We as fans have lost our way -- mostly the way back to our seats.
There has been a big cultural shift around Wolfpack football from Amato's early years where the fanbase was football-crazy to now where I'm having to write this piece about fan-apathy.
During Chuck's early years, it was all about football all the time. People packed the stadium and we really thought we could win every game. Of course we tailgated and did it big but football was still priority.
There was real genuine excitement. Then Tom O'Brien happened.
TOB's tenure killed that momentum we had growing to be a real football school (and fanbase). The games became social events and tailgating became the priority.
Doeren has re-built this program to a place where we are consistently in the top 4 of the ACC most years and deserves to have the fans in the seats for 4 quarters. We might not have an issue this weekend against Clemson but for NC State to sustain the program we want we have to be better as fans. We have to provide a better environment for all games.
State has to figure out how to get that excitement back and get people back to showing up for the football-first, with the tailgating as a damn fun appetizer and it starts by ending pass-outs.
What's a "pass-out"
I'm amazed how many visiting fans or casual Wolfpack fans don't know what a pass-out is. I don't remember when pass-outs originated but they are the ability for fans to leave the game at halftime, go out to their tailgate and come back in for the 3rd quarter. There are very few schools or stadiums around the country where this is still a practice and NC State is one of them but that should change.
No it isn't the end of the world and what we've outlined below is a way to do it that will keep most people happy. Most, not all.
Before the season, the @PackFootball twitter account released this video and it made me sick. Embarrassing that the players are out here having to beg people to stay or be back in the stadium for the 3rd quarter.
As Pack fans, we should be ashamed. We loved to pound our chest as the best and most loyal fanbase in state but prioritize eating cold food out of our trunk than be in the stadium supporting the team in the 3rd quarter. You get at most, 8 home games a year and you can't be bothered to stay and watch them all? Odd.
I get fans leaving early when we’re up 38-0 on Furman at halftime or down 42-0 to Clemson at halftime. Personally, I like to see the young guys get some PT (I know that's not for everyone), but competitive games during nice weather? There is no excuse, we can do better.
The Players Notice, The Recruits Notice
The video above shows that the players notice these things but worst off, the recruits notice these things.
Dexter Lawerence, the 5-star DT from right in our backyard in Wake Forest, told the coaches the lack of fans in the stadium in the second half was one of the reasons he chose Clemson over the hometown school.
Right there is the reason why Dave Doeren brings it up every year before the season and always mentions it in at least one or two press conferences throughout the year. It matters.
Hell, my man even offered to shotgun a beer on the sidelines if the stadium was full in the 3rd. I'd LOVE to see that.
Now, in my opinion, Dave is speaking to the wrong people. He needs to be pushing the admin to make that happen rather than the fans but I get why he does it especially when a prized recruit tells him it was a reason for him to NOT choose NC State.
Rip the Bandaid Off
There really is no reason to keep allowing pass-outs.
It makes the stadium look bad, teams notice, recruits notice, costs us extra money for logistics, we lose concession revenue, and it a security nightmare.
Overall, it is a legacy behavior that the administration should have had the nuts to end by now. Just rip the bandaid off and deal with whatever blowback comes your way. It might suck in the short-term but in the long run the program and atmosphere (and revenue) will be better for it.
Rumors are there are certain "big money" donors who have threatened to end their contributions if pass-outs are removed and if true that is about as childish of a reaction as possible but there are ways to satisfy that crowd too.
I agree, when parking close to the stadium, it is nice to pop out to your tailgate grab a beer or food and go back in but the large majority of fans don't park close enough to Carter-Finley to make it reasonable, my group included.
We tailgate in Arena West and about half of my tailgate group used to go out to the parking lot and come back in. Inevitably they would miss part of the 3rd quarter but almost always came back in. Slowly, more and more of us have been staying in the stadium and ya know what, no one misses going out to the tailgate.
I know they've tried adding the wolf howl over the speakers to warn you about returning to the stadium but if your not within a pitching wedge of Carter-Finley you can't hear it at all.
It was a good attempt, but it doesn't work.
Don't End Pass-outs, Sell Pass-outs
So while I think ending pass-outs is the way to go, you can satisfy folks by selling a season long pass-out, just like you sell seat back cushions each year with your season tickets. Add a $100 per season per pass-out option.
Now most people won't buy them which is the intended behavior. The hundred dollars is just enough to deter folks like my group that don't park close enough but still take advantage of the pass-out.
But let's say you get 20% of the 57,583 folks buying the $100 pass-out, that is 11,517 pass-outs for a grand total of $1,151,660 dollars in additional revenue. Revenue that can be used to fix the Eastside bathrooms, additional concessions, Carter-Finley lighting or the busted-ass scoreboard and sound system.
Now those numbers might be high as we typically sell around 30,000 season tickets but 30% of season ticket holders buying a $100 pass-out is still $900,000 in additional revenue per season.
I've done a far-too-simple projection for how you can run a 5-year plan to phase them out and generate upwards of $3,000,000 in additional revenue.
And this projection doesn't even factor in additional revenue from more concessions being sold and less cost from a gate security standpoint. There are a lot of fine details not included here but it is a place to start the conversation.
Halftime Happy Hour
Now the initial reaction to this will be harsh from a lot of folks but you could announce a "happy hour" type promotion that offers food and drink specials which eases the pain for folks who don't have a pass-out and in general makes folks happier as stadium prices are already outrageous (but that's for another day).
Maybe Gundy is onto something.
We could introduce various promotions to encourage people to be in their seats at the start of the third. Offer a second half sideline pass contest, a second half seat upgrade or something similar.
Hell, we should have one game a year where every touchdown is a $1 off beer prices. Start it at $8 and anytime we score a TD, knock it down a dollar for halftime sales.
There are some smart folks working in the marketing and athletics departments that can come up with some incentives and promotions (to their credit there have been some) to run along side of ending pass-outs. It will take some effort but it will be worth it in the end.
Carter Finley Needs Some TLC
One of the most common objections to ending pass-outs is the state of the Eastside bathrooms and concessions. Now, there have been some moderate improvements (ie food truck area) this year and I'm sure more are planned but I understand that side of the stadium needs help.
The short-term pain and inconvenience for the folks on that side can be alleviated if the admin prioritizes the Eastside with some of the new revenue generated by selling pass-outs.
It will take some serious communication and the admin will need to provide a clear vision but it can be done. Short term pain for long term gains.
Big Boy Football Does Big Boy Things
NC State fans like to consider ourselves SEC-worthy in comparison to our conference peers but being in Starkville a few weeks ago was eye-opening. The Bulldogs were 4-8 last year and picked to finish at the bottom of the SEC this year but that did not deter the fans.
Thirty-minutes prior to kickoff tailgates started shutting down in unison. It was a chorus of TVs turning off, grills being closed and people gathering their cowbells to head to the stadium.
Twenty minutes before kick-off that place was packed and it was awesome. At halftime, there were some concession lines and their amenities aren't anything special but come the 3rd quarter kick-off the stadium was right back to where it was before halftime.
We can get there too but we need to start changing our behavior.
It isn't just an administration effort that is needed, the fans need to understand the big picture and be willing to do their part as well. We need to be committed to the change that we want to see on and off the field.