By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The biggest surprise about Iowa’s game against Kent State this past Saturday wasn’t that Kent State was on the verge of scoring a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter quarter before fumbling in the end zone.
The biggest surprise was the announced attendance of 61,932 at Kinnick Stadium.
It had been made known that tickets still were available for the Kent State game, so a sellout wasn’t expected.
But neither were nearly 8,000 empty seats, and they were impossible miss, no matter if you watched Iowa’s 30-7 victory over the Golden Flashes from the stadium, or on television.
At least, I was surprised by the number of empty seats.
I just figured with Iowa ranked fifth in the Associated Press poll and coming off an impressive 27-17 win at then ninth-ranked Iowa State that the attendance would be higher.
Kent State is hardly a must-see opponent, but Iowa only plays seven home games with Colorado State up next at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.
And remember, beer is now being sold throughout the stadium for the first time.
Colorado State also leaves much to be desired from a fan interest standpoint, so it’ll be interesting to see how many show up for the game.
I’m certainly not judging fans, or criticizing them for not attending the Kent State game, because these are unusual circumstances with the global pandemic still raging.
Football tickets also aren’t cheap, and raising a family creates another obstacle.
I just wasn’t expecting that many empty seats, and maybe that just means I’m naïve.
Because even mighty Ohio State had empty seats for its game against Tulsa this past Saturday, lots of them as the announced attendance was only 76,540 in a stadium that holds 102,780.
It was Ohio State’s smallest home attendance since 1971.
In no way am I suggesting that sagging attendance is a problem that Iowa now faces because that would be getting carried away.
Iowa’s game against Penn State on Oct. 9 at Kinnick Stadium is sold out, and the stadium will be close to full, I assume, for most of the Big Ten games, especially if Iowa keeps winning.
But when a stadium is used to being close to full, nearly 8,000 empty seats stick out because you rarely see that many.
Perhaps I’m guilty of assuming that fan support would be even stronger this season since hardly any fans were allowed to attend games last season due to the global pandemic.
Iowa football has had success and stability for the past four decades, and fan support has been critical to that success.
Kinnick Stadium on game day is one of the most hostile environments in the Big Ten due largely to how close the fans are to the field, and because the stadium is usually close to being full.
Iowa has a 56-21 record since the start of the 2015 season, giving fans reason to be in the stands on game day.
An Iowa football game is often described as being an event more than just a game. And while maybe so, winning still matters.
It’s easy to take fans in the stands for granted, but a lot goes into attending an Iowa game, from a time, money and commitment standpoint.
The rare sight of empty seats at Kinnick Stadium makes you appreciate even more Iowa’s long-standing success on the field, and the loyalty of fans.
But it also makes you more aware that fans don’t just automatically show up.