The Ducks broke their five-game losing streak with a 54-35 win over Arizona State Saturday at Autzen Stadium. By many accounts it was the most impressive game they’ve played all season: the Ducks outgained the Sun Devils by 266 yards, the defense forced three interceptions, and freshman quarterback Justin Herbert set a school record with 512 yards of offense.
So why didn’t Oregon students care to stay and watch?
The Oregon student section, which spans five sections of the 40-section stadium, was half-empty when the game started. Granted, the game had just started, but other sections managed to show up on time. This was the scene at the opening kickoff:
Autzen student section at kickoff. pic.twitter.com/iceXTK2YVo
— Kenny Jacoby (@kennyjacoby) October 29, 2016
Sections 4 through 8 filled up by the end of the first quarter as students arrived late. But toward the end of the third quarter, the student population began to dwindle. By the end of the game, the student crowd wasn’t much denser than it was at kickoff.
Oregon tight end Johnny Mundt, who caught two passes for 70 yards and a touchdown, said the student section looked “a bit thin” when he peeked up at it during the game.
“I would really hope that our student body would come and fill up that student section,” Mundt said. “I mean, people are on wait-lists for those tickets and we’re not filling it up.
“We’re giving everything we’ve got, so I’d hope that they’d give everything they got, too.”
Oregon was winning 30-22 when masses of students started heading for the exits. I was curious why they chose this point in the game to leave, with the Ducks on the verge of their first win since Sept. 10. So I went down to the concourse level, stood at the top of the stairs above the South Gate and asked departing students why they were leaving. Here are some of their responses:
“I’m really, really high, and I want to lie down,” the first student said.
“It’s Halloween weekend,” said another.
“We’re tired from last night. We’re trying to nap and recover before going out to tonight. I just turned 21.”
“We’re tired. I have homework to do.”
Fans not wanting to stick around to watch their team lose is understandable. Take, for instance, Oregon’s last home game, in which it was losing 35-7 at halftime to Washington, whom it hadn’t lost to in 12 years. The Huskies went on to win 70-21, and only the first few rows of the student section were occupied by the game’s end.
Tonight, however, the game was close from start to finish. The Ducks only held a 5-point lead with with just over six minutes to play; it could have gone either way. It was a good game to watch — the students agreed on that — yet many fans were disinterested in seeing the ending.
“It’s actually a really good game this time; I just don’t feel like standing anymore,” a student said. “I might go watch it in our common area.”
“I’m just not into the game right now.”
“I’m gonna follow it on my phone. We’re probably going to win anyway.”
Troves of fans leaving the game with a quarter to play. pic.twitter.com/QkfFcoFEzF
— Kenny Jacoby (@kennyjacoby) October 30, 2016
Running back Tony Brooks-James said he’s noticed fans leaving early in previous games this season.
One could easily chalk it up to a common gripe on millennials: that they lack the attention span to sit — or stand — through anything for four hours straight. But it’s not just the students who are losing interest.
Oregon failed to sell out Autzen Stadium for the fourth time this season. It’s remarkable considering the sellout streak it had intact before the season began; the Ducks had sold out every home game since 1999 until their first game this season against UC Davis, in which they fell 183 people of the sellout mark of 54,000. Neither the Virginia nor Colorado game this season drew a sellout crowd. The rivalry game against Washington did, but Saturday’s contest with ASU came up short by 102 people.
Autzen was 99.8 percent full Saturday, but in past seasons, Oregon has consistently managed to fill 106 to 108 percent of seats — the extra tickets are “standing room only,” which give fans entry to the stadium but not an actual seat. Even in a down season last year, Oregon sold out an average of 106.7 percent of tickets. This year that figure is down five percent.
In 2012, journalist Jeff Polman wrote about why Los Angeles Dodgers fans, who are notorious for arriving in the third and fourth innings and departing in the sixth or seventh, leave games before they end. He didn’t buy the “to beat the traffic” argument. He concluded that fans are “disengaged with the game.”
Polman made sure to mention that it’s not as if Dodgers fans don’t have a good time at games; they just treat them as social events, in which the game itself “is merely the thing going on the background you look up to cheer and boo once in a while.”
Perhaps some Oregon students are less invested in games than regular fans because they don’t pay as much for tickets; a small portion of every student’s tuition dollars pays for the ASUO’s allotment of student tickets, which are then distributed on a first-come-first-served basis online. But those coveted tickets usually disappear within seconds after the claiming period starts.
Perhaps it has something to do with the Ducks being 3-5 overall and 1-4 in Pac-12 play.
Cornerback Tyree Robinson said it doesn’t bother him or his teammates when students leave games early. He said “students are different.”
“At the end of the day, we know who are real fans are. We have loyal Oregon fans; they tell us every day. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t define us.
“We’re going to be okay.”
Follow Kenny Jacoby on Twitter @KennyJacoby