Buffalo's blackout game brings 'electric' atmosphere
24,714 fans packed into UB Stadium Friday night
Danny White described UB’s football game day experience in 2012 as like “a ghost town."
White, Buffalo’s Athletic Director, called the atmosphere for the Bulls’ game against Baylor Friday night “electric.”
Fans tailgating inside the Special Events parking lot welcomed the Baylor team bus onto campus with ‘boos’ and insulting signs. One read ‘Fart Briles’ for Baylor head coach Art Briles, another read ‘Bryce Petty drinks Burnett’s for the Bears’ starting quarterback.
Junior accounting major Matt Haring set a Robert Griffin III Baylor jersey on fire inside the Special Events lot. He ordered it from China three years ago for $20. Another fan then dumped charcoal from his grill on top of the smoldering remains of the jersey.
Red solo cups and fans in Bulls gear filled the Special Events and Lake LaSalle parking lots while Joe Nichols performed in Stampede Square prior to Buffalo’s 63-21 nationally televised loss to Baylor that was attended by 24,714 people – the third largest attendance in UB Stadium history. UB Athletics estimates 7,200 of those attendees were students.
“It was a big platform for our university and I think our students stepped up in a big way,” White said.
The game day experience was not one many UB students were accustomed to seeing.
“It was unlike any UB game I’ve ever been to,” Haring said. “I think for the first time there were students out and excited about it.”
Junior sports management major Scott Goodwin was surprised by the attendance, as fans had to pack inside the 300-level seats. He and Haring both had to watch the game standing because the student section was filled; he described it as “a zoo.”
“I made it in about two minutes before kickoff and I was just blown a way by the sea of black that I saw,” Goodwin said.
Athletics organized a “blackout,” encouraging students to wear all black to match the Bulls’ new black helmets.
Junior quarterback Joe Licata said after the game the Bulls appreciated the fans’ energy. Baylor called two timeouts on its opening drive, which may have been caused by the crowd’s volume.
Goodwin thought Friday’s tailgating atmosphere was similar to that of tailgates for Buffalo Bills’ games at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Haring said “there was definitely a lot of alcohol consumption” in the parking lots.
“You come over here, hang out, see all your fellow students, play a lot of drinking games, with a lot of free food and liquor. This is it,” said senior occupational therapy and biology major Chad Davenport.
Students and ticket holders brought their own alcohol and food to the tailgates. UB does not serve alcohol to the general public in or outside of the stadium.
Davenport tailgated at the Party at the Point event inside the Lake LaSalle parking lot, where DJ Anthony, a local radio personality, performed.
Sophomore biomedical science major Colin Miller described the LaSalle parking lot tailgate as “wild” and he believes students came for more reasons than just the game on the field.
“This isn’t about football,” Miller said. “This is an excuse to party and have fun with your friends. This is why I go to college.”
White said he did not make any changes to the football game day in 2012, his first year in Buffalo, so he could “observe it all.” He created the Tailgate Concert Series, a free series of performances held two hours before home game kickoffs, in 2013.
The series had an immediate impact, as the Bulls’ total paid attendance of 136,428 last season was highest in the Mid-American Conference and was a school record. UB Athletics estimates 8,000 people attended Nichols’ Tailgate Concert Series performance in Stampede Square Friday.
“Everything we’ve been doing with our pregame concerts and the tailgating and the Baird Point [event], it’s all focused on building that vibrant atmosphere,” White said.
White’s goal is for UB’s game day experience to rival that of larger programs. He thought Friday’s game was a “step in the right direction.”
“We’re very young as an athletic department compared to other places that have been doing this for decades,” White said. “I thought [Friday] was a positive sign. The community, the student body, really responded in a pretty bold way.”
Haring thought Friday’s game day experience was comparable to that of larger schools with well-known football teams.
“I think it was more big-time than it has ever been before,” Haring said.
Goodwin thinks it is “awesome” that White and students are collaborating to “push the college over the hump to get to the point where it’s getting some recognition.” He believes UB’s game day experience will help the Bulls get recognition comparable with Buffalo’s major league sports teams.
The Bulls trailed 35-0 in the second quarter, which promoted many fans to leave the game early. Haring said the result of the game “dampened the mood [of the crowd] a bit,” but he believes fans still had an enjoyable experience.
“The result obviously wasn’t great, but I think the impact of the game goes far beyond just the final score,” Haring said. “I think it shows students you can go games and have a great time.”
White said Buffalo has sold more presale tickets for the Bulls’ Sept. 27 game against Miami Ohio than it did for Friday’s game. UB Athletics has “has every intention of having a vibrant atmosphere for the rest of the season,” White added.
UB Athletics is talking about ways to transform the fan experience around basketball games in Alumni Arena, too, White said.
“It’s only going to happen if the student body is supportive,” White said.