Here’s what ESPN’s Sage Steele tweeted about IU fans leaving Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall early Tuesday night:
..And now I’m seeing how many fans have left..what?! A struggling team on the verge of a big, much-needed win, in double OT..what’s going on at Assembly Hall?! I don’t care how much we’ve been struggling, you NEVER. LEAVE. EARLY. C’mon @IndianaMBB fans. We’re better than that. https://t.co/HSf9J7mSFk
— Sage Steele (@sagesteele) February 27, 2019
A few things to know about the game:
- 9p start time because of ESPN scheduling.
- Game went two OTs and lasted until almost Midnight.
- Pace was marred by endless replay reviews.
- Many fans come from Indianapolis – an hour away.
- Indiana had lost 12 of 13 before that game.
I understand Sage’s concern. Riding out a game this thrilling should be a moral imperative for IU fans. Many of us come from a time when IU games were must see TV around which schedules were built.
To go to a game at Assembly Hall was a gift not to be disrespected with an early departure. Watching IU play with passion among 17,000+ like-minded zealots was a bucket list item.
Then Indiana became (mostly) mediocre, the pace of games was stunted by replay reviews, and start times were dictated by networks determined to maximize exposure and revenue.
Games were no longer geared toward in-arena fan satisfaction. They evolved into a TV show presented in spite of fans who choose to attend – not for them.
Conferences want money, schools want money, and networks want money.
The same thing has happened with football. As TV networks have determined how to pace the TV broadcast of a football game and when to start it to maximize revenue, fans have shown up up in fewer numbers, and they don’t stay as long.
Football games used to take three hours. That still seems to be the right amount a time to remain anchored to a bleacher seat, so that is how long fans remain. After three hours, people head back to the car to reboot the tailgate or head to campus bars. Chastising fans for leaving is the worst way to correct the problem. The best is to listen to them, and correct the issues that lead to their exodus.
Basketball games used to begin at 7p-ish, and lasted a max of two hours. To expect people to destroy Wednesday productivity for a little more Tuesday night basketball is ridiculous. Even Indiana Basketball isn’t that important.
Sage is one of the nicest people in sports media and a great Hoosier, but admonishing fans who have been awake for 16 hours, worked a full day, and have an hour drive ahead of them for leaving a basketball game that would last 2:55 is just silly – especially when her employer is partially culpable for the scheduling.
Tickets provide fans a choice to attend and stay; they do not command our rigid attendance.
As the NCAA, conferences, and schools continue to allow TV networks to prioritize revenue generation beyond the needs of the in-arena fan, fans will continue to respond by living lives on their schedule – not the network’s.
If Sage is unhappy with empty Assembly Hall seats at 11:39p, she should wander down the hall in Bristol and complain to her bosses. They’re responsible for her discontent.
Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-7p, and writes about Indiana sports at kentsterling.com.