The Iowa Hawkeyes had a football practice in West Des Moines this past Sunday and over 8,000 fans showed up. The sun was not shining and the skies were threatening rain in the hours leading up to the practice and it was raining before it was over. Had it been a sunny day, there might have been more than 10,000 people there.
While that’s not as many people that will show up for the Alabama spring game or a few others, it’s a pretty good showing for the ninth practice of spring football 90 minutes away from campus on a rainy, dreary April day following a 4-8 season.
I thought about that in the days leading up to the practice, when HyVee went through thousands of tickets in a matter of days. Things just weren’t adding up.
I spend most of my ‘fan association’ with folks on the message boards, phone callers on the radio and on via social media on platforms like twitter and facebook. If I allowed my opinion of fan sentiments to be formed solely from those corners of the world, I’d believe that every Iowa fan wanted Kirk Ferentz fired, that people were fed up with things following a 4-8 season and that they weren’t planning to go to any games this year.
Then 8,000 people showed up for a football practice for a team who will be picked to finish near or at the bottom of their own division in the Big Ten and might be rated 11th or 12th in the league in a pure Power Poll set up.
Do I believe a level of apathy has set in for some portions of the fanbase? Yes, I do. Do I believe those people are likely going to be season ticket holders or new buyers? By and large, no I do not. I think some people will not be renewing tickets this year and some folks who were considering a purchase may not do soe for apathetic reasons.
But for the most part, I think most people who bought season tickets last year will buy them again this year. I would suspect renewals will be no less than 75 percent and perhaps much higher than that. There will be a few sellouts this year and for the games that are not sold out, there will probably be 67k or more people in Kinnick.
Ferentz kicked off this spring’s I-Club tour in Mason City one day ago. He said a few things to The Register, including a message he gave to his team following that practice on Sunday in West Des Moines where over 8,000 people showed up. “I just wanted to explain to them that people don’t have to come to our games, and they’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember,” Ferentz said.
Yes they have, yes they have. Iowa fans are among the best in that department in the sport. Sure, there are other outposts where more people show up to games but those places typically have a lot more people living in those states, or within an hour or so of campus and are the only major college football team in their state. Typically, I wrote; I realize that will not be the case in all examples.
Last year, during a dismal 4-8 campaign, Iowa averaged 99.84 percent of capacity in their per game attendance average. That was 22nd in the nation and all but one of the 21 teams ahead of Iowa in that regard won more games than Iowa won. South Florida was the exception, but they play in a pro stadium that is dialed down to show ‘sellouts’ as being around 44,000.
Iowa also rated 21st in average attendance per game and ever team ranked higher than Iowa saw their team win more games than Iowa did last year and Iowa had a better percentage of capacity than eight of those teams ranked ahead of them.
No, Iowa isn’t going to win any trophies for this and nothing will be coming in the mail for the fans other than a season ticket renewal form. Yet it’s hard for me to totally swallow the sentiments of negativity that I am surrounded by on this website, on twitter or talk radio.
I’ve been operating in the talk and web world for over a decade. I’ve written and said this before and it’s just as true today as it was then; callers to shows and people who choose to post on message boards make up a very, very small portion of the fanbase. There are months during football season where more than 100,000 people from over 100 countries around the world visit HawkeyeNation.com yet maybe 2,000 of those people will make at least one post and less than 500 of those people will make more than 10 posts in that month. The overwhelming majority of visitors to sites like this do not post, they only read.
The same applies to call in shows. I’ve been told that more than 100,000 people listen to ‘Soundoff’ on 1040 WHO on Saturday’s following Iowa home games. I’ve been a part of those shows every year since 2004 and I would venture to say that 50 percent of the callers in a given year are the same people calling in each week. We probably take around 40 calls in a three-hour program and many of them come from the same folks; Jim in Cedar Falls will oftentimes lead off Soundofff with the same opinion he had just given 15 minutes prior on the Learfield postgame show (and I love ya, Jim!). Tommy will typically call in at some point in time, etc. I can predict the names of at least half the callers who will call in and in many cases could tell you which ones will be negative or positive.
I spoke with several media members at practice on Saturday and during the chit chat, we talked about this coming year’s record. Many were seeing 6-6 as the absolutely best case scenario and most were thinking along the lines of 4-8 or 5-7. I’d be among them as well, as 5-7 seems most likely to me at this point in time. I’m certainly not overly optimistic about this team’s chance to do anything better than 6-6 and I have tended to be an optimist during my years in Hawkeye Nation.
That doesn’t mean I won’t be watching the games or won’t be looking forward to the start of football season. I may look forward to its end a little earlier than I would like, such as was the case last year, but I don’t want to spend the next five months stewing on that opinion.
This team will likely be better or even in most of its position groupings this year than it was last year. The quarterback situation is a big time concern but I think there is more talent on the defensive line, the linebacker play will be better and I think there is more overall talent ready to contribute this year in the secondary than there was a year ago. The offensive line should be just as solid as it was up to the PSU game (before the injuries) and the running back position, at least right now, is more stable than it was a year ago. The tight end group is better. Special teams will be better, but quarterback and receiver are certainly areas of concern.
The schedule is Iowa’s biggest adversary this year; gone are Indiana and Penn State and in come Ohio State and Wisconsin. Iowa is at Iowa State. They are also at Nebraska and play Michigan. It wasn’t that Iowa went 4-8 last year, it was that they went 4-8 with ‘that’ schedule, one of the weakest in decades.
I understand the pessimism, as I share some of it. Yet when you read the hand wringing threads, or hear those phone calls or read those tweets from people saying ‘I’m done, I’m not going to games, I’m not giving another dime to this athletic department’, my guess is a lot of those folks weren’t season ticket holders to begin with.
8,000 people showed up for a rainy football practice in West Des Moines on Sunday for a team who went 4-8 last year. Over 700 will show up next Tuesday in Clive when Kirk Ferentz speaks at the Polk County I-Club Spring function. People aren’t expecting a run for the Roses this year, but I don’t think the majority of the fanbase is ready to write it off just yet, either.