Kalani Simpson


By Kalani Simpson

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Look back if you want
to get ahead

WELL, now we are buzzing about price increases and pay-per-view, but that is not the issue.

It's good to see the University of Hawaii looking for new ways to accumulate revenue, but that is not the problem.

Every bit helps, but those are only stopgap measures.

The problem is that people aren't coming, at any price. The problem is that people are watching at home instead of at the game, no matter how much money they pay.

Football attendance is the engine that drives every athletic department.

Increase football attendance by a significant amount, and a lot of problems go away.

Herman Frazier knows that. Evan Dobelle knows that, and June Jones knows it. People on the street know it. Everyone does. What nobody seems to know is why attendance for Hawaii football is so far behind what it once was.

There have been successful seasons, and NFL draft picks, and black uniforms, and plenty of passing, and ESPN. Yet the people somehow aren't as inspired as they were in those glory days in the 1980s.

(Yes, I know. The sportswriters were better in those days.)

But look at the numbers. I hate numbers. I'm not a stat guy. I'd rather talk about players and plays, moments and momentum.

But these numbers tell the story in black and white. This stat is staggering:

UH averaged more than 40,000 fans for 14 consecutive seasons from 1980 through 1993. That includes Dick Tomey averaging 44,880 in a 4-6-2 season in 1985. And 1991, when Bob Wagner pulled in an average of 43,449 despite a 4-7-1 record.

That's astounding, when you think about it.

How many programs, nationally, have kept their stadiums more than 80 percent full for a string of almost a decade and a half?

That's passion.

It wasn't winning that brought them, though the Rainbows were very competitive during that span, and had some great teams.

Jones has done plenty of winning, and has averaged 38,453 at Aloha Stadium over four seasons.

Nor does it seem that a complicated passing offense is key to increasing attendance.

We've seen Dick Tomey's playbook.

And Wagner plunged Heikoti Fakava and Travis Sims into the middle over and over and over again. The people poured in.

Dollars Frazier and Dobelle and Jones would love to have now.

We always talk about what a great football market Hawaii is.

It used to be.

It was something special, the way people packed that stadium on Saturday nights.

And there was TV, for most of that time. There were cars, there was traffic.

There are always excuses.

Now it's news if UH cracks 40,000. These are different times.

And maybe whatever it was in the air that made people go is gone now.

But it happened once. It happened for 14 years. And so maybe last year's numbers aren't the ones UH should be studying.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at

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