It’s surprising how much a winning result can turn things around.
It might not seem like much to someone who hasn’t been paying attention, but last year’s 7-4 result for Viking football has put a new glow of optimism around the program. At the same time, though, there’s still a lot of work to be done to rebuild the reputation of football.
The cheer and dance page on goviks.com asks spirit squad applicants to consider that PSU averages over 10,000 fans at Jeld-Wen Field. That isn’t true, at least, not any more. Last year the average attendance at Viking football games was 5,947, with a season high attendance of 9,054 at the Montana State game in early October.
The last time the Vikings actually beat that attendance number was five years ago, when it was still PGE Park. Even then, the average attendance was only 10,082. The Vikings haven’t had a stretch of years with those attendance numbers since the early ’90s, when they solidly blew out the Beavers (the minor league baseball team, that is) at Civic Stadium with crowds of 12,000 to 13,000.
That must have been a sight to see. The numbers for Viking football have trended downward since then, though, down into the nadir of excitement around the program in 2010, when the team went 2-9, ending the season on a savage seven-game losing streak, and bringing the smallest crowds to Jeld-Wen since 1986.
It’s no wonder, then, that the cable television deal signed this year failed to produce fruit for the Vikings program. Despite the media-friendly environment at Jeld-Wen, Root Sports, subsidiary of cable mogul Comcast, only chose one Viking football game to produce and broadcast in 2012, as opposed to the four games Montana and Montana State got.
It’s just a game of numbers, though. The Montana State game last year had by far the highest attendance of any of our home games. And if you were at that game like I was, you’ll know the difference wasn’t all Portland State students hungry to see a winning football team. Where I was sitting, up in Jeld-Wen’s press box, the sound from the Viking Horde section was drowned out by roars from the Montana State visitors section.
The Big Sky state, it turns out, has a thing for Big Sky football. Last year Montana State averaged over 17,000 fans at their home games, and that isn’t even that unusual for the conference. Big Sky teams other than Portland State averaged game-day ticket sales of 16,108 in 2011, so it’s no wonder Viking football isn’t getting the respect it deserves.
The numbers show attendance trends with winning traditions. It isn’t surprising Montana schools have heavy duty attendance, since neither Montana or Montana State has had a losing season in the last decade. Those attendance numbers from 1993 would still put us in the upper tier of Big Sky schools, though. And Portland State is a lot bigger now than it was in 1993.
It’s more than possible for PSU to capture attention and glory in the Big Sky Conference. It isn’t going to be an overnight process, though. It’s natural that people are concerned about attendance figures. The Associated Students of Portland State University, who put more than $3 million into athletics last year, are withholding part of their 2012–13 money until athletics can implement a better system for tracking student attendance at games.
The equation seems pretty simple to me. When the Vikings dominated second-level NCAA football and made the playoffs every year, they put butts in seats. In the last two years, head coach Nigel Burton and his staff have worked a miracle in pulling the football program out of a deep pit. If they can keep winning games, Viking football can fill up Jeld-Wen again. ■