At the recent Big 10 Media Day, Northwestern football Pat Fitzgerald made headlines when he went on a rant about attendance and blamed it on millenials and their phones. The coach blamed a culture too dependent on watching their phones and saying fans would “rather have 12 TVs set up in their TV watching cave than to go to a game and experience the pageantry and the tailgating.”
The first reaction to this is that Fitzgerald took the easy way out with the grumpy old man routine blaming kids for not valuing the same things he did back in the mid 90s when he was a student at Northwestern.
And to be honest, that’s partially fair. He’s off base thinking students from high school and college are to blame for his lack of attendance -- an issue that is shared by nearly every team in the NCAA.
There’s plenty to blame, but the biggest part is the competition for fan’s entertainment dollar and entertainment hours. Simply put, I, and many others, have better things to do with our money and hours than to drive to Columbia or Manhattan on a Saturday afternoon and spend eight hours round trip, when the game is on in my living room for the cost of my cable bill.
On the other side of Fitzgerald’s take though is that college football games provide experiences. A chance to feel something and be part of something memorable. I get that too. I can still remember the feeling I had watching some fantastic finishes as a fan in person of my alma mater.
So how does this apply to high school football?
Attendance is strong at high school games especially when it pertains to students. Schools like Park Hill, Lee’s Summit West and Rockhurst always are loaded with fans.
What schools are left to figure out is how do they get the casual fan that’s already checked out of attending games in person on Saturdays and Sundays.
To me, the key is building community. If the students from every grade want to go to games, then moms and dads end up going too. If games are the one social event in town that you can’t miss, that drives attendance.
The other part is just embracing the fact that people take in football games differently than they did 10 or 15 years ago.
People aren’t racing home to watch Len Dawson do the football patrol on Channel 9 or see scores flash across the bottom of the screen. I’m not sure the last time I opened up The Star to read a box score from a football game in the area.
Instead, at any point I could look at my phone and know more about every game than I would have found out at any point at the turn of the century. Think about this, you can often times see every touchdown a team scores on Twitter, thanks to schools recording them and posting them. Not to mention the wall to wall coverage here at PrepsKC that allows me to follow more than 100 schools from all over the Metro.
This is not a bad thing.
Just like in business, the first people to adapt will be the ones who succeed. Meanwhile, those that refuse to adapt will be destined for more mediocrity and be reduced to telling everyone to stay off their lawn.