Arizona Stadium has never really been a place the Wildcats could expect an average of at least 50,000 in the seats for every home game in a season, except for, oddly enough, when Mike Stoops was coach.
In his tenure from 2004-11, Stoops’ team averaged at least 50,000 fans a game at Arizona Stadium for seven years until his last team drew only 48,953 a game. Only nine other times since Arizona joined the Pac-10/12 in 1978 have the Wildcats drawn at least 50,000 a game. So, 16 times in this 41-year era has Arizona averaged at least 50,000 fans a game and seven of those years belong to Stoops.
Six of the last eight years an average in the 40,000’s has attended games at Arizona Stadium, including only 42,632 in Rich Rodriguez’s last season in 2017 — the lowest mark in 20 years.
Kevin Sumlin’s first team last year drew 45,435 a game in seven home games. That is the lowest average for a first-year coach at Arizona since Tony Mason’s team in 1977 drew only 41,730 a game
How can you have a decided home field advantage if you have an abundance of empty seats? That leads to what a fan is looking forward to the most in 2019:
Crowds that bring the noise every single game. — Steve Fanning
Arizona is trying all it can to draw fans with its “Back the A” campaign but what will bring people back is winning and a physical style of play with an entertaining offense. Stoops’ teams did not always win but they were known for defense with his background as a defensive coordinator at Oklahoma and the Wildcats’ had the “Air Raid” offense that featured some of the more prolific quarterbacks in Arizona history with Nick Foles, Willie Tuitama and Matt Scott.
Similar to how it couldn’t sustain success after the 1994 Fiesta Bowl and 1998 Holiday Bowl appearances, Arizona has failed to keep promising attendance figures robust.
In 1994, for example, Arizona rode the success of the Desert Swarm era and averaged a record 56,562 fans a game. Only three years later, the Wildcats averaged a mere 40,538 — the lowest figure since Arizona Stadium expanded with the upper-tier seating on the eastside in 1976.
Arizona drew less than 40,000 fans in 1997 for games against UAB, San Diego State, Oregon State and Cal. Not the most exciting foursome to watch, but schools with tradition don’t rely on who they play for attendance. At schools such as Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State, it’s a happening.
“From Day One this Fall Camp, we have been talking about being consistent: ‘Prove it to your teammates. Prove it to your coaches. Here’s what we’re going to get from you, not just today, but who are the guys who will bring this kind of consistency to this football team everyday? … A lot of you guys are used to be the best guy on the field or on the team. Once you cross those white lines on Saturday, with major college football, there’s a bunch of you guys out there. What’s going to be the difference?'” — Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin at today’s press conference
By the numbers
Only five seniors are listed as starters on the depth chart released by Arizona today — quarterback Khalil Tate, wide receiver Cedric Peterson, right guard Cody Creason, defensive back Tristan Cooper and cornerback Jace Whittaker. If Arizona stays healthy and most of its freshmen, sophomores and junior stay intact, the Wildcats could challenge for the Pac-12 South title next season. The third season of Sumlin’s tenure next year will also include a majority of his own players for the first time.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.