In a surprising upset, the Nevada Wolf Pack beat the San Diego State Aztecs 28-24 in Mackay Stadium two weekends ago. In perhaps the Pack’s most high profile victory since the 2010 win against Boise State, no one showed up to the game. The official attendance was 14,545 — the lowest all season. While Nevada was happy with the score, they were not happy with the crowd.
“If you build it, they will come” seems to be the philosophy of the University of Nevada, Reno. A facelift to Mackay Stadium in 2016 was supposed to do just that, except it has had the opposite effect. Students and fans are not coming in like Nevada had wanted or even expected.
In 2018, Nevada hasn’t been able to sell out Mackay. They haven’t even gotten close, with an average attendance of 17,866. That number is even misleading with actual attendance not being taken, but instead, counting ticket sales. This is not uncommon, most college and pro sports take attendance this way.
Mackay Stadium at UNR can hold 26,000 fans after renovations in 2016. Prior to that, the stadium held 31,545 seats. Even overselling in 1995, when Nevada played UNLV as 33,391 fans attended.
Season ticket sales are also dropping at an alarming rate. In 2013, sales hit an all-time high at 12,783. In 2018, the number dropped to 8,771 — a 31 percent decrease in season ticket sales since 2013.
One possible reason could be high ticket prices. The average ticket price on the 50-yard line at $113. Utah State — the number one ranked team in the Mountain West Conference — is charging $85 for a ticket on the 50-yard line. Even second place Boise State is charging the same ticket at a price of $93.
A professional football game is going for even less than what Nevada is asking. The Buffalo Bills play the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Dec. 16. Tickets on the 50-yard line are selling at anywhere from $61 to $65. Nevada is charging nearly double to what a professional team is. Nevada has the edge in one category in the case of Buffalo. Mackay has lower beer prices than New Era Field — where the Bills play. The average domestic draft in Buffalo is $10, compared to the eight at Mackay.
This is probably the only time I’m going to completely agree with Ryan. If I didn’t get into the games for free, there’s no way I’m paying outrageous amounts of money to watch the Nevada Wolf Pack play. I’d barely pay the $65 to watch the Buffalo Bills play.
Obligation of the school/team/fans/students
Reno would and should embrace this team, but the university is making it easy to not support the Pack on gameday. With overpriced seats and ridiculously priced beer and hot dogs, the university has created a money pit in Mackay. Lowering the price of tickets to make them comparable with other Mountain West teams could go a long way. Even introducing a $5 combo of a light beer and a hot dog would be good a good start. Football fans in this town are hungry, but not for $113. The university has an obligation to create a fan experience, and they’re failing.
Other than the university — and obviously the football team itself — the students have the other obligation on campus when it comes to gameday. One of the perks of being a student that comes with giving thousands of dollars to the university is gaining “free” entry to the football games. Getting students to attend games should be one of the core objectives of the university but in this category, they’re failing as well.
Nevada has tried to promote the games with the Fitness Tailgate campaign. A push to get more students active and offer them healthy alternatives in a substance-free environment. They have offered meals such as turkey burgers and veggie patties. Games like the strongman competition, bean bag toss and even archery are also present. Despite the offering, it doesn’t seem to be going well since students are not packing into the student section as Nevada had planned. Even when the student section is filled to a moderate amount, it empties by a considerable amount after halftime.
Regardless of the status of the Fitness Tailgate, students should at least be attending games if they can. Class duties will always come first, and a part-time or even a full-time job for some students is a requirement. But with 20,000 students at the university, the student section should be filled at every game. Yes, the university needs to lower prices inside Mackay, students on average cannot afford multiple $8 beers — most people probably can’t. Despite this, students should be attending games. Students are already paying for entry thanks to their tuition, not attending the games are essentially wasting money.
The school and each of the sports programs at the university are the ones who are obligated to perform. The best way to get fans into seats is to be successful. Men’s basketball attendance was average well into Musselman’s second season as head coach. When the team reached the tournament that year, attendance went up.
Nevada and head coach Jay Norvell had the idea of the self-proclaimed “best home schedule in school history” this season. The Pack scheduled a winless Portland State team from last season and the Pac-12’s worst team in Oregon State for their non-conference matchups. Then scheduled four conference games — that Norvell didn’t actually pick — of Fresno State, Boise State, San Diego State and Colorado State. Going off of last season’s performances who in the world wanted to watch Nevada play the three best teams in the conference?
Football and baseball are the two biggest sports at the school behind basketball. At best, football has been average since Colin Kaepernick left. The team hasn’t won more than seven games in a season since his departure. Why would fans want to see four hours of subpar football, especially students? The weekend is one of the few times students get to enjoy themselves, so why waste the little time they have on a Saturday night to sit on hard, cold bleachers for four hours until almost midnight in the cold instead of partying — at a party beer doesn’t cost $8. It may be cheaper than an NFL beer but it is still a lot of money. Don’t even get me started on the fitness tailgates, what a waste of time.
I know Nevada does not have much power over what time they play games but the way to get people to show up to games is to consistently play better. Men’s Basketball played weeknight games last season that would end at around 9:30 or 10 p.m., but the stands were still filled.
Most fans that attend sporting events are casual fans and families looking for a way to spend quality time with each other. Why would the average family want to go to late night games? When has blind loyalty ever worked in sports, I’ll answer that with not well — just ask Lebron James or the Cleveland Cavaliers. How about everybody stop whining that no one goes to games and instead just hope the team performs better and let attendance follow.
Darion Strugs and Ryan Freeberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @dstrugs.