In their last 12 conference games, the Arizona Wildcats have gone 1-11. The lone win was that double overtime upset of the Utah Utes in Arizona Stadium last year.
We’re also staring down the very real possibility of Arizona only beating FCS Grambling State and a 4-7 Hawaii team that had its coaches take away its benches this weekend.
The issues run deeper in Tucson than just the stats, which are admittedly, unfathomably awful.
The main issue facing this team right now is fan support.
Arizona has announced a home attendance of at least 41,068 for each of their six home games, but as we have seen, the last three home games have probably not had a max of that number actually in attendance at any point in the game.
Several things have happened this year that have led to a mostly-empty Arizona Stadium. It’s mostly the on-field product, but there are other factors as well.
I think the first blow was actually having the BYU game in Glendale. While this wasn’t a home game that Arizona gave up, it definitely had that perception among the fanbase. This turned a small group of season ticket holders off right from the start despite them being slightly misinformed on the issue.
Second was the late starts. Each of the two home, non-conference games ended up kicking off at 8 PM PT, and the Washington game was a 7:30 start. TV has ruined the in-stadium experience in a multitude of ways, but the way it’s impacting Arizona the most is by forcing fans to be in the stadium until at least 11 PM local. In this state, you ostracize a pretty sizable part of your base by doing this to them. Pac-12 Network seems to generate enough money for the schools to not care about this impact, but man does it look bad.
The one non-late-night home game Arizona had? One where it was 140 degrees on the field, and the majority of the stadium was directly in the sun. Metal bleachers, artificial turf, and a 95 degree sunny day don’t mix well.
That game will also end up being the only home game that started before 7:30 PM local time this season. If I’m still in college and have no ties to the football program, there is no incentive for me to be at games that late on a Saturday. None.
Also, if I’m a fan that does live in the Phoenix area, that’s six hotel stays that you have to pay for rather than the option of driving back up the 10 after the game. That’s costly, and takes a large metropolitan area out of play when you’re trying to sell tickets.
RichRod: "If you’re a fan, they can be critical, frustrated and disappointed, and they should be."— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) November 14, 2016
Next up is this dreadful ‘Our House’ campaign that the university has shoved down our throats. From the start, it was lazy, but then it turned into condescending and, in a weird way, made fans feel like they weren’t part of the program. If you’ve been in Arizona Stadium this year, chances are you’ve seen the ‘Our House Rules’ posted everywhere. They talk down to the fanbase, and a few of them don’t make any sense, like “Join the Hit Squad”. What? Do they want fans hitting each other in the stands? Or do they want them rushing the field to help the defense out?
The way ‘Our House’ has been promoted also gave the impression that the football program is allowing you to come in despite them owning the place. The whole thing has been flawed and was an awful concept.
The ‘Our House’ failure bleeds into the next point, which is Arizona Athletics’ seeming disconnect with its fans. Wildcat Walk has outgrown its intrigue (there were gaps along the Cherry Ave. route this past Saturday that’s how few people were there). We heard from a ton of people on Greg Byrne’s possibly misguided Wildcat Wednesday letter a couple weeks ago, and then Byrne tweeted this out after the latest blowout loss:
We know it's been a tough year on the gridiron. The team & coaches are still battling. Thanks 2our fans. Let's go find 2 wins 4 our srs! ⬇️— Greg Byrne (@Greg_Byrne) November 13, 2016
My favorite was after a meaningless field goal late in the Stanford game, the official football Instagram posted this, and the three comments on it are just amazing. Before this last game, all the team did was showcase the red chrome helmets, not any kind of football product. It seems that they are targeting an audience that is not old enough to actually purchase tickets to these games.
The preseason “hype/marketing” videos in recent years have fallen flat as well. We all remember the original Hard Edge video, and even Hard Edge II was pretty good. This year’s Are You Not Entertained has turned into the butt of many jokes, and last year’s Licence To Thrill was more about getting the star players some face time in fancy cars rather than actually promoting anything.
I’m horrible at figuring out what kind of video would actually get a fanbase “hyped”. But Arizona’s steady decline with the quality of these videos and the positive reaction they get is concerning and just another metric that shows the current disconnect with the fanbase. I’m sure these are fun to do if you’re in the Athletics department, but it’s turned into more of them swinging their you-know-whats around then actually trying to connect with fans.
The last point I’ll leave here is scheduling. We’re starting to see this impact men’s basketball this year as well, since ZonaZoo is not filling up within minutes of seat reservations opening up like it used to. Football’s schedule does get better in coming years (Houston, BYU, Texas Tech all coming to Tucson the next three years), but in recent years, season tickets are a tougher sell based on the non-Pac-12 teams coming in. Yes, current season ticket holders will renew, but you won’t grow that base number of tickets you can list on your inflated announced attendance numbers.
In closing, it’s not just the poor play that has led to an overall feeling of indifference towards Arizona football, which has manifested itself in the form of an empty stadium. It’s been a huge combination of things. Does a head coaching change fix everything? No, probably not. The Athletics department needs to look itself in the mirror and wonder what it can do differently.
Even if they do let Rich Rodriguez go, will bringing in a current coordinator energize the fanbase and bring them out in huge numbers to the stadium? Or will sticking with RichRod, letting him make two or three changes to his staff, and seeing if this team can return to the South Division Championship form it was in just 23 months ago the real answer to these woes?
I don’t know what the answer is. We will likely find out the true answer within the next three weeks or so. Either way, money talks. And an empty stadium certainly talks louder than a full stadium with an underperforming program.
Late addition: I’m getting a lot of feedback about the team not having an official spring game or open house in the summer or fall for fans to see this team. Another example of the athletic department’s disconnect.