. We joke about apple-picking and raking leaves, and while it’s too early for that, it’s also harder to convince a casual fan to go inside when it’s 70 and sunny. It’s too late to change the Dome roof, so you’ve got to find ways to convince these fans that it’s worth it, and that isn’t all about what’s on the field.
Christian: The Young Guns
Along the same lines as Kevin’s, a lot of casual fans are apparently not going to this game. The hardcore fans are going, but as Andy said, there isn’t a big “hardcore” fanbase in CNY right now. So how do you get casual fans to come to the game while at the same time growing the hardcore fanbase? You figure out a way to get CNY families to the games. It’s a classic marketing trope that you usually see with minor league teams. The best way to fill seats is to have parents bring their kids to the games.
Of course, those parents need an incentive to bring kids to the game. So why not create special family packages? How about advertising fun activities for kids to participate in before, during and after the game? How about running a promotion inviting pop warner or youth football programs to the Dome for a day experience? The large majority of the casual fanbase consists of families with children, and they have better things to entertain their kids with than see a Syracuse athletics event at this moment.
For the majority of us, becoming a hardcore fan starts at an early age. So finding ways to draw kids to the Dome to watch Syracuse athletics will not only grow attendance now, but has a great chance of growing attendance further down the line.
Tell us your perspective. Are you someone who will be in the Dome? If not, what’s the reason (beyond travel) that’s keeping you from attending. What could Syracuse do to attract more fans?