Fan Surveys Lead to UTEP Football Start Time Changes for 2019 Season
In recent years, the community has gone around in circles to try and figure out the solution to the attendance problem at UTEP football games in recent years.
Last season we came up with a short answer to the solution: win more games. Obviously, that's easier said than done, as the team enters its second season under Dana Dimel, which should be about a three-year rebuilding process before we see considerable results.
UTEP Athletic Director Jim Senter told us on the program last season that his intentions were to accommodate gamedays for fans across town and mentioned the idea of putting out a fan-oriented survey. Among the questions on the survey executed by UTEP athletics, the topic of football start times were included.
“We had over 1,500 responses to the survey and received some really tremendous feedback on what the fans are looking for from UTEP Football Gameday,” Senter said in a statement. “The survey was extremely comprehensive in nature to cover everything from football game times to ticketing, parking, tailgating, concessions, marketing and promotions, video production and much more. We discussed all of the findings with our Fan Council and received some really positive insight from them as well. We’ll continue to utilize the results of the survey and our Fan Council in working towards bettering the UTEP Football experience for all our fans this fall."
“One of the things that we discovered was that our fans preferred the 6 p.m. start time for the early games in the season, and afternoon kickoffs with the threat of inclement weather in November. After one season experimenting with 5:30 starts, we’re pleased to return to the 6 p.m. kickoff time that was popular with fans and commonplace prior to 2018. We’re looking forward to sharing more new developments to UTEP Football Gameday with our fans in the coming months as we eagerly await the 2019 campaign.” - Jim Senter, UTEP Athletic Director
There are some great nuggets in these quotes. I'm interested to hear what they found in the "ticketing, parking, tailgating, concessions, marketing and promotions" responses. I'm also intrigued in the Fan Council's involvement with these decisions. But those questions are for another day.
Today, UTEP athletics announced that the football home games versus Houston Baptist (Aug. 31), Nevada (Sept. 21), UTSA (Oct. 5) and LA Tech (Oct. 26) will all start at 6 p.m. The two November home games against Charlotte (Nov. 9) and Rice (Nov. 30) will be the two 1 p.m. starts.
On Sportstalk, we have had multiple fans express their displeasure with early start times. El Paso is a working city, even on Saturdays, and 5:30 starts—let alone 1 p.m. kickoffs—were probably too hard to make it for some fans. By adhering to fan's wishes, maybe attendance numbers could be improved.
In the 2018 season, UTEP's lowest attended home game came in an afternoon game (Middle Tennessee) where they sat 9,690 fans at the Sun Bowl. However, they had their third-highest attended game last year on Senior Day against Southern Miss, which was also a 1 p.m. start and drew 14,962 fans.
Here's how UTEP's home attendance broke down last year:
- Northern Arizona (5:30): 17,271
- NMSU (5:30): 19,412
- North Texas (5:30): 12,809
- UAB (5:30): 10,787
- Middle Tennessee (1:00): 9,690
- Southern Miss (1:00): 14,962
When you add it all up, they had just under 85,000 in attendance for UTEP's six home games in 2018.
The argument for more afternoon games is understandable from the gameplay point of view. Teams that the Miners typically face have longer travels than normal since UTEP is the furthest west of any C-USA team. Afternoon starts are probably a lot better on coaches and players. They would then get to travel back home earlier instead of catching a late trip home or having to stay an extra night in El Paso.
Some could argue that afternoon starts favor more television schedules because of the exposure on a national scale. Though, if you're not a UTEP supporter, it's pretty unlikely that you're going to flip on the ESPN+ Miners game no matter the start time.
El Paso fans are pretty simple when it comes to these things—don't fix a wheel when it's not broken. Fans like to come to campus around noon and spend hours tailgating. Other fans have work Saturdays but choose to come afterward. Maybe this year the afternoon games get more attendance and they split it the following year. On the contrary, maybe attendance dwindles again in November and they do away with afternoon games altogether. Who knows.
UTEP athletics did the right thing by accommodating a start time fans can agree to. If this is going to be the second year in what could be a lengthy rebuilding process, UTEP will need all the support they can get. Accommodate the fans, bring butts back to seats and start filling the stands more—that should be the priority of UTEP athletics right now. This is one step in the right direction.