No one gets as excited for the IHSA football state playoffs than I do. We've already had some big time upsets, amazing last-second come-from-behind wins and other bizarre finishes.
I spent the first two rounds covering six different games. And without being too much of a Debbie Downer, I ask this question: Where did all of the fans go?
The overwhelming majority of regular season football games are on Friday night. But schools are agreeing to shift playoff games back one day --to Saturday-- and it's a trend we're seeing happen earlier and earlier in the month of November/IHSA playoff season. I have no doubts that overall fan attendance is negatively impacted. And seemingly, never more so than this playoff season.
It's pretty difficult to point to any one specific reason; however, I feel that several issues have had a snowball effect on overall attendance for the first two rounds:
First off, kids and families are busier on Saturdays. There are other activities and IHSA sports taking place on this day. That, and the fact that some kids work on the weekend could lead to a dip in fan attendance.
And let's face it, the weather last Saturday wasn't great. Bad weather always has an impact on overall attendance. Teams and coaches generally move games to Saturdays for several reasons. Playing at, ideally, the warmest part of the day is certainly a part of that. While last Friday night was the better of the two days for overall weather, it's tough to argue that Saturday day games make the most sense at this time of the season.
What are some other issues that could be keeping game attendance down?
Live streaming. You can literally sit at home in front of your computer, tablet or phone and watch nearly every single IHSA football state playoff game for a $9.95 monthly fee. And again, this advancement in technology is great for relatives and alumi, who may not live in the area anymore, who want to catch the games. While the streaming quality and overall production value still varies greatly from school to school, the overall user experience has improved. The overall quality is much better-- and those improvements have been made in a very short amount of time.
While this remains a great option for fans (a venture that's fully endorsed by the IHSA and its streaming broadcast partner NFHS network), has it quickly become too much of a good thing for fans? And how much does it impact attendance? It could be a pressing issue in the coming years.
Also, perhaps we can try to find a way to avoid charging students the $5 gate fee for playoff games? I realize that the IHSA has bills to cover and all of that, but can't we get creative and try to find a way of encouraging students to get into the games without the toll? Maybe a portion from the live online streaming monies generated can go towards the gate fee for students?
Are lower participation numbers for high school football itself affect the numbers in the stands? I truly don't believe this is the case just yet. I witnessed much higher regular season numbers earlier this fall. But is it worth consideration? No question.
I'm hopeful that we will see jam-packed stands from here on out as we get closer to crowning eight separate state champions on Thanksgiving weekend.
But I also can't help but wonder if this is simply a blip on the radar or the start of a much bigger issue.