Inattendance


Robert
Nov 16, 2022
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68 Comments

This is the last time I write about attendance until the next time I write about attendance. You have my word on that.

This is the... fourth time I've written about the topic this fall? Fifth time? There are no more home games this year, which means we have our final attendance numbers, so let's take one more look at attendance. And maybe put a bow on all these articles.

If you want a refresher, these are probably the two articles to read. In July I wrote about Eyeballs And Butts (television eyeballs vs. butts in seats). And before the Iowa game last month I wrote about how the stadium wasn't selling out but the fans who never left were energized beyond belief. I guess you could also read my We The People article where I talked about how the school was failing (and, to their credit, immediately initiated fixes for) the fans who had supported them through thin and thin the last 15 years.

Today I want to go back to the numbers. I was on the radio with Scott Beatty and Loren Tate yesterday (every Tuesday at 4:25 on WDWS) and the question of attendance came up. Attendance for Purdue was only 45,000 (more than 10,000 less than last week), and Scott asked Loren and I if it was the weather forecast, or the MSU loss, or maybe something else? I voted "something else." It's not a very comfortable "something else", but it's what I believe. Let's talk about it.

First off, the numbers. Let me just say that I am very, very glad Bret Bielema turned this program around this season. Because after the first three games, I was pretty sure the World War II thing was going to happen. A snippet from my Eyeballs & Butts article on that topic:

Here's the Illinois attendance:

2016: 45,644
2017: 39,429
2018: 36,151
2019: 36,587
2021: 35,347

I'd like to take a moment here and shout-out the last 370 people who bought tickets for the Rutgers game after we beat Penn State (I don't think anyone bought tickets the week of the Northwestern game, although you should have). Yes, we lost to Rutgers, but those final 370 tickets sold meant that we finished at an average of 35,347 for the year. And that was very important because the floor we were trying to avoid was the 1962 average attendance of 35,295. Had our 35,347 fallen by 53 fans per game and ended up at 35,294, I would have had to say it out loud: the 2021 season would have been our lowest average attendance in Memorial Stadium since 1945.

That's the absolute truth, by the way. Since World War II, here are the three lowest-attended Illini football seasons:

2021: 35,347
1962: 35,295
1945: 24,011

(The fans in 1945 had a tiny little excuse as to why they didn't show up. Hint: the season started a few weeks after V-J Day.)

The average attendance after the first three (warm weather) games this season? 36,210. I was super concerned that once the cold weather hit, we'd drop below an average of 35,295 for the year and I'd have to say it out loud: "worst attendance since World War II".

Thankfully, we beat Wisconsin and things trended in a good direction. 44,910 for Iowa, 45,683 for Minnesota, 56,092 for Michigan State, and 45,574 for Purdue. Add it all up and that's 301,339 fans for the 2022 season, an average of 43,048 per game. Add these numbers to the list above and the jump is real:

2016: 45,644
2017: 39,429
2018: 36,151
2019: 36,587
2021: 35,347
2022: 43,048

But still, when you look at the attendance numbers ten years ago, we're drawing less for this 7-3 football team than we did for a 2-10 team in 2012. Average attendance for Tim Beckman's first season: 45,564.

Or don't even make it about Beckman. From 2003 to 2006, under both Turner and Zook, we went 1-11, 3-8, 2-9, 2-10. And in during that 2-10 season, the fourth year in a stretch where we went 8-38, we had a higher average attendance (43,445) than this season (43,048). Think about that. Ticket sales for a 2-10 season with the three previous seasons being 1-11, 3-8, and 2-9 were greater than ticket sales for a (currently) 7-3 season with the three previous seasons being 6-7, 2-6, and 5-7.

Everyone has a theory on "why". I'm going to tell you some of those theories, and then I'm going to tell you my theory.

Some believe the attendance is only 43,000 during this winning season because of the ticket prices. Lower the prices and the fans will return. Sure, maybe, and I would sell tickets for $2 until the stadium sold out (of note: I also don't have to pay the bills), but I don't think that's the main reason. Other fans on other campuses are paying just as much (and some of those schools are 3-7, not 7-3). If Purdue fans are willing to pay that much, why aren't Illinois fans?

Some will say that it's about having a base of season ticket holders first, and I totally agree. Add 10,000 more season ticket holders this offseason and next year will be much easier to stretch into sellouts. But that doesn't explain how 6-4 Kansas, coming off 13 consecutive bowl-less seasons with season ticket sales less than ours, has out-drawn 7-3 Illinois (coming off two consecutive bowl-less seasons) this season. Kansas attendance average this fall: 44,041. And that's with three sellouts. If their stadium held more than 47,233, they'd be out-drawing us by even more.

Some will point to all of our failed rebuilds and say that it will take a lot more than 7-3 to get butts back in the seats. I get it (although Kansas outdrawing us this season kinda hurts that argument). But I went deep on this topic in the article I linked above, using Iowa State as the example. Nearly identical (read: really bad) football programs from 1995 to 2015 (Iowa State wins from 1995 to 2015: 93; Illinois wins from 1995 through 2015: 94) and yet in 2015, 3-9 Iowa State, coming off a 2-10 season, draws 56,519 and 5-7 Illinois, coming off a bowl game, draws 41,342.

Some will mention how fans have changed and television screens are big and that this is a college football problem, not an Illinois problem. That's partially true as well, but again, the numbers for Illinois have been alarming. Big Ten football attendance did fall 2.06% the last five years, but Illinois was responsible for more than half of that drop. The Big Ten lost 19,124 fans-per-game from 2016 to 2021 (average number of tickets sold at all games on 14 campuses), and those shook out to 10,297 fewer tickets sold per game at Illinois and 8,827 fewer tickets sold per game at the other 13 campuses combined.

At some point, I just want everyone giving me their theories ("attention spans are short because everyone is addicted to screens" or "everyone is addicted to screens so we have to fix the wifi") to pause for a second and look at the whole thing. People will tell me it's a losing program thing, so I present the Iowa State data, and then people respond with "well there's nothing to do in Iowa and our sports money in Illinois goes to the Bears and the Cubs". At some point, when we have sub-reasons for our reasons, don't you think we should maybe pause and say "I think there's a very real problem here that's specific to our fanbase"?

I do.

I'll now give you my theory. I mean, I've already been saying it to you for 10 years, so you already know what it is, but I want to keep hammering it over and over. Right or wrong, good or bad, here's how I see it.

Let's start with what I said on the radio spot yesterday. This is a rough recording of it, but it will do the job. Here was the question asked by Scott Beatty followed by Loren Tate's answer followed by my answer:

As I've said before, this is a topic with exit ramps. I'll say that people watch on TV instead of attend the games, and everyone will think of every article they've read over the last 15 years about how fans stay home now and watch the game on TV, and the point is immediately dismissed as "this is a national issue, not an Illinois issue." No. There's nuance here. There are specific Illinois issues and they're never discussed because the moment we get anywhere close to "eyeballs on TV's instead of butts in seats", ZZZZIPPP everyone takes the off-ramp and we're done talking. I'm still over here talking about how it's exponentially worse at Illinois and no one is listening.

So let me walk you though this topic the last five months for me. I wrote Eyeballs and Butts. The point behind the title: Eyeballs (watching on TV) and Butts (in the seats). The new Big Ten deal (and the USC/UCLA thing) is all about the Eyeballs. And yes, that will increase our shared revenue. But we need to fix the Butts.

A few weeks after that, Josh Whitman answered questions at a press conference before Bret Bielema's Monday press conference. My questions were about this specific topic. Let me see if I can find a video of it.

