HUNTINGTON — The Marshall Thundering Herd is averaging more fans this season than 2012 — yes, even with three home losses this year — but will that really matter for the Houston game after dropping their sixth game of the season with a 38-31 loss at UAB? The last two home games for the Marshall Thundering Herd have not been the best at the turnstile, with announced crowds (that’s tickets accounted for by sales, students, etc.) of 22,563 for UCF and 22,041 for Memphis.
Maybe you can blame television and really bad weather on UCF crowd, despite the Knights being a hated foe of the Thundering Herd. That night, the Joan C. Edwards stadium wasn’t a place to be on a Saturday, but the following week was a nice day for a one-win Memphis team, and that game wasn’t televised — and many guessed the actual attendance at 16,000-to-18,000.
Early in the season, the expectations are high, and so are the crowds.
But when you aren’t winning and it’s late in the season — maybe it’s cold, maybe it’s wet, or maybe life catches up with you — is it realistic to expect to crowds on par with the 33,436 fans that showed up for a rivalry game early in the season like Ohio?
Or even the 27,188 for the conference home opener against Tulsa?
“Naturally, because of the weather, you will experience a decline in attendance” said Aaron Goebbel, Assistant Athletic Director of Ticketing.
“It is difficult to have identical expectations.”
But despite the recent drop in attendance, the actual average is ahead of last season.
In 2011, Marshall averaged 25,874 in five games. In five games this season, Marshall has averaged 26,109.
That’s an increase of 1,175 fans from the season total of 129,371 last year with one home game to go, but will the fans show to watch a six-loss team, coming off a bad loss to UAB?
The final home game is going to be a tough sell, with a 4-6 Marshall team taking on a 4-6 Houston squad. Keep in mind: Marshall hasn’t been eliminated from bowl eligibility and the offense is still fun to watch, averaging 38.8 points per game.
But the Herd is a team that also sits on the verge of postseason elimination, playing another one in the same boat, and it might be easier to stay at home and watch this one on television or keep track of the game with your radio (on SuperTalk 930 AM and 94.1 FM, of course). I don’t think you solve the problem on Saturday.
Fans are either going to come or they are going to stay at home, and most of them made their mind up after the UAB loss.
Instead, I think it’s time to look toward next year and beyond.
We know the answer is winning, it will solve everything, because everyone loves a winner.
That is not an indictment of fans, its just fact.
Fans are predictable — if you win they show up, if you lose, they don’t.
Yogi Berra said it best, “If people don’t want to come out to the ball park, nobody’s gonna stop ‘em.”
But that doesn’t mean the opportunity to give fans a reason to come to the game doesn’t exist, as teams with losing records all across the country draw fans.
It starts with engaging the alumni.
In the 15 years since the day I graduated with the class of 1997, I have not seen one piece of mail letting me know that football season is about to start, and how I can become a season ticket holder.
Alumni are already invested in the school — why not invest back in them. Will every person that ever-attended Marshall want to come to a football game?
However, but if it was easier for every person who attended Marshall to become a season ticket holder, or buy tickets, you would have more opportunities to boost your gate.
Winning the hearts and minds of the students is vital to the future of Marshall athletics.
Chad Pennington, Randy Moss, Byron Leftwich and Troy Brown are just names to many students that go to Marshall.
It’s not that they are apathetic; these are just not their heroes — hey, many of them were not even born when Brown was leading the Herd to the I-AA title in 1992, 20 years ago.
Rakeem Cato, Tyler Williams, and Dominick LeGrande are the new heroes, and these students should embrace the new heroes the way fans remember the old.
While winning will help energize the student body, creating a culture where the students are passionate, willing to take ownership of the team is imperative.
Students at Duke are proud of their passion, they compete to show it at basketball games.
Maybe it’s time for Doc Holiday to go “walkabout” on campus this week and next year, and talk to every student he can and share the passion he has for the program.
Marshall is a commuter college. It’s easy for students to pack up after their last class on Friday and head home for the weekend. Winning football will help keeping students on campus, but making every home game is an event, that is what football is all about, it is why so many older fans look forward to the six yearly events. Why not make the weekend surrounding the game an event, including (but not limited to) concerts, activities, events, picnics or even bonfires or outdoor events.
Think it doesn’t make a splash at UCF when they have a band out front of the basketball building before a Marshall game, with a portable ice rink in Orlando, Fla.? No doubt.
The Marshall athletic brain trust has to find out what students want and then give it to them. Give them a reason to stay on game day. Students and alumni alone will not fill Joan C. Edwards stadium, and just because Marshall is playing a football game, people won’t just show up.
The Cincinnati Reds make it a point to market outside of Cincinnati, and they have ticket agents that have regions in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia.
Why? The Reds are a small market team.
They fight for every potential fan possible because the Cincinnati city alone can’t sustain the team.
Marshall needs to take this approach, constantly reaching beyond Huntington and the Tri-State into all of West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southern Ohio.
“Thunderfest at Great American Ball Park” has been a fun time at Reds games in Cincinnati for years.
Why can’t Ashland, Ky.; or Ironton, Ohio; or Putnam County Community Day happen every year at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Of course the real fix is winning, and right now Marshall isn’t, so will the fans care this Saturday after the loss to UAB? Houston, and the Herd, will find out Saturday