WHERE DID ALL THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL FANS GO? asks an article in yesterday's Bleacher Report. The article's author lists everything he can think of to explain the shocking reality that even big-winner SEC teams are sporting gaping holes in their seats:
1. With new technologies, watching at home is just like being there.
2. You can watch multiple games simultaneously at home.
3. Stadium WiFi is shitty, so you can't tweet or check your email in the stands.
4. Universities schedule all sorts of weird stupid boring games just to make money.
5. You can get wasted and throw trash around and get in fights and all if you tailgate rather than go to the heavily patrolled stadium.
The article's long comment thread features fans adding lots more reasons: Menacing trash-talking drunks in the stands (the police can't be everywhere); shrieking non-stop ads on gigantic unignorable Adzillatron scoreboards; logistical problems involving parking, access to bathrooms, location of seats, etc.; bad weather; lack of beer (But note the Beer Catch-22: If you provide it, you have to pay huge sums for security since fights are going to break out; if you don't provide it, no one comes.); tickets are too expensive (but student tickets are usually pretty cheap, or even, in these desperate times, free), classwork (This one's pretty arcane, so let me explain. When asked, many fantasms will say things like Well, I'm here to get an education. I have to study for midterms, write papers, attend classes, and that sort of thing. I don't have time to go to games.); disgust with the team (when a team becomes sufficiently criminogenic, fans have trouble rooting for it); increasingly alienating, desperate, fan-retention policies (The University of Georgia, complains one ex-fan, "changed their student ticket policy about 4-5 years ago and took away paper tickets. Instead, they give you an e-ticket, where you must swipe your student ID card in order to use the ticket. This pissed off a lot of people because we could no longer sell our tickets if we couldn't make the game... Since you cannot sell your ticket, if you cannot attend the game, you have to donate - you don't get your money back - the ticket [goes] back to the University so they can re-sell it to someone else for another $8.... A few years ago they came up with the stupid 'strike' rule to bully students into using their tickets. If you had a ticket and did not donate or use it, you got a 'strike.' If you get three strikes, you can no longer receive athletic tickets for the rest of your college career.") and so forth.
Everyone else is asking about the vanished fan too - the Wall Street Journal's got a long searching piece on the subject, and local newspapers all over the nation are gnashing their teeth. To make matters worse, the tv networks are getting increasingly pissed at the universities, since nothing's more discouraging to the home viewer than an empty stadium. What kind of dumbshit am I to be watching a game no one else thinks is worth watching?
UD has some suggestions.
1. Digitally Enhanced Fans. This is a quick and ugly solution, but it's a solution. Networks can simply add fan images to the stands as the game is in play.
The problem with DEF is revenue. How will a university selling fewer and fewer tickets pay for its program? Simulacral fans solve one problem and create another.
2. Animatronic Fans. Young and sporty types, like this. Although the initial engineering outlay will be high, universities can share the cost with the networks, and of course animatronic fans can be used over and over again. Also, those universities who pioneer this work can make money selling to other universities.
3. Fee (Activities) Nonpayment System (FANS). In this system, student admission to the games is free; and if they go, they get a discount on their student athletics fee (all big-time sports schools have hefty "activities" fees on top of tuition). If they do not go to the games (this is ascertained via student i.d. checks at the gate), they will have to pay the activities fee in full. Of course the fee will have to go up substantially to pay for the system.
4. Fanball Scholarships. Along with football scholarships, schools will offer "fanball" scholarships in which dedicated fans receive the same benefits (bogus independent studies, free Hummers from local boosters, etc.) players receive.