Doesn't look like the DIA put out a video of that portion, but Illini Inquirer has a video. I'll embed it here. My question starts at 20:29 and the whole thing (including my follow-up and his second answer) lasts about five minutes:

I agree with what he said, especially the "create FOMO" part. And, to be honest, that following Saturday, when I took photos of all the 30-minute lines to get in, those two answers were on my mind. He's making the right statements, but his staff is not following through and now the fans who have continued to support the program through 22 losing seasons in 27 years can't even get to their seats when there are 25,000 unsold tickets. That was all in the We The People article.

(You just did it again. You heard "22 losing seasons in 27 years" and you took the offramp. "There's the entire problem, Robert." Well then how do you explain Kansas fans rushing back?)

To his credit, Josh Whitman took ownership of that issue, wrote a letter to fans, and then personally greeted as many fans as possible before the Virginia game two weeks later. He was standing at the Grange Grove entry himself to ensure that entry operations were running smoothly. Excellent response. Great leadership.

Let's move forward. After the win at Wisconsin in early October, there was all of this buzz on social media. Will the game sell out? Kansas just sold out two games after their 5-0 start, will Illinois sell out after starting 4-1?

I was skeptical (obviously, given my "I don't think the fans will immediately return after wins" stance). And that was such a strange week. To explain it I'm going to have to label things.

When I interact with fans -- and I maintain that no single person right now has more one-on-one interactions with Illini fans than me -- there are two clear categories. We'll call them Team Eyeballs and Team Butts. And because I chose those two names I need to explain that there are lots of people on Team Butts who don't go to games. I'm not attempting to draw a line between "these fans go to games and these fans don't". Everyone makes their own decision on attending games, and I don't fault anyone who can't afford the (pretty damn high) ticket prices or who have kid's activities on Saturdays or who live in Montana. This is not "get your butt in the seats or you're part of the problem." It's about supporting the programs in a variety of ways, but we'll get to that in a bit.

I'm mostly trying to shine a spotlight on Team Eyeballs and how they've dominated our fanbase (volume-wise) for 15 years. It's who I was writing about when I wrote that It's About Us article the day before the Iowa game. As Illinois football and basketball got worse and worse through the 2010's, Team Eyeballs got louder and louder. I know this better than anyone because the moment I would write anything with even a glimmer of hope for the future it would get hammered and hammered with anger. Their "until we win consistently, we will support nothing and demand everything" campaign was relentless. And they radicalized their followers with one message: not one cent until everything is fixed.

It was a lie.

Everything is mostly fixed now, and they're still not giving one cent. They're not going to games. They were never going to games. They're not donating to collectives or attempting to support the coaches and the players (NIL) in any way. They're comfortable in their recliner, and they're amazed at the voice they were able to develop just by tapping on a device, and now that the rent is due, they're pulling the "I know my rights and you can't kick me out" routine and squatting.

They want to see Illinois win - we all want to see Illinois win - but they're not interested in doing their part. And that's the crux of this entire thing. I'm going to put the entire next sentence in italics to make sure you understand that it's wildly important:

The thing that nearly every fanbase understands (even Kansas), but that the Illinois fanbase no longer understands after this 15 year hate campaign, is that fan support pushes the program forward.

The messaging from Team Eyeballs (which began in the late 2000's and increased in volume all the way up through 2020) was that your support was making things worse. If you're supporting the school in any way, you're contributing to the problem. Until you pulled your money and stopped going to games, nothing was going to change. The school administrators were laughing all the way to the bank and you needed to pull your support to wake them up.

It was a lie. It was a lie. It was a lie.

Changes were made in the mid-2010's and they had nothing to do with "ticket sales are low". In fact, that's right when TV money began pouring in. Changes were made because of the Tim Beckman investigation and the eventual departure of Beckman and Mike Thomas. Josh Whitman was hired, coaches were hired, a new direction was established, and now there's a 7-3 football team while the basketball team is ranked #19. It's not 100% repaired, but the car is very reliable now. Before it wouldn't even start.

But I want a Ferrari. I don't want to just settle here. We've repaired what's broken, but now let's trade it in for a better model. To do that, we'll need the full force of the fanbase. And, from the Team Butts members I've talked to, they're all on board.

Has Team Eyeballs has started donating? Are they buying tickets now? Hell no. Their campaign was never about "once they fix it we'll turn the faucet back on". They never even paid their water bill. And the worst part: they convinced a large part of the fanbase that attendance wasn't important. In fact, attending games is a net negative. Kudos to them for the strong messaging but... they were lying to you.

Truth is, struggling college athletic departments - and let's be honest, Illinois was an absolute disaster from 2008 to 2018 - aren't really "hit in the pocketbook" by the lack of support. They're mostly only hit in the win column. Yes, with your professional teams, it can work like that. Washington Commanders fans almost have the owner out. Cincinnati Reds fans went after Bob Castellini's pocketbook this year. Rams fans... well, Rams fans probably went too far boycotting games because the owner then had a case to move the team to Los Angeles. But the point is that "not one more cent" campaigns can have an effect on professional sports where everything is for-profit.

For college sports, it doesn't really work like that. When there's a lot of support, the windfall generally goes to making the programs even better (facilities, assistant coach salaries, etc), even if the AD is making some poor coaching hires. The pressure from all the support is what drives the hiring and firing, not the lack of support. It's an overflowing war chest, not an empty stadium, that's most likely to usher the coach or AD out the door. The more money, the more buyouts.

And now there's a even direct route to the players where NIL deals can influence recruiting. The number one thing any Illini fan can do at this very moment is go buy a t-shirt from a player or go support one of the collectives. You can now literally give the players money for their products, and the more money these players receive, the more other players will want to join them in Champaign. The teams with the most support are going to win this race.

Yet over the last decade, this idea that supporting the teams meant that "you're part of the problem, not the solution" has taken hold in our fanbase. Even now there will be some people who hear my "support the programs no matter what" plea and get angry. "What, Robert, I'm supposed to just blindly support the school and the programs even if they're making horrific decisions?" Yes. The rest of the conference understands this (well, not Northwestern, but that's because they don't have a fanbase), but we struggle with it.

And I believe that this line of thinking has directly influenced ticket decisions. There's been a governor placed on our enthusiasm. We're the safest football fanbase on earth. Kansas fans are selling out stadiums and screaming "I don't care if I get hurt again this is so much fun" while our fanbase hesitates and then hesitates some more. It's sad. And it makes me angry because I watched these guys on their couches (and they're all guys - I've never met a woman fooled by Team Eyeballs) lie to you on social media for a decade.

I know you feel that hesitation. I feel it. I was in the stands for every home game this year (first time since 2011) and I sensed it. The 15,000-or-so of us who have been attending every single game for the last 15 years, we were hugging each other in the concourses. The other people around us? The hesitation was palpable. And I blame the people who shamed them for their support and told them they were part of the problem.

I do have to hand it to them, though. Their campaign was wildly effective. It's a very unique siren song for a fan suffering through losing seasons. "Come join me on the couch! Scream 'WRONG' at every coach and administrator. If the team wins, you're happy. If the team loses, you were right." When we went from the 2014 Heart Of Dallas Bowl to the 2019 Redbox Bowl without another bowl game (or an NCAA Tournament appearance), their messaging was hard to resist. Shorting your team can be so tempting. (But it's still one great big lie.)

My hope, as I reach the end of my attendance rants for the 2022 season, is that this year is the beginning of the end for their messaging. They had their fun, but now we know they were never going to make good on their "win and I'll return but until then..." statements. Actually, I don't know why I'm speaking about them. I need to speak directly to them.

