Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 6, 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 NOV. 6, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED B lame it on COVID-19 concerns, ticket prices or a less-than stellar 2021 home schedule, but sagging attendance at Notre Dame Stadium has become an unwelcome sidebar to this season that the university would like to rewrite in years to come. Securing seats for a Notre Dame home game has for decades been a difficult pursuit and kind of a badge of honor when accomplished. This season, the university is giving tickets away, literally, to try and fill its 77,622-seat bowl. In an overt attendance operation, Notre Dame is providing two compli- mentary tickets to either the Navy home game Nov. 6 or Georgia Tech Nov. 20, to local residents who receive their first COVID-19 vaccination shot. More to the point, Cincinnati was the only 2021 home game to sell out in the pre- season. And based on turnout that week- end, the sellout was generated by Bearcats fans gobbling up the available seats. The home opener Sept. 11 against Toledo drew only 62,009 fans, the smallest attendance since Notre Dame Stadium was expanded in 1997 (save for the 2020 season played under pandemic seating restrictions). The swaths of empty seats for Toledo elicited a question to and response from Irish head coach Brian Kelly. "I have so many problems I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis," Kelly said, "I have to hope our marketing people and everybody else takes care of that." A week after the Toledo game, long- time regional rival Purdue fell about 3,300 tickets short of a sellout, and seats remained available late into game week for the prime-time matchup Oct. 23, against USC at the same time resale ticket prices for this typically expensive rivalry game sank to all-time lows. To incentivize buyers for the North Carolina matchup last weekend, Notre Dame offered a "flash sale" during game week that reduced all remaining seats to $50, and hundreds were still available 48 hours before kickoff. Out of fairness, Notre Dame is not alone in its attendance slip. According to a story from sports me- dia website, attendance throughout college football pre-pan- demic dropped to 41,477 per game in 2019, a 24-year low. Notre Dame's sellout streak of 273 games ended against Navy in 2019. And while it's not a well-guarded secret that area businesses often artifi- cially saved that streak by buying up all remaining seats at a discounted rate, no such business bailouts are happening in 2021. So what gives? "How much time do I really have to worry about getting fans in?" Kelly asked rhetorically. "Would I like 76,000 or what our capacity is? Yeah, but we're living where there's electronic tickets, there's COVID." That said, sagging attendance isn't as much about the pandemic or ticketless ticketing as it is about scheduling only one or two marquee home games each season. Much of the buyer apathy stems from a scheduling agreement in 2015-16 when Notre Dame football pledged to play five ACC opponents each season in exchange for full-time membership in the league for its other varsity sports programs. Prior to this deal, Notre Dame built ro- bust home football schedules that typi- cally included either a game with Michi- gan or Michigan State, a matchup against either Stanford or USC, and an intrigu- ing ranked opponent such as Oklahoma, Utah, BYU and others in for a fly-by. Under this arrangement with the ACC, Notre Dame welcomes in a schedule full of unfamiliar teams such as Duke, Wake Forest, Syracuse and Virginia, to list a few of its recent home opponents. Notre Dame can't renege on its ACC scheduling agreement, so what can it do? One suggestion might be to ditch the traveling Shamrock Series date and keep that game at Notre Dame Stadium. In other words, instead of playing the highly anticipated home-and-home series with Wisconsin at Soldier Field in Chicago and Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., bring the Badgers to South Bend. Then again, maybe attendance woes are simply a sign of the times. Even with two trips to the Col- l e ge Fo o tba l l P l ayo f f i n t h e pa s t three seasons, is it possible Notre D a m e 's n o t o r i o u s l y d e m a n d - ing fan base is growing weary of a schedule that replaced regional rivals with lesser ACC opponents and still doesn't have a title to show for it? There are no easy answers. "Look, we've won 35 of our last 40 games," Kelly said. "If that's not good enough, I don't know what is." ✦ In its first four home games this season at Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish had two sellouts (77,622) against Cincinnati and USC, but its season average was 72,899, skewed mainly by underwhelming atten- dance for the Toledo game. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Chilly Attendance Figures Becomes A Hot Topic UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at

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