Orange Watch: Only winning will return fans to Carrier Dome for Syracuse football

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As with the perennially successful basketball program, Orange football fans will only return in large numbers if the team regularly has high profile winning seasons

Item: It’s a simple solution to the decline of fans that have been showing up to Syracuse home football games most of this early century, following last Saturday’s announced smallest Dome crowd in 32 years witnessing the impressive second half comeback win over ACC rival Wake Forest. The answer? As the late SU alum Al Davis made famous among his repertoire of sayings during his illustrious pro football career running the Oakland Raiders, “Just win, baby.”

Much has been made most of the last 15 years in the media, on fan message boards, and wherever else Syracuse football is discussed, about the absolute lack of in-person support for the program since the end of the Paul Pasqualoni years, through the disastrous Greg Robinson era from 2005-008 in which one of the sport’s historically great programs was driven to rock bottom, through Doug Marrone’s four seasons of cleaning things up with two bowl appearances, to the current Scott Shafer run which certainly appears to be on an uptick with a chance to equal the best start to a season since the 1991 team went 3-0 (and actually 4-0) with a victory Saturday over Central Michigan (12:30 p.m. ET / ACC Regional Sports Networks).

But if you look at the numbers during the Dome era since the building housed its first game in 1980, it’s clear to see that rarely have ‘Cuse fans filled the Dome for an entire home schedule without at least one game hosting a crowd under 40,000, only nine seasons in 36 to be exact, and NONE since 1999. So you can throw away all the slick marketing campaigns and promotions, $100 season tickets, free ticket giveaways to military members and charitable organizations, only winning season after winning season will provide the university with a chance to alter the turnstile decline.

» Related: Syracuse honors legendary coach MacPherson with win against Wake Forest

Here are of couple of reasons why we think that until Syracuse gets back into the Top 25 on a somewhat regular basis and is competing for the ACC championship, that the negative attendance issue will not be rectified:

*Syracuse is a “basketball school.”

As Jim Boeheim first told west coast outlier Robinson when he was hired in January 2005, Syracuse used to be a “football school” until the declining final five seasons under Ben Schwartzwalder (1969-1973) produced but one winning season, and the parallel demise of ancient Archbold Stadium was so bad that his successor, Frank Maloney, used to boycott showing recruits where they would play their home games. It took Dick MacPherson seven long years to get SU back to being close to a “football school” and even during his 10 years as head coach (1981-1990) there were only two seasons, 1988-89, in which every home game was attended by crowds of 40,000 or larger. Boeheim, of course, has had something to do about turning the university into a “basketball school,” he’s never had a losing season in 39 years, and Orange hoop fans certainly get themselves to the outdated Dome in national attendance- leading numbers, parking hurdles or not, and pay market prices for tickets and concessions.

*Every game is available to be watched on television, online, and now on mobile devices.

It certainly didn’t used to be this way, but beginning in 1988 the majority of each season’s schedule started to be shown on live TV, and now in the ACC era with every game available to be watched in the comfort of one’s home or favorite establishment, and with technology improving annually to provide a dynamic picture and the availability to watch a game broadcast almost anywhere that there’s a broadband connection, the need to go in person as the only way to view a game has been eliminated.

*The decline of student interest.

We no longer live in the days of traditional college spirit (“Sis-boom-bah”) where going to the home football games on campus each fall was a quasi mandatory part of the student experience. Millennials (and the rising next generation named Plurals) are an interesting demographic to say the least. They’re the most technology savvy group as they enter their college years more than any previous generations of student bodies and with so many varied interests in their social media dominated lives, showing school spirit at six or seven home games isn’t the priority it might have once been in previous decades.

*The lack of tailgating options in close proximity to the Dome.

Football is traditionally a tailgating sport. Spend leisurely time pregame enjoying food and drink with family and friends, watch the game for a couple of hours, then rendezvous back for post game reflection and a little more refreshment. As the university area has evolved over the Dome’s 36 seasons, there’s become less room to tailgate within walking distance of the building. Having to tailgate remotely at Skytop or other distant locales, then board a shuttle bus to the game that still results in a walk to the stadium, isn’t the most conducive way to enjoy that aspect of a football game day.

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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