You guys had your fun, but it ends now. We have a real deal coaching staff on the sidelines now, and your campaign is hurting our ability to retain them. If we lose this coach because he realizes that he'll never have the support he needs to build a consistent Big Ten winner, I'm blaming you. Season ticket sales this offseason are so incredibly crucial.

Look, I'm fine if you never want to go to the games or write a check. But you've convinced way too many people over the last decade that closed checkbooks and empty seats will lead to wins. Just the opposite is true. You've been lying to people, and I need everyone to know that.

So please go back to professional sports and then just casually watch Illini games when we're good. Professional sports are probably a much better fit for you.

I mean, hey - the Bears are 3-7. Go pull your ticket money from them.

Comments

IlliniJoe81 on November 16, 2022 @ 05:33 PM

People are still mad about the Chief. It’s not as much fun to go to games now that our tradition has been eliminated.

mheinlen@gmail.com on November 16, 2022 @ 05:47 PM

Do you know how crazy this sounds?

MuckFichigan92 on November 17, 2022 @ 02:39 AM

Not in the gd slightest. Go on Federman, educate us.

Tolkien73 on November 16, 2022 @ 06:54 PM

A tradition of some white guy from Naperville dressed up in an Indian costume dancing around for a couple of minutes at halftime is what killed the fanbase? Sure.

All it is is another excuse.

IlliniJoe81 on November 16, 2022 @ 08:19 PM

I’m not saying that it wasn’t time to move on, but it’s been replaced with…nothing.

A lot of other schools have something unifying to the game day tradition that you can’t get on TV.

The only thing I would miss from my couch is gone. I live out of state anyway but there hasn’t been a single time this year I was really jealous of the fans in Memorial Stadium.

I’m not bitter about it, but I see other schools with meaningful traditions (some even relatively new) and we’ve got nothing. Maybe let’s work on that.

MuckFichigan92 on November 17, 2022 @ 02:41 AM

Yes, Darrell Brooks, it did. What have you and BLM done in the vaccuum to replace your hated white devils?

HailToTheOrange on November 17, 2022 @ 10:23 AM

Regardless of your politics or what era your fandom began in, I do believe that it's the younger end of the fan base that is still sitting on the fence. That fan base has little to no investment in the chief. And if you think that they're sitting on the fence because they don't have a mascot on their T-shirts, I think this is just old white guy, myopic naval gazing.

Joe Edge on November 17, 2022 @ 01:23 PM

'...old white guy, myopic naval gazing.' . . . What a great line...

IllinifaninGopherland on November 17, 2022 @ 01:44 PM

What kind of boats are they looking at? Sorry, I couldn't help it.

Efrem on November 17, 2022 @ 10:04 AM

I'm sure some people are still mad about the Chief. But they're taking it out on the wrong people.

The football team and program are paying the price for the NCAA forcing the University's hand on this

We can argue forever about whether it's right or wrong, woke or not, or if the University ultimately folded on the issue. People's positions are firmly dug in on that

But the point remains - let's not penalize the team and their success for something that happened long before they got here, and where the NCAA is ultimately to blame

If you don't want to go to games because the Chief is gone - ok. Personally, winning football is what would make going to games fun, but everyone makes up their own mind.

But we have a chance to actually become a consistently good team. Is that not worth some level of support?

Give a few bucks to IlliniGuardians if you're not already. Help us win the arms war for talent that is building right now

Even if no chief ruins game day for you - you can still contribute to building a consistent winner

PowerGranger on November 17, 2022 @ 08:12 PM

Spot on.

BamaIllini on November 16, 2022 @ 06:05 PM

Let me start by saying I graduated from Illinois in 1986. I was there for the highest attendance seasons in Illinois history. As a student games were exiting and an event. I have not lived anywhere near Illinois since, and I have been a season ticket holder at Auburn for 25 years. I gave Auburn $14,000 for four seats in the Nelson Club (think of the Colonnades Club but with free food).

Coach B will tell you why Illinois attendance is down (he mentioned this suggestion in a press conference a couple weeks back) and so will I. Loren mentioned our fan base is aging, it is. But why is it aging?

Multiple reasons, and your eyeballs versus butts is one. Another is the loss of population in the towns around Champaign. But one that was talked about for a while, and I don't hear about as much is that in 2008 as part of the "Illinois Renaissance" renovation (should be renamed the dark ages renovation), Illinois moved the students to the north end zone. This couple with in general a poor product, killed student attendance. Killing student attendance is painful enough, but if you don't go to games as a student, you're also not going to games as an alum. We have lost 15 years of alum. As older fans die, younger fans are not taking their place.

If I were Whitman, I would bite the bullet and spend what I can to get the students back interested which includes reconfiguring the stadium to get the student back to being participants and not relegated to the north end zone. Winning will put lip stick on the pig but if you don't get the students back engaged, your future fan base will continue to shrink.

The difference between basketball and football? You only need 15,000 loyal fans to fill a basketball stadium, and you have student engagement. You need 65,000 in football, and you don't have student engagement.

twilson77@comcast.net on November 16, 2022 @ 06:39 PM

Wow---exactly correct about the dwindling student fanbase, "BamaIllini"---the kids no longer deem Memorial Stadium as "The Place To Be" each Saturday, and that sentiment carries-over to them as "Alums"....unsure that I agree that moving students from the north endzone will change that sentiment of incoming students; however, like your thinking here!!

escot on November 16, 2022 @ 08:42 PM

Bielema has said he wants to move the student section:

https://www.stltoday.com/sports/college/illini/bret-bielema-reveals-plan-to-move-block-i-student-section-behind-illini-football-opponents/article_45026192-265a-5f21-a96c-35cd46564ab6.html

The Olaf Rules on November 16, 2022 @ 07:39 PM

Over 50,000 students live within walking distance of the stadium. DIA struggles to get much more than 5% of them to make the walk.

THAT is the biggest problem, in my view. If you can't even get a student to walk to the stadium to support his own classmates/school, how can you blame alumni, many with kids and other responsibilities, for not driving 2-4 hours each way? Making this worse is the fact that if students don't get invested in attending while they live just a few minutes from the stadium, you're probably not going to convert them into the lifelong fans that a successful program needs.

"Back in the day" ALL of the fraternities and sororities attended in blocks. Thousands of independents attended also, many seated in what used to be a huge Block I. Now most of them watch from home or go to a bar. I think that's sad.

DIA needs to do everything it possibly can to get 10k-15k-20k students into the stadium every Saturday. Give away tickets. Give away food. Give away swag. Actively encourage fraternities/sororities/clubs to buy blocks. Load up the Grange Grove entertainment schedule with performers who are relevant to kids. Whatever. I'm not close enough to know what will motivate kids to go to the games. But someone does. Figure it out. THAT will start turning the attendance tide. That and consistent winning.

Joe Edge on November 17, 2022 @ 01:27 PM

'Over 50,000 students live within walking distance of the stadium. '... and 20% of them are international students... that's 10k... who are more interested in futbol...

Ellisrt1031 on November 16, 2022 @ 07:39 PM

I agree students are important. Somehow, you also have to get the kids growing up back to being Illini fans. You go into sporting goods stores and see as much or more Michigan and Notre Dame stuff as Illini stuff, particularly in Northern Illinois. I don't know how to do it but I think it is important. I grew up in Decatur and everyone was an Illini fan. Companies like Staleys would buy tickets for their employees, bus them over, and feed them at the Round Barn. I also think the food part of the experience could be much better. Beer and soda are fine. The rest is substandard. It was nice when you had some other choices on the main level that were local and not fast food. Even someone like Portillos that would serve hot tasty food instead of ice cold chicken strips and ice cold fries would help the experience, either inside or in Grange Grove. WiFi is better this year. University and Chicago area bus packages with Chick FIL A. Teachers and other government employees..how can we attract them to show up? I sit in the West Balcony. Most of the fans are older. When we have had bigger crowds, it appears many of those seats were sold on Stub Hub. All of this is in addition to what Robert said, the fans that gave up or don't want to leave their EZ chairs have to come back. It has to be FUN to get them back.

