Too many UB students are fair-weather Bulls fans

Lackluster game attendance can be prevented by greater student loyalty, improved athletic performances Ð and alcohol sales

When a tailgate is so massive and fans are so enthusiastic (read: intoxicated) that the University Police realizes its patrol isn’t sufficient, it’s fair to say the event can be deemed a success.

An estimated 5,000 students attended the Party at the Point tailgate preceding UB’s matchup with No. 8 Baylor on Sept. 12, generating the highest student turnout ever. The police plan to increase presence at future tailgates after responding to 21 calls ranging from reports of disorderly conduct to public urination. But there were no “major incidents,” according to Police Chief Gerald Schoenle.

So, despite an admittedly understaffed police force and an underprepared location (UB Athletics plans to supply additional trash cans and Porta Potties from now on), UB pulled off its most accomplished and raucous tailgate so far.

And yet, a week later, after Baylor demolished UB 63-21 and the team faced the little-known Norfolk State, a far less enticing opponent without the brand-recognition or reputation of Baylor, the student turn out was, to be frank, pathetic, as attendance petered out to a meager 3,100 students – less than half of the Baylor game.

Sure, Norfolk State isn’t a top-10 football team like Baylor, and no, this game wasn’t featured on ESPN, but we shouldn’t be going to football games to watch the other team or make it on TV for a split second – we should be supporting our team, whether it’s victorious or not.

And had students bothered to attend the Norfolk State game, they could have watched the Bulls win. They could have watched their team put on a performance that merited an almost straight-A ranking from The Spectrum’s sports desk, rather than the swath of C’s, D’s and F’s that the Bulls earned against Baylor.

Too many students are fair-weather fans, showing up only when the team is facing an especially exciting opponent or when it’s doing well. Over the past few years, student attendance at games has been on the rise. In the 2011 and 2012 seasons, when the Bulls had only three and four wins respectively, less than 10,000 students showed up over the course of each season in its entirety. Last year, as Buffalo introduced the Tailgate Concert Series and the Bulls improved to 8-5, student attendance skyrocketed to more than 28,000.

Currently, the team is only four games – three of which were home – into the season and student attendance is already more than 14,000. Though this is due largely to the Baylor game, it’s a promising trend and one the student body should maintain.

UB may not be known as a football school like other Division I teams, but it’s up to the student body to change this reputation. They only deny themselves the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of attending their school’s football games as a student. The tailgate for the Baylor game and the turnout in the stadium made it clear UB students know how to have a good time and support their team, and that doesn’t need to be dependent on the Bulls’ opponent; it’s up to the fans entirely.

Maybe “entirely” isn’t a fair assessment. After all, UB Athletics could do more to encourage attendance.

Ideally, students would root for the Bulls no matter how many wins or losses they accrue. But even the Ralph empties out once the Bills forget how to win games – when the temperature drops below freezing and the team isn’t scoring touchdowns, expecting students to show up en masse simply isn’t realistic. We’ve got a beautiful, million-dollar field and a team that’s beginning to find its identity. Now, as conference play begins, it’s time for the Bulls to earn their fans’ support.

UB has made that all the easier for the Bulls, by allowing students to drink their hearts (or livers) out at tailgates. Students will consume alcohol either way, so funneling them toward the stadium to do so is a smart strategy to increase attendance.

But fans shouldn’t need to elevate their BAC to enjoy a game – the thrill of a back-and-forth shootout or the surge of adrenaline after a perfect end-zone reception provides the same rush as a shot-gunned beer.

But, of course, why not both?

It’s time for UB to join schools across the nation and start selling alcohol at games. Twenty-one on-campus stadiums currently offer alcohol to of-age fans, a number that has doubled in the past five years.

Other schools have seen the wisdom in letting their fans get a little bit tipsy at games – hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue, increased attendance and an improved fan experience. Many schools impose safeguards to avoid underage drinking and highly intoxicated fans, requiring wristbands for students who are over 21, limiting purchases to two beers at a time and cutting off sales after halftime.

These schools have done the work for us, figuring out appropriate restrictions and demonstrating the effectiveness of the strategy. Now it’s time for UB to get on board and for students to join them.

The Bulls deserve to have the support of their fans, and those fans deserve to watch a team that they can believe in. And if students (of drinking age) can have a beer in their hand as they cheer on the Bulls – win or lose, that’s a win-win.