— Drawing of Wilbur the Wildcat pouncing on Louie the Lumberjack from last week
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LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski writes that fan apathy here over tomorrow’s game between Arizona and UNLV is so bad that the Rebels are “sending out the monkey and organ grinder” to get the word out.
“Last week, Arizona drubbed the ax-wielders from Flagstaff (NAU) 35-0, something the Rebels could never do, but a dubious Las Vegas ticket-buying public apparently was not impressed,” Kantowski writes. “Interest in the home opener pretty much flatlined after UNLV’s debacle in the Land of 10,000 Special Teams Breakdowns (in a 51-23 loss at Minnesota last week).”
Kantowski goes on to write about two ways Las Vegas locals can get in to UNLV football games and other events on the The Famous Strip for free. UNLV makes an unsold tickets available to FillASeatLasVegas.com and House Seats Las Vegas.
You must pay an annual membership fee in the neighborhood of $90 to get unsold tickets for no additional cost to Las Vegas-area events. I paid $50 each for two tickets to tomorrow’s game for me and my daughter Mackenzie. If I would have known about these agencies before, I would have waited and got in free.
Well, not free because of the annual membership fee. But you know what I mean.
That’s the state of the UNLV football program, 6-33 under Bobby Hauck, who is in his fourth year. Kantowski quotes a UNLV administrator as saying she is fine with the “10 different ways” to attend Rebels games.
So much for selling tickets because of a football team and the excitement around it this time of year.
Last season, UNLV ranked last out of 10 teams in the Mountain West in averaging 15,208 fans per game, or 41 percent of Sam Boyd’s 36,800 capacity. In seven home games, they had a total attendance of 106,456 — which is less than Michigan had for any of its six home dates.
UNLV students can attend games for free, but the program continues to struggle to get them to Sam Boyd Stadium because it’s located off campus. Not even the lure of beer at the games, since the stadium is off campus, is enough for students to want to attend.
Season tickets are reasonably priced at $90 for all seven home games. UNLV also had an online offer for fans to attend two games for only $30. One of those games must be against Arizona or Oct. 12 against Hawaii, two games school officials anticipate will be the best crowds of the season.
Arizona had lean years from 2003-2005 at the end of the John Mackovic failed experiment and beginning of the Mike Stoops regime, but still managed to sell tickets.
The Wildcats were 8-26 in those three years, including 6-14 at Arizona Stadium. The UA averaged 48,640 fans during those 20 games, but nine of those games in Stoops’ first two years featured crowds well above 50,000. The 2005 home opener against NAU drew 55,728.
The most significant difference between Arizona and UNLV is the loyalty of the fan bases. Las Vegas is a transient place with many residents coming and going because life in a casino town is risky financially. It can be fun one day and somber the next. Also, Las Vegas presents many entertainment choices.
Tucson is a college town without a myriad of entertainment options. The UA has generations of fans who have persevered through many years without a Rose Bowl appearance. They come back for more with the hopes of finally making it to the promised land.
Former Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood, who spent 15 mostly productive years at Arizona keeping the Wildcats’ $43 million operation in the black, took on the daunting task of bringing back the UNLV football program from the dead.
Less than four years after his hire in December 2009, Livengood was gone over reported rifts with the UNLV administration. Yes, he hired Hauck, but he also brainstormed to produce money for the UNLV athletic program. A marketing guru, Livengood developed a plan during the spring to play tomorrow’s game at Glendale’s University of Phoenix Stadium. A $1 million payday to play there is a needed shot in the arm for the Rebels’ athletic department.
His idea never came to fruition in part because of a lack of support from the UNLV brass.
That begs the question: Is the UNLV football program worth the hassle?
The Rebels are hungry for success — “We expect to win this week,” defensive end Jordan Sparkman told the RJ — but is the community?
As Kantowski suggests, more local interest might be in Mike Hammer’s Comedy Magic Show at the Four Queens.
WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.