IlliniJoe81 on November 16, 2022 @ 08:34 PM

Yes, it does need to be fun.

This series of articles whining about the fan base is reflective of the general newfound bad attitude in the writing here that’s having me reconsider my subscription. This site is starting to seem more like Robert’s Instagram feed than an Illini fan site. Every single article now has some long rambling discussion of what time it is when he’s writing, how far he drove that day, or exactly where he is while he’s writing the post. It’s not as interesting as he thinks it is. A little of that goes a long way. The Everyman Illini persona is being replaced with a poor Bill Simmons impersonation combined with way TMI. I want to talk about Illini sports, not do a telehealth visit. The writing here is a lot better and more relatable when we lose and if both sports get as good as I hope they will then this is going to become insufferable. I know this isn’t really on topic but it’s been a long time coming.

blackdeath on November 17, 2022 @ 12:25 PM

Then it appears you're looking for a different kind of fan site.

It gives me exactly what I pay for, however.

wesd2005 on November 16, 2022 @ 09:23 PM

I agree that we are at a disadvantage when it comes to getting people to be fans from childhood. I went to U of I, but I've been a diehard fan since I was 11 (it helps when your first game in person is a 42-0 shutout of Missouri). If I hadn't been such a fan before setting foot on campus, I doubt I'd be as much of a fan as I am now.

Unfortunately, much of the conference seems to get a lot more support from other people in the state - not just the alumni base. I feel like this is a combination of the pro team influence of Chicago, the anti-Illini bias in the Chicago media (some media anyway) and general lack of success over the past 30 years. Things are probably better in the rest of the state, but I'm looking at it from the perspective of the greater Chicago area.

ILLACES2018 on November 16, 2022 @ 08:51 PM

Alright, had to go and sign up to post this. I read a lot of your articles Robert and appreciate all of the insight but couldn’t be silent on this one…

Now I write this as a two time graduate (2018 and 19) of the school and having been to nearly all of the home games since I was born (My dad worked games on the field). Season ticket holder for basketball and football, was in Orange Krush, block I and was pretty involved. Also served on the fan council back in my college days. I know a thing or two cause I’ve seen a thing or two…

I think we’ve suffered the 4 horseman of the apocalypse when it comes to Illini football.

  1. The Chief. However you feel about it, doesn’t matter to me. Personally, I was a fan of him and enjoyed watching him growing up. I thought it brought some extra entertainment and bit of soul to the program. You speak of how our fan base age is growing… yet they ostracized a majority of the surrounding communities for being pissed when they drop one of the most iconic parts of our university athletics and the game day experience. Those local older generational fans that perennially filled the stands are the ones that introduce the younger fans. A lot of Chicago/suburb crowd only gets introduced when they are in college, and only return for big games and homecoming. We need people, local people, there for every game… get the kids interested from the start just like I was.

  2. We’ve been borderline terrible in many ways for the last decade. Beckman was a joke. Lovie lacked any charisma whatsoever. We have no noticeable identity as a football program. We don’t win like alabama. We don’t have big “corn-fed” linemen like Wisconsin, (even though we are the best corn state.) We aren’t Miami or Michigan and known for being the cool drippy team. We don’t have years of history like Nebraska, Ohio state, USC. We aren’t the cradle of quarterbacks like Purdue. We have Dick Butkus and Red grange from a great but bygone era of football. Outside of the Butkus award, who no one from illinois has won in decades, our best and most well known years are far behind us. We need identity.

  3. Covid. It’s sucks, But it happened. Some were fine with the risk, others shied/still shy away due to the crowds. Illinois was a bit too strict on the covid policy in my opinion and that chased some away. To each their own, make your own health decisions. Unfortunately, politics and resulting policies matter a bit too much nowadays and the UofI leaned/leans a bit too heavy one way and that’s not helpful based on the surrounding population. Once again, I could care less which way you lean, but it’s a fact of the C-U area.

  4. Stands/Environment. The majority of the crowd sits in the east end or horseshoe and those that sit there are treated like peasants to the west Enders. (Bathrooms suck. Food is always cold and slow. Little choices for food. No heated hallways like the west end, there’s only one entrance, I can go on and on.) I get it, money talks, but don’t beg people to invest in you when you won’t invest in them. I’ve sat in the boxes before and can attest to all of the above differences. Also, bring the students back to the east side so that the cameras catch them and they can harass the opposing team (it’s more fun, just like Orange Krush). Push the opposing team fans into the north end so they freeze.

I love illinois football. But a lot of these wounds are self inflicted. They can’t ask someone to run a mile after punching them countless times in the gut. For the football folks out there, they played a bit too long on an injury, only making it worse, and It’s going to take some time, effort and nursing of the wounds to help things heal.

Efrem on November 17, 2022 @ 10:23 AM

We're 7 - 3 with a Heisman candidate RB and one of the nation's best defenses after everyone predicted us to maybe win 4 games this year?

That's a gut punch? How did our fan bases expectations get so out of whack?

This year is a huge step forward. We can all help give the program the best chance to sustain it regardless of what you think of the chief or your memories of past performance

The only question is do you want to help change things or not?

ILLACES2018 on November 17, 2022 @ 11:25 AM

This year is a much needed catch of our wind, but 15 years of gut punches is difficult to recover from.

I agree, the defense is a HUGE selling point for next year. I love me some Chase Brown, but his Heisman candidacy is falling quickly. [prayers for a quick recovery] He's a darn good running back, but any "good" (not necessarily heisman worthy) running back would get 100yds/game if they ran 40 times a game. Fantastic stats and achievements, but won't be enough for the Heisman I fear :(

But I digress...

7-3 is not an identity. Our B10 record is simply average and what should be expected on a yearly basis from the amount of resources put into the program. 4-3 against Big Ten is slightly above average. The losses to Mich St, and Purdue did not help the situation no matter our outstanding performance in previous games. When we ask (beg) estranged fans to come back for Purdue and Michigan state, you have to perform. Imagine the hype we would have if we were winning the West and contending for the CFP. You just have to deliver. We need that Ayo year in football - The discernable turning point. We were close this year.

Once again, I have season tickets for MBB and FB, I donate a generous enough amount to DIA, AND I buy extra break game tickets just to sit closer for MBB. I do my part.

I'm not belittling the headway we have made this year (which is noticeable!!!), there's just a lot of progress to be made yet to get us back where we could be and sugar coating those necessary steps doesn't benefit anyone. Just callin'em as I sees'em.

Efrem on November 17, 2022 @ 12:20 PM

I just reacted to your post of excuses for people not doing anything

What everyone needs to realize is we have a small window to change the thing that lots of fans/posters are bitching about.

But it will take everyone being part of the change. Everyone needs to put in a little.

If they are so jaded after all the "gut punches" and can't see that as a sunk cost, and the difference under this staff and AD to go to a game, or donate to the NIL cause..... then at least keep all that grizzle to yourselves (not you specifically here)

Don't hold it against our players who were babies when Ron Gunther and Mike Thomas were making decisions that buried our programs

Support the next generation do better

ILLACES2018 on November 17, 2022 @ 12:47 PM

Amen, Brother. We'll get there, just gotta have faith. Or... we can just just flip the whole damn table and get the W on Saturday! ILL!

BriCrozier on November 16, 2022 @ 09:43 PM

Before I get into the issue at hand, I want to say that I really appreciate Robert since he absolutely writes/speaks from the heart and I think that kind of genuine attitude just isn't out there much these days.

I grew up about 75 miles south of Champaign. I have been an Illinois fan my entire life, my first Illini memory is watching on TV as Andy Kaufmann hit the buzzer beater against Iowa. Growing up, my family would take me to a few games at Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall here and there, but otherwise I would watch every football and basketball game I could on TV. I graduated from high school in 2002 and afterward thankfully was blessed enough to attend the University of Illinois, graduating in 2006.

Everyone remembers the 2002 Illinois football season, it seems, for the Ohio State loss in the next-to-last week of the year that eliminated Illinois from any bowl game possibilities, but the game that really cost Illinois a bowl game that season was when the Illini defense just couldn't stop San Jose State. I watched, despondent, from halfway up Block I that day. The basketball season was better, Brian Cook had an absolutely unreal second half against Michigan that I'll remember until the day I die. What a freshman year, but let's move along...

The 2004-05 basketball season, of course, was a ride that is still almost beyond description. Having been on campus for that season was thrilling, exceptional, whatever word along those lines you want to use. Even with football struggling, the Illinois fan base was riding the crest of a huge wave that season, and I wish that I can see that again at some point in my life.

I'm giving a lot of exposition since (Although this might be a little bit of ego talking) I'm the target audience for Illinois Football. I've watched hundreds of Illinois Football and Basketball games on TV, I've gone to dozens of games in-person, I graduated from the University, and I now live in Champaign. I attended two games in-person this year, Chattanooga and Michigan State, and Chattanooga was on a free ticket (I was 50-50 on going that night before getting the free ticket).

I've said for at least half a decade now that it'll take 3 to 4 years of winning before the "casual" fans come back, and I've also said that it'll take Illinois getting two coaching hires in a row right to bring the program "back". I am a fan of the Bears, Cubs and Illinois. At some point around 2012 or 2013, one of my best friends who also roots for the same teams came up with what I thought was a great way to describe rooting for those teams. "Illinois Basketball gives your heart hope, Bears Football takes that hope away, Cubs Baseball breaks your heart and Illinois Football grabs your heart, pulls it out of your chest and then spikes it to the ground." Anyway, I might have been wrong on the 3 to 4 years, it might be more 2 to 3, the Michigan State crowd (While not a sellout) was great and reminded me of the 2002 Illinois-Ohio State crowd and game. Ironically, the games ended in somewhat similar fashion, with Illinois needing a touchdown in the south end zone but not even getting the final gasp pass into the end zone (Ohio State deflected the final pass at the line of scrimmage in 2002, Illinois threw much too short and much too inbounds on the final pass in 2022). But I digress... The second point is crucial, and Robert referenced it in his column. I don't think Illinois will be Bielema's last job - Partially because I don't think the fan base will "recover" in time and partially because (And this is complete conjecture on my part, but just my personal read of the man) I still think he wants another shot at a program which could provide a higher ceiling.

"Higher ceiling? What are you talking about?" Well, the Big Ten West won't exist (In its current weakened situation) much longer. And Ohio State/Michigan/Penn State/others are in the way just to win the overall conference title, much less anything bigger. We know USC and UCLA are coming onboard in the fall of 2024, and other schools (Notre Dame? Oregon? Washington?) might be added to the conference soon. There have been plenty of jokes made over the years about how if a coach wins 7 games a year every year at Illinois, we'll build a statue, well 7 wins each year is looking tougher and tougher if USC, UCLA, Notre Dame and Oregon are suddenly in the conference. Bielema winning 5 and 7 games (At least) in his first two years at Illinois has already been noticed in the college football world. If the right opportunity comes about, especially in the ACC or a weakened Pac 12 or a reworked Big XII, where winning at least 7-8 games every year might come easier but the salary and the standard of living will be the same, I could see Bielema jumping for that. And then Illinois has to get the second hire right.

So, finally (As the crowd roars!) let's get into the game day experience. It should be really easy for someone to attend their first-ever game and really hard for someone to say no when thinking about coming back for the next game. Unfortunately, the parking situation is not good (The DIA either needs to get expanded parking options on the north and northeast sides of the stadium - Not much they can do about the huge cemetery directly east of the stadium - or just make what they currently have free so at least it doesn't tick people off). If your seats are on the west side of the stadium, it's fantastic, but the east side and horseshoe seats aren't a great experience due to the poor bathroom/concession situation. I would correct that, then also move the students back to the old Block I seats, put the band in the southeast corner of a renovated horseshoe, and then re-work the north end zone either into a "Family FunZone" or put the visiting team's fans there.

All right, I think we've fixed Illinois Football. Let's go have a snack.

MuckFichigan92 on November 17, 2022 @ 03:33 AM

Putting aside Robert's fidelity test, here is what I see is wrong with the program:

  1. Preferred "Eyes" money over "Butts" money when kickoffs were moved to 11 in the morning from 1 in the afternoon. Those two hours, especially of daylight, are immense.
  2. Prices are out of line, especially for students. Those students are the future. I have called it the Iowa effect, during a 7+ year span students acquire an interest because the local team is winning. They attend the university which keeps winning, and return to campus after graduation, most likely raising a household of future fans.
  3. The gameday experience is atrocious. It is catered to the non-football fan: tired songs, blaring effects and video clips. A disjointed Club Memorial Stadium on one's way out is off-putting.
  4. The eradication of tradition hits many the wrong way. Deleting the Chief, "the Indian Song," etc. left a void which was compounded by losing. No past and no future equals what, Robert lecturing supporters?
  5. Attendance is down across the nation and the Big Ten. While our administration has done so much worse it has killed the gate, it is not all their ineptitude. If Iowa can fail to sell out, including their student section, Illinois sure as hell can and will.
  6. The supposed uniqueness to Illinois' attendance problem is because of its woke administration. Where else has an administration, i.e. Whitman, savaged the fan base, e.g. no more Chief, no more "Indian Song," railed against the ECIU-types to "end racism," then duplicitously sought their support and proceeded to be successful? Go woke, go broke. Do not yell at or insult your customers. They will replace you.

HailToTheOrange on November 17, 2022 @ 01:21 PM

So, SO much GET OFF MY LAWN energy here. if you're not part of the solution....

IlliniBando on November 17, 2022 @ 03:04 PM

A couple of point I actually agree with you on here:

  1. The gameday atmosphere at Memorial Stadium is not great. I'm not a huge fan of the video board hype segments and the 'games' are relatively weak. The music can be loud and usually not match the game's emotions. The post-game music is also questionable. Just listening to Robert's From the Stands this year, they play the same music after a win or a loss. It feels like they could create two playlists and choose them accordingly.

  2. (In response to your point #4 & 6) I think removing the Chief is still a stain to some people. But you referring to War Chant as the "Indian Song" is exactly why it got removed. War Chant was the one unique thing that made Memorial Stadium stand out from other schools. Third-down meant it was time for the entire stadium to start alligator clapping. That is fun. That is bonding. It was visually cool to see an entire stadium get into it and I enjoyed the band's song when they got a chance to play it on longer breaks. The loss of War Chant without a solid Third-Down replacement is the biggest loss of an Illinois game-day tradition.

Efremwinters84 on November 17, 2022 @ 04:37 AM

I'm 100% with Robert on this one.

I guess others of you must have gone to Champaign for an education. I went for the combination of sports + education. I find it unfathomable that we have empty seats at any home basketball or football game. I've been able to make the Wyoming, Iowa and Purdue games so far this year.....plus the KC and Monmouth basketball games. I know we're all wired differently, but I just cringe when I see the West Side upper deck. What an insult to our players and coaches.

With my children now/finally out of the house, I try to find a way to attend 8-10 Illini football/basketball games per year, plus nearly every game we play on the east coast. And yes, I'm extremely jealous of those of you who live within a 2-hour commute of Champaign. Each return visit I've made this year has been a mega-blast! Fly to O'Hare; 2 hour rental car ride; weekend in a local hotel or Bed & Breakfast; renew fraternity house acquaintances; refresh the Illini sports gear; Papa Del's; walk the beautiful campus; and enjoy the electricity of a live sporting event.

Recommendation #1: Do as my local Clemson Athletic Dept does, and allow students to attend football/basketball games for free. Heck -- a few years ago when the Illini played Clemson in the NIT, all fans were admitted for free.

J-W on November 17, 2022 @ 07:49 AM

Classic victim blaming. This feels like when my father-in-law blamed a loss on the cheerleaders not cheering hard enough.

Speaking for myself, I’m the fan Robert hates. I view my fandom as a Netflix subscription. If there’s something I want to watch, I’ll sign up for a few months, but I’m not paying year round just to watch reruns of The Good Place. And as my penalty, I’ll never get to enjoy wins as much as you diehard fans. Boo-hoo

Robert on November 17, 2022 @ 08:52 AM

I don't hate you. I just want you to stop recruiting people to your side.

J-W on November 17, 2022 @ 09:07 AM

Deal.

Efrem on November 17, 2022 @ 09:53 AM

You think you're a victim?

I think that's the heart of the problem that Robert laid out. Somehow - some of our fans have labeled themselves as victims because our teams have been really bad.

You're not a victim. Our teams have just sucked. But now they're good and we can all help them get to the next level

Throw a couple bucks to the NIL deal set up at Illini Guardians. You don't even have to do the year round deal. Treat it like you do Netflix. Give $25/month during basketball season.

That's like one less night out/month.

We have like 470,000 living alumni. Just doing that would generate $11MM/month for NIL

Lol at you being a victim though. GTFO here with that

Though at least you're big enough to admit you're part of the problem and a perfect example of what Robert is talking about

J-W on November 17, 2022 @ 01:06 PM

Well now I've been victimized - ouch!

Efrem on November 17, 2022 @ 01:33 PM

Sorry. Didn't mean to be harsh

That word getting thrown around casually is a trigger.

There are real victims in the world. And none of us are one because our football program has been bad

Would be great to get you back in the fold though.

larue on November 18, 2022 @ 06:04 AM

What you describe is not a fan, it's a mildly interested bystander. That's fine, you just live in another country and speak a different language than most here.

Illiniboat on November 17, 2022 @ 08:52 AM

This comment board is, perhaps not surprisingly, almost exactly what Robert is talking about with off ramps. One point that I did think was valid was that removing the Chief (the right thing) removed a unique part of attending games you didn't get at home. Not even trying to replace this with a different unique experience is an ongoing mistake. Not doing everything you can do to get students there including free tix is a mistake. I went to the Purdue game and all the criticisms of the game day experience are valid. You can fix those things and make it more enjoyable to go, but easy access to better concessions doesn't create a unique experience.

Robert, I think, would argue that a devoted, enthusiastic fan base will create a unique experience organically, but the University can do more to make this happen. One point Robert has made before I think is interesting is that chasing estranged fans is not the answer. The fanbase needs a rebuild too.

Robert on November 17, 2022 @ 09:01 AM

Well said. I talk about off-ramps and then so many of these comments take off-ramps. Perhaps instead of 2,500 words I should have just gone with one paragraph:

The vast majority of Big Ten fanbases understand the importance of attendance. For recruiting, for coach retention, for program momentum - everything. It's the one thing the fans can do that has a direct result on winning. We've lost that understanding, and we even have those who argue the opposite, and because of that, we might struggle to recruit, retain coaches, and maintain program momentum.

learningandlabor on November 17, 2022 @ 09:13 AM

I'm finding these responses hilarious, as all these members of Team Eyeballs yell at Robert and prove his point.

As for the article, it makes perfectly good sense to me. I do think Robert needs to work into his formula those years and years of lack of student support. It does add up, as some responders have noted.

I live 700 miles away from campus, and so I am offically on Team Eyeballs. I do give $ to the athletic program each year, and this article just spurred me to give more. Go Illini!

learningandlabor on November 17, 2022 @ 09:21 AM

After posting, I read my post again, and now laughing at my own off-ramp I seemed to use by blaming the problem on the years and years of lack of student support. Ha! Just because it's part of the formula of why, doesn't mean it's an excuse.

orangeandblue on November 17, 2022 @ 09:15 AM

Robert, thanks for continuing the conversation. I really appreciate you declaring that some people are fans and can’t make it to all the games. This ongoing conversation had started to feel like I had to justify my fandom and I wasn’t a real fan unless was a season ticket holder. I love my Illini, but I love my children more who run XC every Saturday in the Fall. I’m an Illini fan. Thank you for saying what you said there. I do think the program as a whole is on the upswing. I look at it through my 17 year olds eyes. A few years ago when he started high school, he and his friends wouldn’t consider attending Illinois even though we live within 30 minutes of campus. Why? We were losers their entire life in both basketball and football. That has changed the last few years. Now he and his friends are all considering Illinois. It’s my sons top choice. In the eyes of the teens I know, Illinois isn’t a loser anymore. That’s huge. If they end up there, I know they will be at games.
But let’s say they do graduate from the U of I as crazy hardcore fans. There aren’t a ton of jobs to be had in the area, so they likely leave. They’ll still be fans and probably come back on occasion, but you haven’t won a permanent season ticket holder unless they get a job in Central Illinois and are lifers. Those same teens who want to go to the U of I don’t want to live here permanently. The program then has to keep getting new subscribers as opposed to keeping them long term.
Let me know speak to the fan experience. I’ve got two teens. They are expensive. So I have always tended to get Horseshoe tix. They are cheap and sometimes free. I had season tix in the Horseshoe for a couple of years when they were younger. A couple of times I’ve sat on the East side. I now loathe Nebraska fans as a result of one of those games. For the Purdue game, I went all out. It was my son’s birthday so I had a built in excuse to spend too much money on tickets. I bought two seats on the East side. It was night and day better. I know the old saying you get what you pay for, but the East side experience is what the whole stadium should feel like. I’d even say the fans were better on the East side. People were just way more into the game. I liked that. Wish I could afford that all the time but lol there is no shot. I always think ticket prices on the secondary market are a good indication of where the fans are. When I bought my tix for Purdue, we moved to 7-1. My $75 tickets were going for $250 on StubHub. I was like wow, maybe I should sell, but I didn’t. Those same tickets dropped to $55 by the day of the game. My son had a couple of buddies that wanted to go to the game. I was able to get them tickets in the balcony for $3. Seriously. The HS playoff game that they chose to miss for the Purdue cost more to attend. I make that point because for many of us we can’t just buy season tickets to support the program. I’d like to sure, but I don’t have money to burn. I need to know that if I buy season tickets and can’t go because my kid is running that day, that I can sell those tickets and recoup some money. I’d need to now that even though I can’t really afford tickets on the East side, if I bought them, I could go to 3 games and sell the rest and not end up broke.
This season is season one of winning. We should see more season tickets sold as a result. Keeping stringing together 6-8 win seasons and we’ll sell more season tickets and the value of secondary market tickets will rise. Some of the factors for declining attendance the University can’t fix. Fix what you can fix. Keep grinding in the right direction. Together Illini Nation can improve the whole thing.

San Joaquin on November 17, 2022 @ 09:19 AM

Would be curious to read from Robert his thoughts (after the season is fine) about how to improve the fan experience at Memorial Stadium in a world competing with flat screens and comfortable couches. Would be a good balance to the finger pointing.

I live in California and haven't seen Illini football live since the bowl game against UCLA, but was still astonished to read that Illinois had the nerve to price tickets so high in light of the fact that the product has been so poor for so long.

Give Bielema time to replicate this season once more and the crowds will be back. Midwesterners too loyal to their teams to fear otherwise.

ArthurAmish on November 17, 2022 @ 11:01 AM

Great article, Robert. I think there could be a few more creative "perks" for the season ticket holders. One thing that came to mine would be that you would have free parking if you were a season ticket holder. Especially since the lost parking revenue might not be an issue, with the new BTN monopoly money coming in. Another idea I have always thought needs to be explored is to let season ticket holders (or even the public in general) tour the mysterious Smith Center or the renovated Ubben Center, which us common folk never get to see the inside of. Also might include the premium spaces at Memorial Stadium and State Farm Center. I'm sure many fans would at least like to take a peek at these areas not normally available to the general public. That could be another "perk" for the season ticket holders.

wesd2005 on November 17, 2022 @ 12:10 PM

IFund members do get a parking pass as a perk for being a donor.

blackdeath on November 17, 2022 @ 12:39 PM

Yes, they do, but that's not the same as "season ticket holders."

First, you pay $600+ for three season tickets, and THEN you get the opportunity to get free parking but only by giving just $100 more. No, I like the idea of including free parking in season ticket purchases. It would be a great gesture in return for $9 beers and $8 (yes $8!) pretzels.

It's hard and harder and harder for ordinary people to afford a game day experience.

wesd2005 on November 17, 2022 @ 01:01 PM

I was just pointing out that they do give parking passes to donors - I think it would be great to extend that to all season ticket holders as well.

MIlliniB on November 17, 2022 @ 11:03 AM

The Chief thing keeps gets dismissed way too often. Too many people paint Chief supporters as backwards hicks. There are many good people in central Illinois who were and are ardent Illini supporters. And they liked the Chief. It wasn't just some "random white guy from Naperville in a costume" as one commenter summarized. The Chief was an honored symbol of the university and it's sports teams. Not only was that taken away, but those who valued the Chief were also insulted and called racist. By the DIA itself.

I think there was a way to honorably retire the Chief and leave out all the other nonsense. You can't personally insult a significant portion of the fanbase and expect no repercussions from that. I, myself, will continue to attend games, as I agree with you that it's important in moving the program along. But I understand the thought process as to why some have had enough.

MIlliniB on November 17, 2022 @ 11:39 AM

But, specific to fixing the issue, we have to increase the season ticket base. 25K as a base just makes it so difficult to fill the stadium. Need to get season ticket sales into the mid 40's.

I also think the excessive amount of timeouts hurt the in game experience. You notice them far more in the stadium. There are just so many 3-5 minute stoppages. But, that is the price to pay in order to receive the massive revenue we gain from the networks.

ILLACES2018 on November 17, 2022 @ 11:42 AM

People downplay this... I'm in the same boat as you in that I still go to games because its been such a big part of my life and want to see the program succeed.

But as I said in my original comment, when you outwardly ostracize a good part of your season ticket holder fanbase, its going to take some licking of the wounds. I know a good portion of people in neighboring counties that have pulled donations and stopped going to campus events for reason of continuously being looked upon as yee-haw downstate hicks to many UIUC officials and students. And that goes beyond the Chief into other politically charged topics...

Its important to move the program forward, but expecting no downstream effects of such monumental decisions is naïve.

MIlliniB on November 17, 2022 @ 06:25 PM

Exactly. It would be interesting to see a parallel world where the Chief was retired but his supporters weren't also insulted along the way. Let it go with dignity. I think we would undoubtedly see a more united fanbase.

Efrem on November 17, 2022 @ 03:21 PM

Yeah you're right - the last guy was a random white dude from Galesburg :)

I'm not really dismissing it. The Chief was a part of my youth, game day experience and college experience. It just doesn't matter any more since the Chief isn't coming back

If people are really not coming to games because the Chief has been gone for 15 years - they need to figure out if they care more about something that's never coming back (Chief), or something that could come back (Consistently winning Illinois football)

Please pick the one that could come back and let's make 7 or 8 win seasons the most likely scenario for Illinois football instead of the dream scenario

Support the team and program. Let's build something everyone can enjoy.

pbillini70 on November 17, 2022 @ 11:15 AM

My junior/senior years(69-70) at Illinois we won one single football game. But the student section was full, in the main east stands, every game. True we sometimes left after the Chief was done at half time but we were there.

As an aside, I understand removing the Chief's dance but I mourn the loss of the logo which I still believe was dignified and should have been kept. It made Illinois one of the most recognizable schools in the country.

I can't imagine the students being happy in the north end zone. Students are critical for developing current and lasting support. Move them back to the east stands where they belong. Put visiting team fans in the north end zone.

Most importantly, finally develop some continuity in the FB program. See Iowa which was horrible before the Fry/Ferentz eras. You don't have to go 10-2 every year to keep fans in the seats but have a program that has some "sand" as the school song says....

Brave Illini on November 17, 2022 @ 11:27 AM

My experience - Poor product on the field made me feel embarrassed to have been a season ticket holder since 2016. That finally changed starting last year. Once I regained pride in the team, at our State flagship university, I excitedly look forward to the next home game. I'm a grad school alum from the Moeller coaching era, followed the team closely and attended home games during Mike White era (and went to the 1984 Rose Bowl game), but interests got diverted for a long time, then returned when Lovie Smith was hired. My interest and enthusiasm likely will remain high as long as I see the AD and coaches doing a good job and we have a team that is competitive. But I hope for Big Ten championships and contending nationally. Really think we can achieve that.

danny on November 17, 2022 @ 11:54 AM

Demographics plays a role.

  1. Central Illinois over the past 20 years has declined in population and lost many good paying jobs. Less people to attend n those who can have less disposable dollars.

  2. The major population markets (STL n Chicago) are 2 hour or more away. When there is an 11am start, it takes away a key game day experience - the tailgate. The 11am start is brutal for Champaign.

  3. Memorial Stadium lacks a game day experience. Something about it seems flat. It’s more than the Chief.

RonSwanson on November 17, 2022 @ 12:36 PM

I loved and respected the Chief but it needed to go. If you can't agree with that, then you just don't know US history very well. I think we need to come up with a mascot to replace the Chief. I nominate an Owl - wise and ferocious.

There are so many reasons why attendance is down - football program has been down for a long time. Student section is horrible (glad Bielema is fixing this moving forward)

I think an over-looked factor is locals with kids can't attend as many games b/c their kids have so many more extra-curricular activities on weekends now then they did a generation ago. Club sports take weekends away from families being able to attend football games. That's a lot of a potential local fan base missing out.

The 11 AM start times are garbage and the conference should spread them out more evenly and limit it to 2 max Big Ten games starting at 11 per week. It kills the game day experience which lessens the tv experience b/c the crowds are smaller and less loud.

The North end zone should be $5/ticket - those seats are atrocious. Horrible idea from the very beginning. Hopefully, they can improve the South end zone sooner rather than later and bring those seats closer to the stadium to bring noise/fans closer to the action and block the wind a bit too.

Beyond that - upgrading restrooms and food choices wouldn't hurt.

I L L. -

Beat Michigan!!

larue on November 18, 2022 @ 06:19 AM

North end zone seats are terrible in comparison to what? Every stadium of size has seats behind the end zones. Ohio State probably has more fans sitting in seats worse than our student section than we have in the stadium for an average game. And, no, we're not OSU, blah blah blah.

HailToTheOrange on November 17, 2022 @ 01:25 PM

I hope you're not reading (most) of these comments Robert, but if I could insert a "100" emoji here, I'd do it 100x.

The only thing I'd add is...I don't think it's a coincidence that the rise of the eyeball set (and the decline of Illini fandom) coincided with the rise of social media. Perfect storm of negativity.

But I remain hopeful that positivity will prevail. Go Illini.

Altenberger with cheese on November 17, 2022 @ 03:25 PM

Chicago is the problem. So close people think we should draw a caravan of thousands coming south for each game, but in reality too far away. (Not blaming Chicago fans, just stating a fact.). My great what if? What if Illinois had been placed in Kankakee, not Champaign. Locale wise, “triple K” is to Chicago what Ann Arbor is to Detroit. Would we draw 100k and have been a dominant football program for a hundred of years had the school been placed elsewhere? I live in Central IL BTW so this is not hate on Champaign.

ThreeHeadedMonster on November 17, 2022 @ 03:55 PM

This season is setting up for a bowl matchup with a familiar similar foe. The UCLA v Illinois “We are kinda good now, where are all of our fans?” bowl is going to be electric.

OrangeBlazer on November 17, 2022 @ 04:11 PM

As someone who has inhabited various Illini message board spaces with Robert for 20 years now, and as someone who is deeply familiar with Illini Twitter, I can say that Robert's characterization of our online fan base is 100% accurate. I also agree with Robert's theory that there is a unique problem specific to Illini fans. However, I don't think the Robert's theory totally works. because the vast, vast, majority of Illini fans do not engage with message boards, Twitter, or even postgame call in shows (where you also hear some of this Eyeball vs. Butts stuff).

I have no doubt that Robert's perspective is singular and unique, and he sees all sides of the fanbase in a way nobody else does. But that is a small fraction--a fringe minority. If you add up all the people who post on the message boards or engage in these Twitter fights it's what, at most a few thousand? The other 40,000 people who were at the Purdue game have no concept or awareness of these arguments, and have never heard the arguments of Team Eyeballs.

Rather, as the discussion here has revealed, I think the answer is surely some combination of everything--years of failed football rebuilds, a uniquely incompetent administration in the early 2010s, the expense of tickets, the expansion of TV/streaming options, COVID, a large subset of the fanbase that cut their fandom teeth on the Cubs and Bears, and yes, sadly, the persistence of a chunk of fans who effectively gave up their fandom because of the Chief (having grown up in central Illinois, and lived in the Metro East for a decade, I can say these people are real). Many other fanbases can point to similar or identical problems. I don't think any fanbase can point to all of them. That's what makes our problem unique.

To the Chief issue, I think the expectation was always that eventually that generation of fans who pulled away and never came back because they were mad about the Chief would eventually be replaced by a younger generation of fans who did not grow up with the Chief, and/or did not go to school and experience the Chief at games. And I think that remains true. The problem is that as that new generation of fans have come of age, we have been terrible in both football and basketball for a decade, so they didn't come of age with a singular team or era to point to, whether it was '83, '89, '01, or '07 (football and basketball). Thus, the Chief fans who left haven't yet been replaced (yet) with a new generation of fans who were sucked in by a great team or era. The result is a void--a lost generation of Illini fans. I think that's part of what's happening with attendance as well.

But I think that is changing now with the Underwood and Bielema eras. It will take time, but if the success is consistent, the culture that has overtaken our fanbase will recede.

OrangeBlazer on November 17, 2022 @ 04:18 PM

And to clarify--I don't sympathize or agree with those who vowed to never come back because of the Chief. It was long past time for the Chief to retire, and my opinion is that refusing to support a team over that issue is just an absurd rationalization.

I'm just pointing out that, whatever one may think of it, that rationalization is very real and continues to persist.

Efrem on November 18, 2022 @ 09:14 AM

There's a lot of excuses for why we're in the position we're in today. And everyone is welcome to whatever one of those they like best

But it honestly doesn't matter. The past is the past

With NIL and the transfer portal - we are in an unprecedented and very small window in which we can change things pretty quickly.

And fans actually have ways they can help change it that are totally within the rules

If you can't go to games, give some dollars to the NIL via IlliiniGuardians. We can legally arm our coaches with $$ to buy players and catch up in the talent war.

Our fan base needs to stop rehashing the crappy past, and take advantage of this chance to be an active part of building a real program.

If we don't - we'll look back on this inflection point in college sports and wonder why we missed it.

blfren on November 17, 2022 @ 04:24 PM

Replying as a townie (hate that term) from Urbana that grew up with Illini sports as my personal equivalent to NBA and NFL (not to mention awesome non-revenue sports like Women's Volleyball at Huff). The Chief had to go- I get that, despite my nostalgia for 80's childhood memories of that tradition. Nothing epitomizes the disconnect between supporters of that tradition and reality better than many posts of "the crying Indian" on other Illini fan sites, lamenting the loss of the Chief. That actor was Iron Eyes Cody, a Hollywood name for an actor of Italian-American descent. But I digress. I attended Illinois from 95-2000 (bonus semester because #reasons), and witnessed, as a season ticketholder, a slide from 5-5 to 2-9, 0-11 in '95, '96, '97. I know the records of the next two years, and they did indeed improve, but my interest was gone. 0-11 was so painful and laughable; my friends and I would still attend the games, but only to sneak booze in and high-five every time we ran what we still [not] affectionately called the "Johnny Scramble", named for Johnny Johnson and his tendency to make a run for it and usually get TFL, INT, or, in the best case, throw it away. At that point we were purely hating on our team. I am a little ashamed of my immature feelings in retrospect, but that's where I was at the time. I now live too far away to attend games, and if I was closer I would definitely do it. But I can say, indubitably, that the 96-97 seasons caused roughly 20 years of apathy in my fandom. I suspect many others feel the same, and these are folks who currently have college-aged kids. I still showed up to hate on the team [again, ashamed in retrospect] but the student section was pretty empty by that time (SE corner of Eastern lower level at the time). I can only imagine those missing students were lost forever, while I still at least appreciated being in that sacred, nostalgic building that gave me so many formative sports memories in the 1980s. I realize I'm not offering any solutions or unique insight that hasn't already been shared, I'm just posting to vent. Go Illini!

jdl on November 17, 2022 @ 05:18 PM

With respect to the KU comparison, the obvious difference is the IU game. Not just because it was an early loss vs KU going unbeaten for much longer but also the way that loss happened. It's almost verbatim from the Book of Illini Loss Excuses. Penalties, turnovers, refs missing a crucial call and the coup de grace the game ending drive by the other team to seal the win.

That set things back immediately to zero or lower, so the subsequent win streak was a fight back from below ground.

Efrem on November 18, 2022 @ 08:50 AM

However, KU then lost three in a row. And in the next game drew a near sell out (93% of capacity)

We drew a bit less in terms of capacity after a 6 game win streak....

IlliniJack on November 17, 2022 @ 06:35 PM

I won’t attend any more games until they put more cheese on the nachos.

Robert on November 17, 2022 @ 10:09 PM

A man must have a code.

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