James H. Jimenez: A couple days ago, CM Life published an article that showed in rather simple terms, that fan engagement is reaching dangerous levels. You can see the numbers for yourself and say there's a bad trend going here. Is this a matter of bad scheduling, a matter of engagement, or something else?
Nick "Frenchy" Fries: I'd say more engagement. I know plenty of students at CMU and alums, and they all say the same thing: more pride is directed toward the big Michigan schools. Michigan and Michigan State apparel are more common than Central gear, and it's an issue. I definitely think Coach Bonamego has the right idea by engaging with the student population to encourage more participation.
Brendan Carducci: I truly believe it has been a trend across football. Even looking at the NFL, television has kept people home rather than in the stadiums. The way to fight this is by offering students tokens for attendance. For example, CMU can pass out grand prizes between quarters. Promote that if someone can perform this insane task, they get free tuition for one whole year. Attract students by passing out large prizes that intrigue them, lowering prices for non-student fans, and develop some new, fun traditions.
Frenchy: I've never been to a CMU game, so I can't speak on any traditions that go on during games. But, I agree with Ducc. Incentives seem to be an effective way of drawing attention to football games. Also, when performance improves (and it is inevitable), students are going to take more of a liking. Bono has MAC Championship aspirations, and the attendance will grow when games like that are on the line.
James: We've done the incentive thing before, and students will still leave after the first half. I think my main frustration is retaining students at the games., regardless of whatever incentive there is. I hate to do this because I love the tradition, but midweek football has been devastating for Central. The announced attendance for the Black Friday game was ~5,000, but I was there. It was closer to 1,000 at best.
But I want to hit on Carducci's point real fast. These numbers are indicative of a national trend. How is that possible when college football is easily at the height of popularity?
Ducc: I think the emergence of television and the ease of streaming online has caused lower attendance. But I wanted to go back to team performance: Central Michigan is coming off a solid 6-win season and an appearance in a very good bowl game. They got national exposure playing Minnesota on ESPN. That should make students and alumni proud of their school. Schools like Hawaii, New Mexico, Tulane, and UTSA are no better than CMU. Yet, they continue to draw bigger crowds. Blaming team performance should never be a reason for low attendance, unless your school wins 3 or less games.
Frenchy: I didn't mean to say that our performance caused low attendance. What I meant was that if more of our games had championship implications throughout the season, then more people would catch on, and attendance would increase. It's hard to ignore the obvious weather factors though. A lot of games are played in the cold and rain, which, unfortunately, will keep fans at home.
James: To Nick's point: the game against Toledo had all sorts of title implications, the weather was perfect after a good bit of rain prior to gametime, and fans STILL didn't show up. I hate to be so flippant about it, but until the team does Dan LeFevour/Antonio Brown-type good again, students simply won't go. It makes me sad to admit that. Look at the attendance numbers between 2009 and 2010. By 2012, the student numbers alone were at a third of 2009's clip.
Frenchy: Yeah, we need a player that the fan base can rally behind. We had that in Dan LeFevour and Antonio Brown. But who's the next fan favorite to draw students to games?
Ducc: Well, I mean, Michigan and Michigan State obviously rule college athletics in that area. CMU will never get out of the shadow of those intercollegiate powers. Students may be embarrassed to support a small school like CMU when say Michigan is close by and competing for a CFP spot.
James: That's the tough area for any Group of Five team, really. And frankly, if a student is embarrassed to support their alma mater, they're a front runner who doesn't deserve the happiness when said alma mater finally does something good. But, that's just me. Performance does correlate with population, though, and if CMU ever gets out of being a .500 team and the schedule is favorable, I think those numbers will shoot back up.
Frenchy: I think James is right. There's not much a Group of Five team can do other than win conference championships to boost popularity. One thing that keeps me happy is that we still get more fans than Eastern Michigan, and I'm confident it'll stay that way.
James: I mean, getting more fans than EMU is like getting a little wooden spoon free with a cup of ice cream. It's expected, really.
Ducc: Well, CMU will never come out of the shadow of Michigan and Michigan St. There is nothing CMU or any G5 school can do about that. The team is better than their attendance states. Blame here goes to the fans. If someone wants a certain area to improve within the program, the least a fan can do is show up. The blame shouldn't go towards the competition, team performance, or lack of "gameday atmosphere." Blame should be directed at supporters who stay at home on Gameday. These players give their all for Central Michigan, and want to see fans in the stands. Fans and students have to fill the seats, simple as that.
Frenchy: There is no doubt in my mind that players look to the stands at times during the game, only to be disheartened at the poor show out week after week. Fortunately, CMU's performance has not been negatively affected (as far as I know) by this turnout. All we can do as fans is show up and, like Ducc said, support the Chips.