What’s the biggest question for me heading into this weekend's IHSA State Football finals?
How well will DeKalb and Northern Illinois University fare in its first year of hosting the state football finals.
For years all I've heard from fans was that the IHSA state football final games didn't draw more fans for a various number of reasons. Yet the biggest complaint I've heard has been location, location, location.
"Hold the games closer to Chicagoland and I promise that you'll draw more fans."
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So could this be the case? Could the games in DeKalb be the answer to seeing larger crowds in the state football finals? Illinois and Memorial Stadium is a fine host, yet you couldn't ignore the three plus hour drive down I-57 for a large majority of fans. Will the close drive this year be as important as many feel it is?
While I hope their fans are correct and we see huge crowds this weekend at Huskie Stadium, I still have my doubts.
I've always felt that the IHSA state football finals had a lot working against it when it comes to drawing fans. You need a rare combination of good things to happen in order to see a large turnout this weekend.
First of all the timing for holding the state final games is a negative. Thanksgiving weekend is an automatic bad idea, simple as that. Family time is still family time, and many of the casual fans who would be more inclined to hop in the car and go see the games are automatically eliminated here. Many others are out of the area with family and friends, again eliminating even more potential ticket buyers.
Next? The Weather. Get a forecast of cloudy, windy and possible rain/sleet/snow and you've just knocked down the ticket sales in droves. Illinois and Wisconsin are the only upper Midwest states still playing state football final games outdoors. Until this state has one indoor facility that can hold these games, the weather will always keep the ticket sales down.
Other factors? Live television. Ok I know it's the 1,000 gorilla in the room yet I've always believed it's a potential negative factor in drawing fans live. I realize that live TV coverage servers a very important role and I can't see a time when live TV isn't a part of the state football finals. I'm sure organizations like the IHSA is looking at the issue just like the NFL and every other sport where the high definition TV has literally brought at the game quality in our own living rooms.
Another big factor in not drawing fans I've always felt is which teams make the state final games. If you get several first-time teams, or teams with proven fan bases then you'll draw more fans. Get some of the usual suspects who won't go more than say 20 minutes outside of their house (you know who you are) the overall numbers I promise will be down.
I so hope I'm wrong here, because I feel NIU deserves a good draw.
NIU and Huskies football has a lot of positives going on these days. The Huskies are again nationally ranked and look to have a shot at crashing the BCS party again this bowl season. NIU and first year head coach Rod Carey has continued to draw the large majority of his players from Illinois and win with Illinois kids. NIU just opened a brand new indoor facility, something that was needed at NIU for over two decades. The relatively new Yordon Center offers everything prospective recruits are searching for from a facility standpoint.
I'm expecting a slight bump in the overall attendance numbers we've seen at Illinois for the past several years. Since this is the first time at Huskie Stadium, call it a test drive year for the games and that factor alone should bring in some curious fans. The games will also hopefully look better on TV in Huskie Stadium. No offense to Memorial Stadium in Champaign but playing a game in a 70,000 seat stadium with less than 10,000 fans just doesn't look good and curb appeal is everything these days.
Did I mention how much I hope I'm wrong on the state final draw this weekend?
See you in DeKalb.