By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - The fact that tickets still remain for the Iowa football team’s home finale against Illinois on Saturday isn’t a surprise because it’s late November and because Iowa has pretty much been eliminated from the Big Ten West Division race.
The surprise is how many tickets still remain, more than 10,000 as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Iowa Sports Information Director Steve Roe.
He made that announcement just moments before Kirk Ferentz held his weekly press conference on Tuesday, and hearing Roe say that more than 10,000 tickets still remain certainly grabbed my attention.
That’s a lot of tickets and a lot of potential empty seats on Senior Day for a team that still could finish 10-3 overall.
I’m not suggesting that fans owe it to this team to fill up Kinnick Stadium on Saturday because that’s their business. It also costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time to attend an Iowa football game, especially if you live a considerable distance from Iowa City.
The current team has also lost three close games in which the offense sputtered, and you never know about the weather this time of year, although, the forecast for Saturday has temperatures in the 40s, so it could be a lot worse.
If Iowa were 9-1, or maybe even 8-2, and still with a realistic chance to win the West Division, it’s reasonable to think that more tickets would have been sold by now.
But instead, Iowa is 7-3 and not really a factor in the West Division race anymore.
The challenge of getting fans in the seats continues to grow because it’s so easy, convenient and much cheaper to just stay home and watch the games on a giant flat screen television and with a stocked refrigerator nearby.
It takes effort and a commitment to attend an Iowa football game, and some fans just aren’t willing to make that commitment, especially late in the season when the weather gets worse.
This problem hardly is unique to Iowa, however.
Data released by the NCAA shows that for the seventh time in eight years, numbers for attendance dipped. The average college football attendance last season was 41,856 among all FBS programs, the least it has been since 1996.
So compared to most other college football programs, Iowa’s situation is pretty stable from an attendance standpoint.
But to have more than 10,000 tickets still left for the final game at Kinnick Stadium, and for what will be the final home game for 19 seniors, and for likely a few non-seniors, is a sobering development, and cause for concern.
The money that pours in annually from the Big Ten Conference certainly helps to make up for lost ticket revenue, but it doesn’t fill empty seats or make the game-day viewing experience any better.
In fact, it makes the game-day viewing experience worse because most of the money comes from television revenue and one of the worst things about attending games in person, according to fans, is having to wait during the numerous television timeouts.
It’ll be interesting to see how many tickets get sold over the next two days because some fans who don’t normally attend the games might take advantage of the opportunity.
There also should be some tickets sold on Saturday at a reduced price to a walk-up crowd, especially if the weather cooperates.
But barring a late surge in sales, empty seats on Saturday seems inevitable.
The only question now is how many will be empty?