Did you know that there’s a home football game this Saturday? Even if you do, are you planning on going? Your Bulldogs are 1–1 with a freshman quarterback and a first-year coach, and they’re showing a lot of promise. They’ve got a good chance for a win against Colgate, and they could use some more fans to fill the colossal 61,446-seat Yale Bowl. On average, just over 23,000 spectators walk through the Bowl gates to watch the Bulldogs take on their opponents.
“Wait, what? Twenty-three thousand people go to Yale football games? That seems crazy,” the average Yalie might say.
But it’s true, and I think there’s a huge misconception about the unpopularity of Yale football that’s keeping students away. If students believe no one will attend a game, they’re likely to skip as well. Biologists call this phenomenon “positive feedback.” In economics, it’s sometimes referred to as the “death spiral.” However you define it, the end result is a continuing decline in student attendance for the wrong reasons.
My goal here is to reverse the spiral. In no particular order, I want to dispel existing myths.
, Yale ranked fourth in attendance — with an average of 23,730 fans attending the five home games. Fourth! That puts us just behind Appalachian State, James Madison, and Montana, arguably the best-known FCS teams. In fact, the stadiums at Brown, Columbia and Dartmouth can’t even seat 23,000 people.
Granted, this average attendance figure was taken from a year when Yale-Harvard took place right here in New Haven. The Game drew in a near-capacity 55,000 attendees, which clearly biases the average of a sample with only four other home games (using the median might be more appropriate considering the small sample size, am I right statistics majors?).
But even in 2010, when The Game was played in Cambridge, Yale football still attracted an average of 15,000 people per game. That’s not bad, and ranked Yale at 16th in the FCS. But we can do better. There are huge crowds of alumni, New Haven parents and their wide-eyed kids that make the Yale Bowl come alive on Saturday. Everyone else is showing up; it’s time for students to do our part.
-largest stadium by capacity in FCS, and the largest among teams that actually own their stadium. (The two largest FCS teams rent out NFL stadiums.)
But now, the 61,000-seat capacity works against the football program. Even with 20,000 fans, the Bowl is only one-third full, and the amount of negative space doesn’t particularly enhance the fan experience. Never have 20,000 people in one place seemed so insignificant as they do when spread throughout the Bowl.
My proposal to tame the Yale Bowl is an idea that has been unpopular in other stadiums: tarps covering unnecessary seating sections. For professional franchises, tarps can signal the decline of a fan base. But Yale is different — it’s not a professional franchise in danger of packing up and leaving town. The program also doesn’t suffer from a lack of attendance — the Yale Bowl is just too big.
It’s similar to the problem the Oakland A’s faced at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. (Fine, it’s technically called the O.co Coliseum, after yet another sponsor change.) When a large upper deck was added to the stadium in 1996, mainly for Raiders football games, the Coliseum became too expansive for baseball. The section has been covered with a tarp during A’s games since 2006, and it’s made the stadium look more populated.
I’m suggesting that Yale Athletics cover the stands closest to the opposing sideline. By cutting the capacity by a little less than half, 20,000 fans will suddenly cluster together in a much denser environment, allowing for more energy and excitement — with plenty of room for attendance to grow. No longer will the Yale Bowl look so empty on game day, especially with our growing national TV presence. Two upcoming Yale games this year will be televised on NBC Sports Network, one will be featured on ESPN3 and three more games will air on YES. Clearly there’s an audience at home — let’s make it look like there’s actually an audience at the game.
mail I received last Friday from Marichal Gentry about the new “Student Tailgate Village.” Not only does the new system streamline the tailgate process for student organizations and residential colleges by setting up a reservation system for spots in the lot, but the amenities available to students are generous and certainly not in a line with a Yale that wants to “stop the party.” There will be more shuttle buses, free food, free T-shirts, two DJs, an inflatable obstacle course, and importantly, free beer for the 21-and-over crowd. Other than banning U-Hauls and kegs, the administration has set few new restrictions on student groups. The village may take some time to get off the ground, but I have faith in Yale Athletics to provide an environment that is both safer and more communal than in earlier years. As I said before, I don’t think the administration is trying to eliminate student tailgating — instead, it’s taking reasonable interest in an area once largely ignored.
With that in mind, please come out to the game on Saturday. Tony Reno’s brand of football has been gutsy, aggressive and unpredictable over the first two games. I’ll be there early, and so should you. Perhaps attendance stats and the vision of tarps didn’t convince you. But if free food, beer and obstacle courses aren’t enough, I don’t know what else to say.