A throng of Elis decked in blue and white marched out to the Yale Bowl Sunday to confront the Dartmouth football team. The game marked the Bulldog’s first Sunday game in 129 years of Yale football.
Thousands of students and alumni showed up for this rarity, but the crowd was not nearly as large as what many students and coaches would hope. The Tercetennial’s inability to draw a large audience for football points to continuing problems with attendance.
Declining numbers of fans has plagued Yale football in recent decades. The Yale Bowl can seat up to 70,896 people and has, in the past, seated 80,000. Yet, in 1990, the average attendance at home games was only 14,337 people. Yale’s goal over the past decade has been to change this declining trend.
“Our marketing and promotions people do a great job and I think we have put exciting college football on the field in recent years,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said.
Last year’s average attendance of 23,142, Siedlecki said, was Yale’s highest in over 10 years and ranked third among Division 1-AA schools.
But two games that were expected to have a high attendance this season, the season opener versus Cornell and Sunday’s Tercentennial matchup, averaged just over 20,000 people. Regular fans, such as Adam Hobson ’04, recognize the problem in this year’s slightly smaller crowds.
“We have to revive Ivy football,” Hobson said.
This year could see such a revival, as many of the home games occur on special weekends, such as this past weekend’s Tercentennial and the upcoming Parent’s Weekend. The Yale Bowl has the largest seating capacity in Division I-AA football — followed by Tennessee State’s 67,000-seat stadium — and it is the athletic department’s aim this year to have the highest attendance in the division. With the highly anticipated Yale-Harvard game occurring at the Yale Bowl this year, the goal could become a reality. Siedlecki pointed to the 1999 Yale-Harvard game, which drew a crowd of 52,000, as an example of Yale football’s potential for high attendance.
In order to fill the stands, Yale will have to encourage new fans to come to the Bowl. Despite the large number of loyal fans in attendance at Sunday’s game, relatively few newcomers were present. A common complaint voiced by students who chose not to go was “I just have too much work.” With midterms looming on the horizon and a weekend already packed with numerous tercentennial events, the football game fell by the wayside.
Fans who did attend noted the lower-than-expected turnout. Hobson was originally excited for the game, but was disappointed about the crowd on hand.
“The football game has a lower turnout than the other tercentennial events,” Hobson said.
There were some brave souls who ventured out to the Bowl for their first time this year. The tailgate, which started at 11 a.m., was a popular place to start out gameday. Megan Trice ’04 was one of the newcomers at the tailgate. She admitted to having a fun time, but when asked why she had not made it out to the season-opener she gave the most common response of Yale students.
“I guess I don’t have a very interesting reason,” Trice said. “I’ve been busy.”
Though the tailgate continued throughout the game, a steady flow of students began crossing Central Avenue to the Bowl around the 1 p.m. kickoff. Inside the stadium, Yale’s section of the stands gradually grew to about two thirds full. Even without a capacity crowd, the atmosphere was raucous. Residential college cheers burst out sporadically and individual cheers such as “that’s my suitemate!” punctuated the buzz. Unfortunately for football fans, Yale lost 27-32.
But, more importantly, the game did not convince many people to make the trek down to the Yale Bowl for the next home game. Many students said that their next game would be the Yale-Harvard matchup.