Iowa calls on students to revive Kinnick

BY KYLE MANN | JULY 29, 2014 5:00 AM

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Kinnick Stadium has been traditionally regarded as one of the more difficult places to play on the road. However, as recent on-field success has fallen into a bit of a lull, the Hawkeyes find themselves with a bit of a dip in attendance as well, and many are calling on students to bring life back into the once-feared cathedral of Iowa football.

Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta told reporters last week that only four short years ago, the ticket office sold out of tickets for every game as early as July. This came after a 10-2 season in 2009 and a 2010 Orange Bowl victory over Georgia Tech. The Hawkeyes finished the 2009 season ranked No. 7 in the nation, and Kinnick was buzzing with enthusiasm for each game of the following season.

2014 Iowa graduate Joby Frey experienced those days and remembers the game-day atmosphere fondly. Even after a game during his freshman year in 2010 in which Iowa, ranked No. 13, lost to No. 10 Wisconsin and brought fans to tears in the stands, Frey recalls that the faithful Hawkeye fan base was back in full force the following week.

“The next game was against No. 5 Michigan State at home, and we blew them away,” Frey said. “I remember we had a pick-6, and we literally dog-piled in the stands. It was nuts. We thought we were going to win the Big Ten.”

That sort of excitement and intensity going on in the stands is exactly what made Kinnick a dreaded place to play, and opposing players took notice. The fans of the Black and Gold were precisely what they remember.

At Big Ten media day on Monday, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner said that Iowa City is still the toughest venue to play at in the conference because “fans are close enough to touch you.”

The only problem now is that there’s been a lack of fans to fill the stadium, and that issue looms large in Barta’s mind this summer — particularly regarding students.

“Our student season-ticket sales are down,” he said. “And it’s a continuation from last year.”

The Hawkeyes were 4-8 in 2012, the worst program finish since 2000, and that performance was reflected in ticket sales.

“We clearly lost some momentum a couple years ago when we went 4-8,” Barta said. “We started to lose some momentum in our student section and among our fan base. Like in sport, when you lose momentum, it can be hard to get it back, so I think that’s the phase we’re at.”

The die-hards have remained loyal and supportive, but there is a growing number of students who have become uninterested in recent years, and those are who Barta and the Hawkeyes need to come back.

“We have historically held 10,000 tickets for our students, and up until last year, we sold those out every year,” Barta said. “Last year, we sold 7,300 student tickets.”

Frey offers a disheartening explanation for his peers’ absence.

“I knew a lot of people who would rather sleep in and watch the game at home or go to the bar. I still went, but it wasn’t as fun,” Frey said. “There just doesn’t seem to be the same ‘hype.’ Everyone used to get season tickets; you had to rush to order them.”

With nearly 3,000 seats left unclaimed and even more still remaining this summer, the Athletics Department is giving the students an ultimatum. There is an Aug. 1 deadline for students to renew their season tickets, or the seats will be opened to the public.

Frey hopes that the fans turn out, and with confidence following the team’s 8-4 finish in 2013, believes the issue is close to resolving itself.

“The Kinnick experience is one of the main reasons I chose to go to Iowa,” Frey said. “If the team is winning games, it makes the experience all the more exciting. Winning always seems to fix things like this.”

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