The New Mexico football program has pulled a 180 since hiring a new head coach five seasons ago. But despite putting a winning product on the field, attendance has inexplicably continued a downward trend.
Head coach Bob Davie has the team reaching new heights after he took over a program that appeared to be in shambles, winning just three games in as many seasons before he took the helm.
New Mexico (8-4) has a chance to triple that amount this season alone if it is victorious over Texas-San Antonio (6-6) in Saturday’s Gildan New Mexico Bowl.
But the “if you build it, they will come” mantra from the popular movie “Field of Dreams” appears to be nothing more than just a movie tagline in Albuquerque.
Multiple reports earlier this year revealed a budget shortfall of approximately $1.5 million in the UNM Athletic Department’s budget, much of which was due to a shortage in ticket sales.
Several readers have expressed dissatisfaction this semester with the perceived high price tag of the football coach, questioning how someone in his position could justify such a high salary.
The answer — he helped put the team in position to generate $1.5 million in the team’s final three regular season games alone. The profit comes in the form of television revenue when ESPN would televise Lobo football games.
And that doesn’t include the revenue generated from the team’s game earlier in the season against Rutgers or the payout from the upcoming bowl game.
One could argue that the results Davie has generated validate his value to the University of New Mexico from a cost-benefit perspective.
New Mexico pounded Wyoming in the season finale 56-38 to earn Mountain Division co-champion honors, but there wasn’t a ton of fans there to see the feat — in fact, the 16,698 announced attendance was the smallest crowd at University Stadium this season.
Even though no school in the Mountain West had a better conference record, no team had worse attendance either.
Some might argue the reduced attendance is due to a struggling economy that leaves no additional money for entertainment, but that doesn’t appear true as other schools have no problem filling its stands.
Additionally, package deals were available at the beginning of the season — some offering tickets for less than $6 per person.
According to NCAA.org statistics, the Lobos only filled its stadium to 47.7 percent capacity. Out of 129 FBS schools, only 11 have worse attendance figures nationally.
In conference, Hawaii (6-7) and UNLV (4-8) were the only others to sellout less than 50 percent of its venue.
Even Fresno State, which lost all eight games in conference and mustered just one win this season, filled over 62 percent of its stadium with an average of nearly 25,500 fans.
Coincidentally, New Mexico State is third-worst among FBS schools with a 9,545 average attendance and dead last with less than 35 percent of its seats being occupied.
Regular season attendance at University Stadium dropped over 17 percent to a sparse 18,708.
Perhaps Lobo fans got turned off by the team’s lackluster 1-2 start, but it still doesn’t seem to make sense considering what the team accomplished the rest of the season.
The team ranks in top 25 (21st) in the nation in scoring at nearly 38 points per game and boasts the nation’s No. 1 rushing offense, helping UNM garner just its second division title in school history.
Davie acknowledged after the Wyoming win, that the team still has to find a way to catch up to Colorado State and Boise State, both of which beat New Mexico convincingly.
Those schools weren’t just better on the field; they were also significantly superior in terms of fan support. Colorado State fills up nearly 85 percent of its stadium seating on average, while Boise State is at over 94 percent capacity in its home games.
That kind of enthusiasm can help generate even more money, which could also positively impact other sports at the University.
New Mexico has tried to lure in fans this season by revamping its concessions, offering free fan giveaways and introducing alcohol sales. It even opened up the field to the public after the game in an effort to give fans a better game day experience, to no avail.
With no professional sports teams, it seems odd that Albuquerque and the metro area don’t turn out in better numbers, especially for a local product that many have a direct connection to.
The city has experienced several semi-professional teams leave the Land of Enchantment in part due to its lackluster support, which greatly reduces its likelihood of getting future professional teams.
The fans that do show up deserve a lot of credit as they likely supported the team even when it was down, but it still seems like the team has earned the right to expect more. Is it too much to ask the community to show student-athletes who proudly represent the name on the front of their jerseys that it cares?
If so, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise when coaches start to jump ship to pursue vacancies in places where it is not.
Lobo fans have one final opportunity to show support for the team this season, particularly to the seniors that helped pull the program out of the shadows and into relevance, and they might be answering the call.
That, or there may be more Texas-San Antonio fans that are making the trip than expected — which could also be the case.
Despite the Roadrunners being in existence for just six seasons and earning its first-ever bowl berth, the team’s average attendance easily outdistanced UNM’s at over 23,000 strong.
Jeff Siembieda, executive director of the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, said there appears to be a lot of excitement surrounding Saturday’s game.
Prior to receiving Tuesday’s ticket sale information, Siembieda said over 28,000 tickets are "out," which doesn't necessarily mean they have been sold.
He said he believed things were going well and there is a lot of excitement leading into the game from both fan bases.
In last year’s Gildan New Mexico Bowl, 30,289 fans showed up to see Arizona defeat New Mexico, 45-37.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers football and men’s and women’s tennis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @robert_maler.