Jimbo Fisher, Christian Ponder and Florida State Wonder Where The Fans Are

Randall CooperContributor ISeptember 30, 2010

There were as many as 25,000 empty seats at Doak Campbell Stadium, when the Seminoles faced the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
There were as many as 25,000 empty seats at Doak Campbell Stadium, when the Seminoles faced the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

Last weekend, in a shut-out victory over Wake Forest, the Florida State Seminoles played before the fewest fans in 18 years—since before the program ever won a national championship, since before many of its current student-athletes were even born. 

Just sixty one-thousand tickets were sold, and attendance was a number even lower than that.  Worse, the season’s previous two home games—against Samford and Brigham Young, respectively—received only a slightly better draw.  Poor attendance, it seems, is becoming the norm.

Asked about all the empty seats at Doak Campbell Stadium, Head Football Coach Jimbo Fisher called it a ‘shame’. 

Players echoed the sentiments of Coach Fisher.  Christian Ponder finds it ‘weird'.  Bert Reed is ‘disappointed'.  Nigel Bradham is surprised.  Other players have lamented the poor turnout on Twitter.

Reasons cited for poor turnout—i.e., the economy, the quality of opponent and even the location of Tallahassee—offer no convincing explanation. 

First, the recession started in December 2007 and ended in June 2009.  Of course, its effects are felt still.  But average attendance at Doak for this year is on pace to be lower than it was during the recession.  Illustratively, in 2008, the sole year in which the recession endured all year, average capacity at Doak was 94.7-percent—in 2010 average capacity is 80.6-percent.  

Not to mention that the University of Michigan, located in the state most afflicted by the recession, drew 110,187 fans—100.3-percent of capacity—in its Week 4 game versus Bowling Green.

Second, as shown by the Bowling Green-Michigan turnout and the following chart, other traditional powerhouse but rebuilding programs—e.g., Penn State, Tennessee and Southern California—did not have trouble filling their respective stadia at their most recent home-game when facing a less-than formidable opponent. 

4 Bowling Green v. Michigan 110,187 100.3
4 Temple v. Penn State 100,610 93.8
4 UAB v. Tennessee 95,183 92.9
4 Kentucky v. Florida 90,547 102.3
2 Virginia v. Southern California 81,375 86.9
4 Wake Forest v. Florida State 61,647 74.9
2 NC State v. Central Florida 43,020 94.9
4 WKU v. South Florida 40,276 60.7

Like Florida State when it faced Wake Forest, Tennessee was unranked going into its matchup with UAB but managed still, in this economy, to fill 92.9-percent of Neyland Stadium. 

In its matchup with Temple, Penn State, ranked at No. 23, barely cracked the AP Top 25 but managed still, in this economy, to fill 93.8-percent of Beaver Stadium.   

Southern California in its matchup with Virginia, managed, in this economy, to fill 86.9-percent of the LA Coliseum, notwithstanding the fact that its fans, as compared to Florida State fans, have far less incentive to be excited about that program’s future, given NCAA sanctions that impose a two-year post-season ban on that program.  

The final reason cited for poor turnout—i.e., the location of Tallahassee—is the least meritorious.  Tallahassee has not moved.  It is located precisely where it was located in 1979-1981, 1984, 1989-1991, 1993, 1994, 1998 and 2000-2005—when the average game sold out.

Something unique is happening at Florida State, and it is not a good thing.

A diminished fan following potentially has for the program significant negative ramifications—on recruiting, on the post-season and on home-field advantage—that should neither be understated nor underestimated. 

Perhaps Florida State fans remain hungover from last season, when the Seminoles lost six games, three of which were dropped at home.  

Maybe there are more Bobby Bowden loyalists than anyone thought.

Whatever the reason, if Florida State is to remain a prestigious college football program and if it is to return to national title contention, it had better bring back its fans.