If you've been following the Charlotte 49ers football story, you know that many students welcomed the team with excitement. I remember sitting in the press box of the team's first game back in August 2013, against Campbell, and seeing a full student section as they saw their team take the field for the first time, and afterwards storming out of the stands to celebrate a 51-7 victory.
Then a funny thing happened. Fans simply stopped coming. First they would leave early—heat most frequently cited as a factor because September days in the South around noon are fairly hot. Then, they wouldn't come at all. Students that were there on day one simply decided to not show up, leaving thousands of tickets unreserved and, therefore, leading to many empty seats. Not a good look for a program ready to play Conference USA ball this fall and hoping to draw overall interest from sports fans in the Charlotte area.
Don't get me wrong: it's not just Charlotte. Any given weekend during the college football season, you would've able to hop on Twitter and see swaths of empty seats. Maybe it's due to a lack of interest, lack of marketing, unappealing weather, other weekend options, or the like, but many campuses across the country are in Charlotte's boat. Couple that with C-USA's minimum attendance requirements (15,000) and the program was faced with a big problem if the trend continued.
The student government at Charlotte hoped to work with the athletic school chancellor Phil Dubois to solve the problem, or at least provide a stopgap measure to both cut down on the practice of tickets being reserved by students (only to be unused) and to examine whether the allotment of tickets given to students was too high. They determined that an allotment of 7,500 was too much and that slashing it by nearly half would be part of the solution:
"What we hope is that it will create a demand and that more than 4,000 [tickets] will be requested and it will have to go into a lottery system... that proves to us, and to administration that this piece of legislation can be revoked," said (student senator Spencer) Kwolyk.
The 3,500 tickets left over from the original student allotment will be turned over to the general public, putting the ball in the athletic department's hands to property market those tickets around the community.
Another important addition to Jerry Richardson Stadium that should help is the installation of lights. If you've lived in the South like I have for the past five-plus years, you know it gets hot in late August/early September. With lights being installed, the team can hold games at night when the weather is much cooler (In fact, Charlotte's spring game in April will be played in the evening). That said, heat wasn't the only reason fans were leaving early. With programs with a somewhat higher profile coming in, and with the ability to sell FBS football to the public (along with the potential of national TV games), it might keep people in their seats longer.
Will this solve the problem? Time will tell. But Charlotte seems to be putting some plans in place to stem the tide of dropping attendance. Whether or not it works remains to be seen.
I'm interested in hearing from students, not just at Charlotte (if you're reading this) but at other schools. What keeps you from either (a) attending games or (b) staying the entire time? Fire away in the comment section below.