Northwestern: Winning Will Not Fill Ryan Field

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Northwestern: Winning Will Not Fill Ryan Field
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

All of you who think that winning will put butts in the seats at Ryan Field, it’s time for you to think differently. 

Winning does not equal attendance.

Northwestern should have had people at the games this year coming off a 9-4 season and a trip to the Alamo Bowl, but so far, the ‘Cats are averaging just 19,729 fans at Ryan Field through three home games.  Granted, two of those games are to Towson and Eastern Michigan, but many NU alums are upset at the poor turnout.

The really sad part is that athletic director Jim Phillips is literally giving tickets away.  If your kid gets solid grades in elementary school, you get a free family package of tickets.  There are other marketing options that make the tickets extremely cheap.  Northwestern is also the only team in the Big Ten to give away beer (Goose Island) before the game.

Many people think Northwestern should be drawing fans like they did in 1995 and that winning will create that same result.  That could not be further from the truth.

Northwestern has become irrelevant.  In 1995, the team was coming off of dozens of losing seasons.  It was known as a “Cinderella season.”  Everyone wanted to come see the team that was winning with its group of nobodies.  The games were packed and excitement shot through the Chicago area, but the reason those games were packed is because the Wildcats were so bad for so long, it was something new.

It also should be noted that Northwestern would not have seen the media coverage in the Chicago area it saw if that first win had not been against Notre Dame.  The Irish were the darlings in Chicago and it could be argued they still are.  Had Northwestern beaten, say, Florida State, it might be a bit different.

That excitement lasted for a few years and now it’s gone.

Even with the most charismatic coach in the Big Ten, Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern can’t draw more than some Texas high school games.  The reason for it is not about winning.

I’m going to do it.  I’m going to blame the Big Ten Network. 

The Big Ten Network has done much for the conference and Northwestern, showcasing “Olympic” sports, and allowing those that can’t come to the games to see NU football. 

However, that’s exactly it.  It gives those that can’t come to the game the chance to watch Northwestern football. 

We now have so much access to media and sports on television.  We can literally watch five or six games at a time, depending on your cable package.  Why would you want to pay to see a game in person if you can watch it in the comfort of your own home while watching other Big Ten games? Not to mention the waste of time and traffic mess it is around Central Street.  You can do whatever you want on a Saturday, and now listen to the game on SiriusXM or check the score on your mobile phone.  We have the information at our fingertips.

It’s not like Northwestern has the cult following of Ohio State or other big state schools.  The students come from all over the country to Northwestern, and after they graduate, they disperse more than other schools.  In addition, NU only graduates about 2,000 undergrads a year.  It sure is tough to bring all those kids back every year if they move to New York or Los Angeles. 

Maybe Northwestern needs to go on another 40-year drought.  Not too many alumni would want that.

Maybe it’s just time to stop worrying about it.

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