NIU Seeks Football Fans

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It is fall and hope springs eternal that Northern Illinois University will have a successful football season and fill the stadium. This is a special year as it is the 100th anniversary of Northern Illinois University (formerly Northern Illinois State Teachers College) playing football, the 50th anniversary of NIU playing Division I collegiate football, and the 45th anniversary of the creation of the current modern NIU Marching Band.

A new season and a new coach can lead to victory. Thomas Hammock will be the 4th head coach in seven years. The hire of Hammock appears to acknowledge the need for change, including hiring a former player as a coach. Hammock is an NIU graduate who spent a couple of seasons at his alma mater coaching (running backs coach in 2005-06) before moving on (four years as Minnesota’s RBs coach, three years as Wisconsin’s RBs coach), then joining the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens. The 37-year-old New Jersey native is returning to this college home for his first head coaching opportunity. He is also the first African-American head coach in NIU football history. 

The 2019 football schedule includes 12 games with only five games at home. It’s no secret that attendance for Northern Illinois University football continues to drop. Even with scheduling interstate rival Illinois State University game on Labor Day weekend (August 31), there is no assurance of a sell out unless IUS brings their alumni and fans. Labor Day weekend is a hard sell for many families as it is the last big weekend for family vacations and get-aways before the fall school season.

NIU Stadium- 2018 Homecoming

There will be no home games in September and only two in October including Homecoming on October 26 which is the next big chance to fill the stadium. The last two games are in November during mid-week which has seen as few as 5,000 fans attending the games in past years. 

In six home football games during the 2017 season at Huskie Stadium, NIU only averaged 11,291 paid fans per game (with only 7,650 actually attending the games), down nearly 10,000 fans from only five years earlier when the Huskie football drew 21,000+ fans (2013). This is a far cry from the required attendance to maintain Division I status. According to the 2017 NIU Football Media Guide the 2004 season home attendance record had an average of 27,052 fans attended every home football game.

NIU Stadium circa 2000

In 2017, NIU purchased 56,345 tickets as part of an NCAA audit, according to a compilation of transactions reported by the Northern Star student newspaper. The NIU athletic ticket office bought back $273,619 worth of football tickets in 2017 to comply with NCAA attendance requirements of 15,000 per game attendance, or risk losing their Division I Football Bowl Series (FBS) status and several corporate sponsorships.

A combination of declining NIU student enrollment, NIU faculty, and staff that don’t live in the DeKalb area, lack of support from the local area, midweek games NIU shows they lack the power to create sellouts at NIU. Head Athletic Director and VP Sean Frazier have stated NIU faces difficulty in drawing crowds due to scheduling within the Mid-American Conference. In an attempt for regional exposure and as part of a contract signed with ESPN in 2014, the MAC continues to schedule conference games on weekdays in primetime. This does not help the local fan base because of both the days and times of the games. 

Playing Utah, Nebraska, and Vanderbilt in 2019 will draw a great TV audience but do little to support the economic base in the DeKalb area. Away games and only 5 home games affect the DeKalb community in lost revenue at hotels, restaurants, bars, and attractions. Winning will help but the university will have to look at the future of sports as related to the cost and the mission of education at NIU.

2019 NIU Huskies Football Schedule

DateOpponentTime-CSTTV
Aug. 31st, Saturdayvs Illinois State6:00 p.m.ESPN+
Sept. 7th, Saturday@ Utah12:00 p.m.PAC12
Sept. 14th, Saturday@ Nebraska7:00 p.m.FS1
Sept. 28th, Saturday@ VanderbiltTBDTBA
Oct. 5th, Saturdayvs Ball StateTBDTBA
Oct. 12th, Saturday@ Ohio University2:30 p.m.TBA
Oct. 19th, Saturday@ Miami University1:30 p.m.TBA
Oct. 26th, Saturdayvs Akron2:30 p.m.TBA
Nov. 2nd, Saturday@ Central MichiganTBDTBA
Nov. 13th, Wednesday@ Toledo7:00 p.m.ESPN2 or ESPNU
Nov. 19th, Tuesdayvs Eastern Michigan6:30 p.m.ESPN2 or ESPNU
Nov. 26th, Tuesdayvs Western Michigan6:00 p.m.ESPNU or ESPN 3/+

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