The athletics department was unable to keep students after halftime in Richmond football's blowout win over the Virginia Military Institute, despite a new campaign aimed at increasing attendance.
With minutes left on the clock and the Spiders holding a commanding lead, the Richmond student section looked similar to that of a game noted for low attendance four years ago. Despite several game-day enhancements planned for the 2015 season aimed to keep students through the whole game, the swarm of students who filled the stands in the first half dramatically weakened.
Richmond led 21-10 at halftime, and went on to win 42-10.
These “fan experience improvements” included a new tailgating location and the ability for students to swipe their student IDs for stadium entry and food purchasing at the concession stands. A skydiver landed on midfield to open the game, and cheerleaders were moved in front of the student section to launch prizes into the stands.
Christina Gunter, the athletic director of marketing and sales, said it is going to take time to keep students from leaving games early. “It’s a process, and I think that’s going to take a few years--a few games, at least--to get them there,” she said.
About 1,200 students used their Spider Cards to swipe into the game, Gunter said. "We were thrilled. It was a sold out crowd with a packed student section,” she said.
One of the visible successes, though, came before the game at the students' tailgate. Attendance was high and included students from a wide range of campus groups.
Student athletes, members of Greek life, and international students were all well represented at the event, Luis Davila, Richmond College Student Government Association vice president, said. He predicted that if various groups across campus continued to be involved, tailgating could become a regular occurrence.
Despite the lack of attendance late in the game, the student section was crowded early in the game, which head coach Danny Rocco noted. "Robins Stadium was more energetic and electrifying than any game day atmosphere I have experienced since becoming Head Coach of your Richmond Spiders," Rocco wrote in an email to students.
After the wave of excitement during the first half passed, though, the fading level of participation was evident outside of the student section. VMI cadet Kristopher Richardson noticed this halftime trend while visiting Richmond for the game.
“It was actually impressive at the beginning until I realized that everyone was just on their phones,” Richardson said. “Then halftime hit and everyone dipped.”
Students suggested that free food, bigger speakers and a more exciting student section would have encouraged them to stay in the stands.
“We need some speakers over here so we can hear what’s going on,” junior Ryan Connors said.
Another fan, junior Campbell Heese, said: “I’m pretty hungry. I think we could use some food up here.”
Many of these complaints were listed verbatim in the Richmond Athletics newsletter’s announcement of improvements made to this year’s football games. The announcement promised “4th quarter food and prizes,” “enhanced sound in the student section,” and a “more intimidating atmosphere” in the student section.
While some fans were aware of the new measures taken by the school to increase attendance, at least one student was not satisfied by the overall school spirit in the stands.
“You know, it just wasn’t rowdy enough for me,” Junior Benji Mavroudis said. “I was expecting a much, much crazier atmosphere.”
The Spiders will host the University of Maine Black Bears Saturday during family weekend.
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