Your iPhone might be causing low football attendance


By Jessica Craig / Columnist

Heinz Field, Aug. 30, 2014. A sea of navy blue and gold sloshes through the stadium’s gates — the smell of cheap alcohol and too much cologne colliding with the smell of greasy food. 

On the field, the marching band is already playing, but their music doesn’t reach the upper half of the student section where I sit watching students file in below. My attention is finally diverted to the field where the football is kicked through the air. The 2014-2015 football season has begun. 

Somewhere on the sidelines, athletic directors, scouts and assistant coaches record every statistic from passing yards, to fumbles, to the stat that has plagued Pitt football — and the ACC — as of late: attendance.

According to The Wall Street Journal, all Atlantic Coastal Conference teams have seen a lower average of student attendance to football games this year. For instance, Georgia Tech — our homecoming opponent — has seen attendance drop 27.9 percent from 2009. Virginia’s attendance is down 13.9 percent, and Virginia Tech’s is down 5.7 percent. Declining college football game attendance is not limited to the Pitt Panthers, or even the ACC — it seems to be a nationwide problem, hitting other schools such as the University of Georgia, Arizona and even the football-obsessed University of Alabama.

Pitt, on the other hand, has experienced a 3.93 percent increase in attendance since 2012, but don’t let that number fool you — last year, we had a record-setting season for attendance, averaging about 49,000 people a game. Granted, last season welcomed our debut in the ACC paired with an exciting schedule — more than 80,000 attended the Notre Dame game in November, according to Pitt’s athletic department. Our average stadium attendance is down 1 9 percent since 2009.

So, what caused such a dramatic change? Was it because we didn’t play Notre Dame this year? Maybe it’s the stadium’s distance from Pitt’s campus or our slim winning streak. You could maybe even blame it on the Panthers’ lack of school spirit or even on the city’s notoriously grim weather. You can even blame it on your own lazy self for not wanting to get up before noon to make the kickoff on Saturday.

College football games seem like they have everything going for them — tailgating, socializing, drinking, school spirit and cheap (sometimes free) tickets for great seats. Pitt students don’t have the luxury of simply walking to the stadium, but buses to and from the stadium are free and frequent. As far as a winning streak, how many students are actually focused enough by the end of the game to even notice who won? Besides, whatever happened to win some, lose some?

ESPN columnist, Darren Rovell, said students commonly complain about “restrictions on tailgating at the stadium or the quality of presentation of the games on television compared to the sight lines and breaks in the action at the stadium.”

Perhaps more students hold part-time weekend jobs to cope with rising tuition costs. Or maybe students prefer parties and bar hopping to standing for hours at a stadium. 

More likely, the blame should focus on an entity that has overtaken modern society, as well as college sports as of late: technology. 

To all the athletic staff at universities and colleges across the country trying to raise football game attendance, perhaps the answer to this problem is sitting in your front pocket or mounted above your fireplace right now. 

Modern technology has taken over everything else on today’s college campuses — classrooms, dorm rooms and education itself. Football is not an exception. 

“Hardcore” football fans like the flexibility of watching games from home where they can switch between games with the click of a remote. A Georgia Tech student told ESPN, “I want to be able to flip over to other football games while watching my team. I don’t want to miss the entire LSU-Alabama game because my team is playing at the same time.”

Alarmingly, one of the most frequently reported problems that hinder game-day attendance is access to Wi-Fi before and during the game. Often times, Wi-Fi is either non-existent or painstakingly slow at large stadiums. 

Moreover, the Internet can be a more reliable source of information. 

One student told ESPN, “There was a questionable fumble play, and, while it was being reviewed on the field, I read on Twitter on my phone that people who were watching on TV said it was a fumble. I then realized that being at home and watching on TV gives you such better insight into what is happening.”

Technology and social media provide constant social connection and the all-important ability to multi-task. 

So how can college football compete? Perhaps by integrating technology into new, more interactive football traditions. Take a video of you and your friends singing “Sweet Caroline,”  and your video could air during the game. Submit a picture from the tailgate for a chance to win a prize. 

Technology invades every aspect of our lives. It’s clear that not even the American pastime of college football is safe. As Pitt and colleges across the country continue to struggle to fill football stadium’s student sections, perhaps they should ditch the free T-shirts and target the technological revolution.

Write to Jessica at [email protected]

Leave a comment.