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The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Why are NIU stadium seats so empty?

Nyla Owens
NIU cheerleaders perform their opening routine at a home NIU football game on Sept. 9. NIU football averaged 9,198 fans per game during the 2022 season, good for last out of all FBS schools. (Nyla Owens | Northern Star)

DeKALB – Looking out into the stands at NIU sporting events, there is not the sea of black and red that is expected at college sports games. 

Attendance at NIU football games averaged 9,198 people in the 2022 season, which is the second-lowest average attendance for a Division I program,  according to College Football News. The average capacity of the stadium that was filled was 38.98%. 

A glance at the stands does not reflect the relative success NIU sports have enjoyed this season. There have been championship tournament appearances for both men’s and women’s soccer teams, an upcoming bowl game for football and a promising start to the season for men’s basketball.

Men’s basketball games this season, for example, have averaged just 835 people. The team, which plays in the 10,000 seat Convocation Center, has brought in fans to fill only 8.3% of their home venue.

While some teams have done well in 2023, other teams are not as successful. NIU volleyball ended their 2023 season with an 8-22 record and baseball going 10-43 last spring. In its 2022 season, NIU football ended with a 3-9 record.  Hockey has also struggled thus far, with a 1-16-2 record on the season. 

NIU students get free tickets for events, so why aren’t more people going?

Senior psychology major Brian Podkulski said he has higher priorities than sports. 

“It’s just because when I go out, it relates more to student life such as clubs that I am a part of or have leadership roles in,” Podkulski said. “I think some people just don’t like the environment and the atmosphere – it’s not for everyone. It’s crowded, can be claustrophobic, it’s pretty loud, and it takes a long time out of your schedule.”

Some students are just not interested in sports. Angela Nyam-Ochir, a sophomore English and environmental studies major, said she just does not enjoy watching sports. 

“I just don’t like sports in general,” she said. “I don’t really like the more popular sports either. It’s just not my thing.”

Freshman acting major Skylar Thompson also believes there is an element of belonging and understanding that impacts whether students choose to attend.

“I don’t go to sports games here, mainly because I feel out of place as a theater student,” Thompson said. “I know they’re trying to get more mixing between majors going to other events, but I’ve never really understood sports, so I just end up not going. Sports games are full of people who understand something that a lot of others don’t, so I think they would rather stay where they feel most comfortable.”

Even students who do attend the games acknowledged the many reasons they believe students are not going to sports games. 

Alex Maheo, a first-year mathematics major, tied the attendance at games to the success of the teams themselves. 

“I went (to the football games) because it was something fun to do on the weekend,” Maheo said. “I think some people may not go because the teams aren’t doing the best.”

First-year elementary and special education major Jessalyn Belvel  tied the attendance to the distance between dorms and the playing facilities. 

“I think that people wouldn’t go because either they aren’t interested, or the games are too far away from campus – especially as it gets colder,”  Bevel said.

In addition to the distance and interest, time is also a factor. Academics take up a lot of time and are the priority for many students. 

First-year business major Zoe Morrisroe said the times of day when games take place are when students are working on assignments. 

“One of the reasons that I think people aren’t going to sporting events is the timing,” Morrisroe said. “I recently noticed that a lot of the games tend to be later in the day, and I think that people want to prioritize their schoolwork and just don’t have the time to go.”

The Huskie nation, which is meant to be strong and prideful, is looking small, and the pack is having a ruff time finding fans to fill the seats. 

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