Report: Not a pretty site at Clemson’s formerly rocking Death Valley for the Florida State game.
Sure, they had a season-high 43,000 on hand last week against Georgia Tech. But that was at Dabo Swinney Appreciation Day, the ultimate tribute to the retired coach and Beyonce/Drake Sports Network studio analyst.
The announced attendance was 39,500 (that was tickets sold, there weren’t actually that many folks on hand).
Then again, a gradual slip to this 2039 scene is not surprising considering Clemson didn’t sell out any of its games back in 2018. Though some of the reasons may have involved logistical glitches, that was the season the Tigers went 15-0, won the second of Swinney’s six national championships and had Trevor Lawrence at quarterback. Before he went on to lead the Las Vegas Raiders to those Super Bowls.
But all the empty seats.
Not sure why Clemson people and college administrators from Pullman to Coral Gables didn’t see the warning signs:
• Overall college football attendance for 2018 plummeted to the lowest average in 22 seasons and fell for the seventh time in eight years.
• Future indicators of a demographic meltdown included six-time national championship winner Nick Saban ripping the Alabama student body for lack of interest.
Not sure why college football didn’t heed the astute advice from that Charleston columnist who tried to offer tips on how to market, promote, cajole, lure, beg and bribe. All while trying to get college kids to stop looking at their cell phones long enough to watch two consecutive scrimmage plays.
Recruit fans, reward students
Sure, Clemson and South Carolina fans living in a football-mad state were fairly immune to the overall attendance decline.
Still, these ideas made sense way back in 2019:
• Spend more money on fans, less on coaches.
• Recruit fans as hard as you recruit players.
• Add demand by subtracting supply.
• Fight TV tech with stadium tech. You have universities full of the best and brightest minds. You have grants. You have nutty professors. Come up with in-facility gadgets, multi-screen video systems, cool food ordering systems and state-of-the-art phone apps. Something to counter the optional-angle quarterback/linebacker helmet cams sure to be part of upcoming coverage beamed down to reasonably priced 120-inch TVs.
• Not that students are slack at places like Alabama, Wisconsin, Clemson and South Carolina; ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit (whose two sons are Clemson football walk-ons) last summer ranked South Carolina among the top five student sections in the nation and Clemson students hung around Death Valley long enough last November to zing the Gamecocks with a sing-song “little brother” chant late in a 56-35 victory. But Alabama’s “student plaza” with “social spaces with televisions” in its Bryant-Denny Stadium upgrade plans should be the start of a competitive trend.
• Think about parking as helpful, not gouging. Build parking decks (similar to the one adjacent to Neyland Stadium in Knoxville). Keep the prices down.
• Reduce stadium sizes by replacing seating areas with plazas, see-through concourses and indoor concession areas open to anyone with a ticket.
• Offer professional baseball-style giveaway items at every game: C.J. Spiller Bobblehead Night, SpursUp! T-Shirt Day, free Citadel Bulldog Logo caps …
• Let marketing people make more decisions without football people getting in the way.
• Target children of single-parent families that might have few opportunities to become sports fans. See to it they have lots of fun.
Smoking pot, gambling
Caution: Potholes ahead, namely pot.
As college football managers grapple with an attendance swoon they eventually will have to decide whether “smoking” is allowed in those student plazas. Yeah, not a great idea.
But don’t think that was at least a minor factor in keeping your kids away from their seats at games across the country in various sports in 2018.
College sports executives seem less excited than pro sports leagues about legalized betting and the opportunity to monetize in-stadium wagering. Yet the heavy gambling action each week on major college football clearly is an interest driver.
It’s not the end of the sports world if there are fewer people at live events.
Almost everything is diminished when we have so many more entertainment choices, including 24/7 opportunities to watch “Back to the Future” scenes in the palm of a hand not busy clapping.
But it’s OK to try harder.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff