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Anchor Drop, September 5, 2018: Empty Seats Edition

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Let’s talk about the attendance at Saturday’s season opener.

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning.

On Saturday, Vanderbilt drew 25,348 fans for the season opener against Middle Tennessee, in spite of Middle fans’ attempts to “blue out” Vanderbilt Stadium. That’s the lowest attendance for a home opener for the Commodores since 1981 (per Adam Sparks), which in addition to being the year that Vanderbilt’s attendance numbers are available, also just happens to be the year of the last major renovations to Vanderbilt Stadium. It’s slightly lower than last year’s home opener against Alabama A&M, which drew 25,802 fans.

Let’s talk about this. No, this isn’t about the lack of renovations or Nick Zeppos’ refusal to comment on anything. Attendance is down pretty much everywhere in college football for a whole host of reasons, most notably that it’s easier and often more comfortable to watch the game on TV. There was a time within recent memory that Vanderbilt games frequently weren’t televised at all, and that obviously affected attendance — if you really cared about the game, the only way to watch it was to go to the stadium. With the advent of the SEC Network, that’s no longer an issue.

But let’s point out another thing. Here is a list of Vanderbilt’s opponents for its home openers since 1981, in chronological order: Maryland, Tulane, Maryland, Kansas State, Chattanooga, Tulane, Memphis, Mississippi State, Ohio, LSU, SMU, Duke, Alabama, Wake Forest, Alabama, Notre Dame, North Texas, Ole Miss, Alabama, Miami (Ohio), MTSU, Furman, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Richmond, South Carolina, Western Carolina, Northwestern, Elon, South Carolina, Ole Miss, [REDACTED], Western Kentucky, South Carolina, Alabama A&M, MTSU.

By my count, 22 of the 38 home openers in that span have come against major conference opponents, and 14 have been SEC games. Of COURSE a home opener against Middle is going to draw fewer fans than a home opener against South Carolina or Ole Miss or Alabama.

In any case, the low attendance for the opener is as much a reflection on the overall negativity around the program that’s come about during the offseason. When Vegas is openly predicting that you will go 4-8, and there are no mitigating factors (like, say, a first-year coach) to create excitement around the program... of COURSE fans are going to be depressed and might not want to come to the game. And add to that a rather unappealing opponent — yes, I like beating Middle, but they’re not exactly going to move the needle as much as an SEC game — and that’s a recipe for low attendance. I mean, Woody Widenhofer’s 1999 team was coming off a 2-9 season, but playing Alabama in the home opener probably did a lot to boost attendance, both because of the Bammers in attendance and Vanderbilt fans being more likely to show up for a game against Alabama.

I’m sure some fans are voicing their frustration with the administration by not showing up, which will really show the administration why a new stadium is a good idea. But it’s mostly not wanting to see what a lot of people were expecting to be a trash football team. Now that it’s not, well, let’s see what the attendance looks like this week.

On to happier news, both basketball teams picked up commitments yesterday. Dylan Disu, a 6’8” forward from Pflugerville, Texas, committed to Bryce Drew’s team on Tuesday, while Stephanie White’s team picked up a commitment from Yaubryon Chambers of Providence Christian Academy.

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