ROSEMONT, Ill. – Pat Fitzgerald is as passionate as they come in the coaching world. Whether on the sidelines or at the podium, Fitzgerald doesn’t hold back.
At Big Ten Media Days Friday, Coach Fitz was asked about the declining attendance in college football. His explanation? Phones.
“Stacy and I were out on a date last night. There were two groups of couples sitting next to us. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m old.’ Not one of the four couples were talking to each other. They were all on their phones. It just drove me up the wall. I literally wanted to be like a dad and go, ‘Give me your phone. Talk to each other. I mean this is pathetic.’ It was really, really pathetic. It’s just changed. The way a lot of younger people and younger fans intake is all through technology. You watch a concert and everybody’s holding their phone up. Listen! Watch! Take it in! Create a memory. They don’t go back and watch the videos. They just want to post it on their social media, which is pathetic because it creates a society of ‘Look at me! Isn’t my life great?’ Even though when they go home they’re like ‘I hate myself. I hate my life. Everything’s wrong.’ I think it’s a big cause. I think it’s the root cause.”
According to the NCAA, Northwestern actually had the largest average attendance increase from the previous year with around eight thousand more fans buying tickets. But, on the whole, numbers were from Division I through Division III.
“I think the fans that grew up going and tailgating, and the fans that grew up going to the stadiums four hours before the games are getting a little older. I think the next and younger generation of fans are more reliant on technology. They’d rather have twelve TVs set up in their TV watching cave than go to the game and experience the pageantry and tailgating. There’s definitely things we need to look at as a brand “college football” on how we can maybe create that type of environment and experience while respecting our communities and our neighborhoods to make sure the experiences that are happening don’t impede on those neighborhoods. Gotta create better parties I guess. When I think of college football Saturdays, I’ve said it every year, I want to create seven parties. I want everyone that walks into our building to walk in and say ‘I’m excited to watch this game. I’m having a great time. I’m fired up to support the Cats.’ They walk out of there going ‘that was one of the best experiences of my life. I want to go back two weeks from now.’ That’s kind of my goal when it comes to gameday. I’ve got a small piece of that controlling the product on the field. That’s kind of our goal – improving that fan experience. That’s next in our big picture plan of some infrastructure changes down the road.”