Where are the UW fans? Opener crowd likely worst in 5 years
UW officials aren't worried for 55,000 expected for Eastern Washington game Saturday, blame it on several factors.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Eastern Washington @ UW, 4 p.m., ROOT
Latest from the Husky Football & Basketball blogs
The Washington Huskies open the 2011 season Saturday with as much optimism as they've had in years, facing an in-state opponent that is a national champion in its division.
So the fact that UW could have its smallest home crowd in five years when it hosts Eastern Washington might seem disappointing.
Washington officials say they anticipate attendance of about 55,000. The last time UW drew a smaller crowd came in the 2006 season opener when 52,256 attended a 35-29 win over San Jose State.
But Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said he's not troubled by the ticket numbers, especially looking at the big picture.
Woodward said UW has sold about 42,000 season tickets to the general public this year, down slightly from 44,000 a year ago.
The 2010 number, however, was up roughly 3,500 from the 2009 total of 40,600, an uptick Husky officials attributed in large part to the decision of Jake Locker to return for another season.
With Locker gone, and the economy still struggling, Woodward says the numbers are "right where we thought we'd be. Our fans have been resilient and have hung in there. I'm very pleased with where we are as far as season-ticket renewals."
Woodward is pleased that UW has not had a big dropoff at a time many programs "have seen huge double-digit dips" in percentage of season tickets sold.
Washington has been fairly constant. The 2009 total — when UW was coming off an 0-12 season — marked a low point since the stadium was expanded to 72,500 in 1987. Otherwise, UW has had 42,000 to 43,000 season ticket holders every year since 2006.
Washington led the Pac-10 in attendance all but three times from 1987 to 2003, but began to see a dropoff in 2004, when the Huskies fell to 1-10.
Sellouts since then have been rare.
Woodward knows that to get back to the days of perennial sellouts, the Huskies have to also get back to consistent winning.
"No doubt," he said. "We've got to take care of our business on the field as a football team, and winning is a very good antidote, a good potion, for bringing fans back, and I think that will come. They need to see continued and marked improvement."
UW's average ticket price has also increased by 2.5 percent this year. But school officials don't think that has had an impact on sales, saying that increase is consistent with the standard rate nationally.
Washington officials knew the Eastern game wouldn't have the overall fan appeal of some of their nonconference games of recent years, such as Nebraska last season.
But deciding to play a team from the Football Championship Series division — a level below the Football Bowl Series teams like Washington — for the first time was a conscious decision to try to make the schedule more manageable, especially playing nine Pac-12 Conference games.
Woodward said a low attendance Saturday won't cause any regret about deciding to play Eastern.
"I like our schedule," he said. "I like our games."
The lack of tickets bought by Eagles fans has disappointed Woodward. The Cheney school had sold 550 tickets by Wednesday afternoon.
"I thought they would travel much more than that," he said, adding that the Labor Day weekend — historically a time when attendance lags a little — could be a factor.
Washington expects higher attendances for games later in the year, namely a Nov. 5 contest against Oregon that will be the last at Husky Stadium before its renovation.
Woodward, though, said he thinks the longterm prospects for the Huskies are favorable. Early sales for club seats, patio boxes and suites for the renovated Husky Stadium in 2013 are going well. More than 200 of an estimated 2,500 club seats have been sold, as well as about half of the 25 suites and half of the 24 patio boxes.
Ultimately, though, he said the solution to selling out the stadium is simple.
"We need to keep putting a good product on the field so our fans can continually get excited about it," he said.
• Starting tailback Chris Polk, who had arthroscopic knee surgery Aug. 18, took part in Thursday's non-contact practice, often going with the first unit. UW coach Steve Sarkisian said Polk "looked pretty good" but that he wouldn't decide if Polk will play against Eastern until Friday. Backup tailback Johri Fogerson (hip) also practiced and Sarkisian said he should be able to play Saturday, adding depth at that spot.
However, Sarkisian said he has made the decision to play true freshman tailback Bishop Sankey, meaning he will not redshirt this season.
• Cornerback Quinton Richardson, battling a high ankle sprain, did not practice as Sarkisian said they wanted to "get the swelling and soreness out of there." He said he wouldn't rule out that Richardson could play but said that sophomore Greg Ducre will likely start.
• Sarkisian said sophomore defensive tackle Semisi Tokolahi, who suffered a broken and dislocated ankle in the Apple Cup, should be able to get on the field for a few plays Saturday.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
|The bottom 10|
|The 10 lowest-attended UW football games at Husky Stadium since the start of the 2000 season:|
|52,256||Sept. 2, 2006||San Jose State||W, 35-29|
|55,896||Nov. 11, 2006||Stanford||L, 20-3|
|57,012||Sept. 16, 2006||Fresno State||W, 21-20|
|57,013||Nov. 8, 2008||Arizona State||L, 39-19|
|57,775||Sept. 10, 2005||California||L, 56-17|
|58,255||Sept. 23, 2006||UCLA||W, 29-19|
|58,822||Oct. 28, 2006||Arizona State||L, 26-23 (OT)|
|58,980||Sept. 12, 2009||Idaho||W, 42-23|
|59,738||Nov. 15, 2008||UCLA||L, 27-7|
|60,005||Nov. 17, 2007||California||W, 37-23|
Trending on seattletimes.com
Most viewed photo galleries
The Morning Memo
The Morning Memo jump starts your day with weather, traffic and news
Career Center Blog