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Delaware turnout down for 4th straight year
Delaware Stadium’s student section has been largely empty this season, to the chagrin of university officials.
For the fourth straight year, attendance at home football games has fallen to the lowest level in a decade. Since reaching its highest level of 22,177 per game in 2005, the program has seen its attendance fall to 18,108 per game in 2013.
Athletic Director Eric Ziady said the lower crowds are, in part, indicative of a nationwide trend of decreasing attendance at college sports games. That statement is supported by the fact that despite a steady decline in attendance since 2003, the university has still never fallen lower than third among Colonial Athletic Association schools in average home game crowds, good for seventh nationwide in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
“What we average––18,000 or so––we’ve done entirely on the shoulders of our community of football fans in the Delaware public,” Ziady said. “The lack of support from the student body is really appalling.”
Jim Woollard, a season ticket holder since the mid-1960s, said he thinks the two main reasons for declining attendance are higher prices associated with season ticket plans and a decline in the quality of football the university has been putting on the field.
Woollard said there was a sizable price jump for season tickets about three years ago, though he also said several other schools he knows of had already raised their prices by the time the university raised theirs.
Although a certain amount of progress is necessary and welcome, he said, there is always the danger that in the quest for a higher profit or a higher turnout resulting in too much commercialization, the university will alienate some of its fan base.
“I see it all over the country, it’s all about the dollars now,” Woollard said. “That takes a lot away from it. They’re probably making more money now than they were five or six years ago, even with the low attendance, just because the prices have gone up.”
Assistant Athletic Director Scott Selheimer, who has been a part of the university for 29 years, said every year, more and more marketing is done in order to attract students to games. Despite all the effort, it remains a mystery as to what would inspire more student enthusiasm and participation, Selheimer said.
“With Eric [Ziady] and [head football] coach Brock visiting, door-to-door basically, in dorms, a lot has been done,” Selheimer said. “Marketing does a great job in trying to reach the students, but it’s just a quandary. I mean, what really is it?”
Ziady said while the situation is frustrating for the athletic administration, he feels worse for the players themselves, who have to look up at a near-empty student section during games.
They deserve the support of their fellow students, Ziady said, and the lack of excitement reflects badly on the entire university.
There is also a certain amount of trickle-down effect from the lack of student interest, Ziady said, as prospective recruits may be less enticed to play for a team with such weak support from their peers. Although the strong community enthusiasm certainly helps, the student section should be a part of the football atmosphere as well, Ziady said.
Ziady said if even one-fifth of the student body came to games, attendance would easily be back above 20,000, a figure it has not beaten since 2009. Even success on the field has not translated to increased numbers, either among students or the general population.
In 2008, a year after the Joe Flacco-led team made it to the championship game, the university saw 100 more fans per game. In 2011, a year after making it to another championship game, attendance decreased by 500 fans per game.
Like Ziady and Selheimer, Woollard said he cannot figure out the reason for such low student turnout either. Possible explanations could be the mixed results of the last couple of years, as well as an increased number of TV games that Woollard said he thinks has extended the amount of time taken up by football games by at least 30 minutes.
A consistent winning football team would be the key to bringing fans back to the stadium, along with playing a more competitive schedule, Woollard said.
As the conference sees top-flight teams, such as the University of Massachusetts, leave the CAA for higher divisions, lower level teams such as Albany University have been brought in to replace them, which weakens the university’s schedule, he said.
Starting linebacker junior Patrick Callaway said the student section can provide a big boost for a team when they are playing at home. The student section is important in uniting kids in support of the team, and when the section is full and loud, it can raise the team’s level of play to new heights.
“I definitely think that when [the student section] is crowded, it inspires players to play harder,” Callaway said. “It gives students a sense of school pride and a sense of community. Whoever’s there, we are going to play hard for them.”
By MATT BUTLER, Delaware Review