Editorial:

UA pushing hard to get fans back to stadium

By: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Published: Saturday, August 17, 2019
Work continues Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019, to install a turf playing surface at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Work continues Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019, to install a turf playing surface at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

It is no secret fewer fans are attending college football games.

Look at our Razorbacks up on the Hill: Since 2016, per game attendance at the home stadium has dropped 14 percent. Certainly, some will say that’s not a fair example, as that period covers the transition from Bret Bielema’s removal and the hiring of new head Hog Chad Morris.

But overall, college football is hurting. Last year, according to the NCAA, reflected the lowest average attendance at college football games in 22 years. Arkansas ranked 23rd in the nation in home attendance among about 130 schools in the Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision. Nationally, average attendance was 41,856. The Razorbacks posted 59,884 people in the stadium, on average, across seven games.

Arkansas’ highest average, 69,990, came in 2011, Bobby Petrino’s final year as head coach at Arkansas.

Winning certainly helps. But the folks paid to worry about how many posteriors they can put in the bleachers — or in cushy new seating — know other things are going on. Entertainment options abound. Attention spans are shrinking. Ticket prices and contribution expectations, televising of games and the hassles of getting to the stadium convince some fans to watch from the comforts of home.

These days, it’s just harder to draw people to sports events.

But recent changes certainly suggest the Razorbacks are not willing to just let fans fade away from the stadium experience.

The University of Arkansas in recent days has announced “enhancements” for fans’ game-day experiences, from a bike valet program to new ride-share options. These changes resulted from three athletics department committees that examined the game day experience and recommended changes.

“Your voices were heard, loud and clear,” the UA said in an athletics department statement. “Now we need to hear your voices again, back at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.”

The college has installed a stadium-wide Wi-Fi system, increasing smartphone connectivity and delivering more communication through the Razorback Gameday App. There are also eight new charging stations.

Welcome news is a decision to limit the number of traditional in-game, on-field recognitions, an effort to help keep the fan energy level high.

Some changes are bigger. This season, all fans old enough will be able to buy beer or wine inside Razorback Stadium.

Perhaps one of the biggest additions is the HogTown street festival on Maple Street. The street, north of the stadium and “The Pit” parking lot, will offer free pre-game activities starting four hours before each home game. It will include a main stage with live music, a “larger than life” videoboard featuring college football games from around the country, a beer garden, food trucks, corporate-sponsored activities, inflatables, balloon artists, autographs from current and former athletes, and shopping for Razorbacks merchandise.

The event will integrate the traditional “Hog Walk” — the football team entering the stadium — along with spirit squad activities.

Then, of course, there’s the grass. Fans of the game will be excited to see the Hogs play on real grass.

Will all this work? It certainly reflects a lot of energy on the part of the University of Arkansas to say “Hey, fans, come on back to cheer on the team and enjoy time well spent with your fellow Razorback football fans.”

It will be exciting to see how it all comes together, and we appreciate the effort.

Of course, as always, the effort everyone will be most interested in will happen on the field when the season starts Aug. 31.

As we said, winning will help.

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