From 1976 to 2010, 80,242 fair-weather fans flooded Giant’s Stadium in the Meadowlands of New Jersey to watch New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning swallow more sacks than he completed passes. From 2006–09, the New York Red Bulls shared the stadium with the NFC East’s most despicable team, but unlike their counterparts, the Bulls could not come close to packing the stands. Sixteen thousand fans attended their games — a lot for Major League Soccer — but it felt as if nobody was there.
In 2010, the Red Bulls moved into their new, soccer-specific stadium, a 25,219-seat venue that rattles rather than echoes when its team scores and is regularly packed with sellout crowds.
An empty stadium is a hollow experience for both the fans and the players. This is a notion familiar to the Yale football team. The members of our team have a lot of friends and family who want to experience Yale football, but that number is dwarfed by the number of seats at the Yale Bowl that remain unoccupied.
We all love sitting in a massive crowd. We all dream of playing in front of one, too. Unfortunately, that is no longer Yale’s reality. The empty stadium is a reality unique to our football team.
In fact, the small but packed stadium is a hallmark of some of our other sports. At Ingalls Rink, a mere 3,500 seats abound. And yet, at one of our hockey games, it sounds and feels like generations of Elis are in attendance. The sound roars, the ground reverberates and the place explodes when we score a goal. It’s the exact environment we should seek to foster for our football games.
By 1913, Yale had already taken home 26 Division I college football national championships; its hardware total was three more than that of Princeton, the next closest program, and included seven titles in the last decade alone. Without the hindsight we now have, it might have seemed reasonable to assume that such success could and would continue, and so Yale doubled down and broke ground on a 70,896-seat stadium — the Yale Bowl.
At the time, the stadium was the largest in the world. At the time, it was always packed. At the time, it was the first bowl-shaped stadium, and it was iconic. But that time was more than a century ago. Now, the stadium only approaches full capacity once every two years, when Yale hosts Harvard in The Game.
For some, that might be enough to justify the monstrosity of such a grand venue. But to most, that is not a sufficient argument for maintaining its size. The University recognized this itself; in 2006 the Yale Bowl’s capacity was reduced, but to a still-excessive total of 61,446.
To put that number in perspective, CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks, holds just 69,000 people. I’m not sure what’s more defeaning: the stadium which houses the football franchise that retired the number 12 in honor of the noise its fans produce, or the silence at the Yale Bowl.
As the Red Bulls proved in 2010, reducing the size of a team’s stadium works for two reasons. First, it ensures that the stadium doesn’t appear empty. This, in turn, makes attending games a lot more fun and encourages more people to go to games than had wanted to go before. Less, in fact, is more.
The financial burden of reconstructing the Yale Bowl, or starting from scratch, for that matter, is one of tremendous weight. Such a renovation, however, has been done on Yale athletic venues. In the late 2000s, Ingalls Rink underwent a multi-million dollar renovation which helped create the best athletic atmosphere on Yale’s campus. If we were willing to do it for hockey, we ought to be willing to do it for football.
Despite the many years that have passed since our heyday, Yale still prides itself on football. The games remain a highlight of many alumni’s falls, and the tailgates are always memorable for students. Maybe, if we had a smaller stadium — one more conducive to a loud environment produced by the presence of raucous fans — our students might actually enter the stadium, rather than return home from the tailgate at kickoff.
So, in honor of the first Yale team to beat Harvard since Taylor Swift sang country music, please reduce the stadium capacity.
Kevin Bendesky is a junior in Trumbull College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .