While a student at UND, I never gave much thought to the fact that football games were played on Saturday afternoons. I went to some games, and if I had other things to do I listened on the radio. When I lived in Madison, WI, I often cheerfully began tailgating at Oakcrest Tavern at 9am in anticipation of an 11am game. I’ve always seen a typical college football game as being played around noon.
On the flip side, fans on the SiouxSports forum have long noticed the attendance drops on big hunting weekends, observed that Saturday afternoon games are inaccessible to those who work on Saturdays, and complained that attending an early afternoon game consumes an entire day for families who have to travel to reach the game.
Sioux fans often use NDSU as a yardstick for a successful I-AA/FCS football transition. The Bison, who managed to increase attendance from an average of 11567 five years ago to 18141 last year, scheduled the following game times for this season: 7pm (1), 6pm (3), 3pm (1), 1pm (1). SDSU, which has similarly bumped attendance from 5547 to 11218 over their transition, scheduled the following home times for this season: 6pm (3), 2pm (2), 1pm (1).
Those attendance increases are largely on the back of transition excitement and success on the field, but the results are in on UND’s first Thursday night game as a I-AA/FCS team — attendance was an impressive 11434. (box score) That’s the largest opening home crowd ever for the Alerus, and the 10th largest crowd in the building’s eight year history.
Local print media are blogging about it (they like day games for lead-time reasons), and fans are having substantial discussions (in which they note that the crowd was not only large, but particularly loud and engaged).
A big crowd not only helps with revenue but actually helps the home team on the field — just ask any of UND’s past playoff opponents who had the misfortune of being sent to the Alerus in the post-season. In fact, in last Thursday’s game, Texas A&M-Kingsville had eight false starts.
UND has one more evening home game this season — Southern Utah on Nov. 8. Given UND’s usually precipitous November attendance drops, many will be watching to see how attendance fares for that first home game vs. a I-AA/FCS opponent. UND football has a new coach, a new athletic director, a new division, and new opponents on future schedules. UND is taking bold moves and fan excitement is high. I, for one, wouldn’t be surprised to see more night games in the future.