When head coach Kalen DeBoer envisioned his first several games at Washington, he pictured a packed, raucous Husky Stadium gleefully spectating, and at times participating in, UW victories.
“Sold out stadiums, right?” DeBoer said at his introductory press conference. “Sold out Husky Stadium is what it’s going to be all about in making this a home advantage.”
Through DeBoer’s first two games, the wins have come on Montlake. The quality of the Huskies’ first two opponents can be debated, but it’s a digression from the fact that UW is 2-0. If nothing else, the 2022 iteration of the Huskies certainly haven’t given fans anything to grind their gears about.
The fans, however, haven’t quite gotten DeBoer’s memo about sold out crowds, which has drawn concerns over tepid attendance levels.
UW’s season opener against Kent State drew an attendance of just over 56,000 — its smallest number since a 2015 matchup against Sacramento State (pandemic season omitted). Last week against Portland State, that number ticked up ever-so-slightly to 57,518.
The attendance in the first two games of 2022 were lower than seasons past; each of the Huskies’ past five season openers in front of home crowds drew over 61,000 fans.
Of course, there are many reasons for the meager attendance figures, especially in early September. The season opener was a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on Labor Day weekend against a Mid-American Conference team. The second game was amid historically bad air quality against a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team. In addition, as many have been quick to point out, a majority of students have yet to move onto campus with fall classes set to begin at UW in late September.
People haven’t held their tongue in throwing out suggestions to attract more fans to the seats (or bleachers) at Husky Stadium. Among those suggestions: lowering ticket prices and even completely reimagining the academic calendar and UW’s quarter system.
But the only surefire way to boost attendance is to put out a winning product.
After all, there’s no doubt about the type of scene that Husky Stadium can be. All it takes is a quick look into the history of the famous cavern to see 70,000 leather lungs roaring at the most picturesque setting in college football.
In 1990, the stadium packed with a sellout 72,617 fans in the famous “All I Saw was Purple” game, a 31-0 win over USC. In 1992, during a night game against Nebraska, the stadium’s decibel level was measured over 130, the loudest crowd noise recorded in college football history at the time.
Fast forward to 2016, and another landmark home game joined Washington’s parthenon, a 44-6 win over No. 7 Stanford in front of a boisterous sellout crowd.
The common thread for all of those moments? A consistently prominent Huskies team.
The early 1990s saw the height of Washington’s powers, going 31-5 in a three-year span from 1990 to 1992. The fan enthusiasm and crowd turnout was reflective of that success, as the stadium approached its maximum capacity in nearly all of the Huskies’ home games.
It’s a near guarantee at this point that Washington is better than they were in 2021. The ability to score more than once against an FCS team confirmed that notion. Still, to no fault of DeBoer and his staff, they’ve yet to reestablish the Washington football team as a national contender.
The pandemic season sans fans in 2020 has also left lingering effects, and memory of the 2021 experience is still lodged in people’s minds.
To win over the Seattle metropolitan base and coax fan turnout, Washington football needs to be exciting, and most of all, successful.
Is that a fair-weather attitude? Maybe. Are there competing interests for residents to spend time in the Seattle area? Definitely. Either way, fans have no issues watching from home, or flat out diverting their attention elsewhere.
But if the Huskies keep winning and building an exciting program at Washington, there’s no doubt that fans will arrive at the stadium in droves, and UW’s brand will thrive.
Saturday’s matchup with Michigan State is a chance to put the Huskies back onto the national scene, and lead their fanbase to believe in what’s being built.
Ahead of the matchup, DeBoer wanted to send a message: the time is now, not later.
“We need Husky Nation in a big way out here on Saturday,” DeBoer said. “Let’s not sit around and see what happens. Let’s put the pedal down and go get this.”
Reach Sports Editor Ethan Kilbreath at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @EthanArles
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