Football attendance issues rooted in area culture
Posted September 10, 2013
The months of May through August are spent pining away for football, but when it finally arrives in September, a good chunk of the conversation revolves around everything but actual football.
Tailgates, uniforms, whether or not a team has dirty players, pass-outs and attendance. All eye-level topics that are latched onto by fans when the real game leaves them unfulfilled for a myriad of reasons - from a lackluster opponent to a straight up loss.
The fascination with attendance in the area is especially bizarre since it's largely a cultural problem. Sure, local fans will show up for the rivalry games or the contests deemed "events" because of the opponent involved. Outside of that? The crowds are hit or miss.
Maybe because it's Labor Day or maybe because those noon kickoffs ruin the tailgate vibes. Or perhaps it was too hot that day. Regardless, we've been coming to the same excuse party for years now, and in no way is that depressing.
And it won't be changing any time soon according to Steve Logan.
Wait a sec, coach, never?
"Never until there's a collective agreement that it's important," said Logan.
The former East Carolina head coach went off on the Pirates fan base, typically seen as a loyal group, because one supporter called into Logan's radio show once upon a time. The fan had his excuses for not going and Logan wasn't having any of it.
The coach's message? If you want his team to win, you show up. You show up because fans of the home team should be going to the stadium to support the home team regardless of who is on the other sideline.
North Carolina's thinned out crowd was particularly bothersome to Logan.
"They got a good football program," said Logan on 620 The Buzz. "They got an exciting brand of football. It's the opening game of the season."
North Carolina certainly puts effort into creating a decent game day environment in Chapel Hill. "Tar Heel Town" was moved from one of the quads to Ram Plaza. There's a band, inflatable slides for the kids, food and various other amenities to create a tailgate atmosphere without an actual tailgate. They put a DJ in the student section to liven up the scene inside Kenan Stadium.
There were plenty of empty seats despite all those efforts.
"We've heard for years that's it's a sleeping giant. No it's not, it's a comatose giant," said Logan. "They got everything in the world you need to be a championship football team except passion."
Culture is a tough thing to change and usually requires a confluence of issues to create momentum. Just go down the highway to see the evolution of NC State's game day environment.
Former chancellor Mary Anne Fox sparked change in Raleigh by bringing in Chuck Amato's outlandish persona and ratcheting up facility improvements. Excitement around the Wolfpack was taken up another notch thanks to Philip Rivers. Throw in Herb Sendek's cold fish routine and lackluster performance against the rivals - it was a great recipe for football to creep more and more into fan culture.
And tailgating. Don't forget about the tailgating. It's become such a thing in the last decade that pass-outs will be even more difficult to discontinue. Fans would rather hang out at their elaborate setup than watch the final quarters of a dud game.
Now all NC State needs to do is win consistently to make it the complete package.
At North Carolina, they have all the extracurricular activities down to a science. When the Tar Heels host Miami on Oct. 17, the game has been marketed as “Zero Dark Thursday.” Along with all-black uniforms and fan attire, Franklin Street will closed between Columbia and Mallette streets for a larger version of "Tar Heel Town."
North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora will be the first to tell you that changing a culture doesn't happen overnight.
The issue in Chapel Hill is that the fans already have their thirst for winning quenched by the basketball program. Football isn't necessary to satisfy a need. Perhaps if they win more consistently, the culture will change over because folks simply want to be part of the winning..
"That's the only part I can control," Fedora said on 99.9FM The Fan. "It's our job to put an exciting product out on that field so that people want to see it and that's what we're going to do."