Don’t blame Riders’ fans who choose to stay home

More often than not when the Riders have had a week off in November, it’s meant their season is over.

That’s not the case this year and it’s led to discussion of a different kind around the province this week. Topics do tend to go down different paths during bye weeks — after all, there isn’t much football to talk about yet. We know the Riders have to be better to win the West Final next week but without knowing who they are going to play, it makes it more difficult to put into context.

So, what’s the topic du jour in Saskatchewan? Attendance. Most notably, the 29,156 that bought tickets to the Riders’ regular season finale. Was there actually that many people there? Probably not, and that’s OK. (As someone who gets to attend games for free from the comfort of the press box, I’ll never blame anyone for not attending a game.)

Some people seemed genuinely surprised that fans weren’t flocking to the gates to watch the Riders secure first place in the West for the first time in a decade. In another era of professional sports, it very likely would have.

These same people must have forgotten that the 2013 West Semi-Final against the Lions was the lowest attended game of the year. Fans staying home late in the season isn’t new.

The world of for-profit sports has changed dramatically over the last few years. If you don’t believe me, check out @emptyseatpics on Twitter.

A new stadium only postponed the inevitable in Regina — attendance at sporting events is dropping everywhere. It was only a matter of time before it started happening here. The good news for the Riders is their drop hasn’t been nearly as dramatic as others — only the Labour Day Classic sold out this regular season.

When you start to look into it, it’s really hard to blame the fans for staying home. It’s a new era where the idea of fandom is changing and we all need to get used to it.

Prices keep escalating to the point where Joe and Jill Fan — the people who helped build the empire of pro sports — are getting priced out.

It’s one thing to pay a premium to get into the building, but everything is expensive once you get in as well. There are some exceptions to this, like the new football and soccer stadium in Atlanta and the Masters Golf Tournament, believe it or not. The stadium in Atlanta will be an interesting case study. Will lower concessions prices help get more people to come to games? Will the ones who do spend more money than they currently are?

Many of us have already spent some pretty serious coin on big screen TVs, sound systems and cable and/or internet packages. Why should we spend even more to go to games when we can have a great experience at home that we’ve already paid for? An experience where the food and beer is cheaper and the company is assured to be at least tolerable.

This is especially true in Western Canada where we talk about a slow economy. If that’s the case, then we definitely can’t have it both ways.

The weather is a whole other issue — it matters, except when it doesn’t. Like at a Grey Cup, Heritage Classic or big name concert. No matter how important the Riders’ last game against Edmonton, it was still one of 10 guaranteed CFL football games to be played in 2019. Performance and importance aren’t likely to sway people like they used to. A special event? That’ll bring people out.

So, what can be done? That’s entirely up to the teams, leagues and stadium management groups. The fans have spoken. If selling tickets, food and swag matter, then it’s up to the powers that be to figure out a solution.