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Northwestern coach blames declining attendance on cell phone addiction

Over the several few years, attendance has been down at football games nationwide, and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald knows why: cell phones.

At Big Ten Media Days last week, Fitzgerald went on a rant about cell phone addiction, which he believes is not only affecting the sport of college football, but society in general.

“I think phones, I think technology has been the decline in attendance, number one,” Fitzgerald said. “I think watching young people today live like this instead of like that. You know, Stacy and I were out on a date last night and there was two couples, two groups of couples sitting next to us and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh I’m old.’ Not one of the four couples were talking to each other. They were all on their phones. And it just drove me up the wall. I literally wanted to be like a dad and go like, ‘Give me your phone, talk to each other. I mean this is pathetic.’ So, it was really, really pathetic.

“And I think that’s just, it’s just changed the way a lot of younger people and younger fans, intake is all through technology. And I mean, you watch a concert and everybody’s holding their phone up, like, ‘Listen, watch, take it in, create a memory’ because they don’t go back and watch the videos. They just want to post it on their social media, which is pathetic because it creates a society of, ‘Look at me, isn’t my life great?’ even though when they go home, they’re like, ‘I hate myself. I hate my life. Everything’s wrong.’ So, I think it’s a big cause. I think it’s the root cause, number one.”

Fitzgerald’s rant has gone viral in the last 24 hours, and I get it. On one hand, he’s right: cell phone addiction is a very real thing, and it has changed society. Sometimes, my husband and I are like those couples that he talked about, checking our phones instead of talking at dinner. It sucks. I totally agree with him about the importance of disconnecting and the epidemic of social media authenticity. It’s something I think about a lot.

…That being said, cell phone addiction isn’t just a millennial problem. I know plenty of people older than me whose heads are always in their phones, so to pin low attendance on “kids these days” feels lazy. Similarly, it’s not just young people choosing to stay home instead of going to the stadium; we can complain as much as we want to about student attendance, but last year, students actually showed up at Kroger Field. In fact, Kentucky Football season and single-game ticket sales are way up, proof that if you win, they will come.

To me, the real reason attendance is down at sporting events is that it’s so much easier to watch games at home on your couch in front of your HDTV with your internet (including the KSR live blog) and your fridge in your climate controlled home than to invest in a day at the stadium. Sure, cell phones and social media play a part in that, but going to games isn’t cheap or easy anymore.

The reality is, as technology continues to make life more and more convenient, sports teams have to find ways to make games worth the money and effort, whether it be alcohol sales, better wifi, lower ticket and concession prices, or an improved game day environment. Times have changed, and in turn, teams must adapt.

Okay, I’m off the soap box. Thoughts on Fitzgerald’s rant?


Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

38 Comments for Northwestern coach blames declining attendance on cell phone addiction

  1. Larkin123
    1:56 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    I can’t stop using my cellphone to read KSR….

  2. jwardrip99
    1:58 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    Pat Fitzgerald definitely says “[email protected] millennials” at least 1 a week.

  3. ukisgr8
    2:05 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    I use my phone a lot but never with company. Seems very rude to me.

  4. Cmstew502
    2:10 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    I love listening to these schools list every possible reason attendance is down other than the obvious. Tickets have gotten too expensive and they don’t have to be.

    • krautdog
      4:33 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

      You are absolutely right! Ticket prices are ridiculous along with concessions. The schools are greedy. They want all the benefits of tv money and a full house as well. Just look at all the money the SEC pays out to its member schools from tv benefits.

    • Dairy Queen All American
      4:37 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink


    • mashburnfan1
      4:58 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

      Not really ticket prices. My season tix cost me just over $100 per game for 2 tix. I am in first row of 2nd level which I love and choose to stay there over the lower level seats. Could have had cheaper tix if not for the KFund, agree they could save us money there but they do sell season tix with no KFund so the option is there. That route 2 tix would be about $650 or so for 8 games, not bad. Concessions are bad but other than noon games we eat before and/or after the games. We do pay for a drink but parking is free where I park and have the option to pay $2 per trip for our shuttle or we can walk from where we park. My expense is in hotel, gas, food for the trip as we live 3.5 hours away in Columbus area. We do get to make it football weekend a few times as the Bengals sometimes have home games the Sunday after UK games and we do both since I split Cincy season tix with another guy. Most can budget the ticket price for at least a few games, maybe a 4 pack if not the season.

    • RealCatsFan
      5:29 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

      If we still had a LIKE button, I would hit it at least 5 times. Ding ding ding!

  5. drew_123
    2:16 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    It’s not rocket science. Expensive tickets, crap parking, and even more expensive concessions. Coaches and AD’s can bury their head in the sand all they want but that’s the reason for the decline. For my family of 5 to go to the Florida game, it’s going to cost well over $1000.

    • Dairy Queen All American
      4:38 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink


    • mashburnfan1
      4:59 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

      UF game is the exception like UGA was last year. You can go to the EMU game for about $125 for family of 5.

  6. nocode96
    2:17 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    Old man yells at cloud

  7. JTHinton
    2:17 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    16yo here. He’s not wrong.

    • cats646
      2:28 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

      23yo here, in total agreement with this guy^^

    • Dairy Queen All American
      4:39 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

      39 year old. I disagree with Pat Fitzgerald.

  8. runningunnin.454
    2:25 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    Don’t buy the phone excuse. If you have a winning team, and you schedule a marquee opponent, the fans will be there.
    If you don’t have a good team, or you schedule unworthy opponents, there will be empty seats.

  9. UKGrad79
    2:28 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    Though it’s not the only reason but it is a contributing factor.

  10. sincitycat
    2:38 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    Another factor in declining attendance is you can watch most games in your own home. And being an old dude I still enjoy talking to texting.

    • 4everUKblue
      3:45 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink


    • mashburnfan1
      5:01 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

      sin city I do enjoy watching other games on tv but is much more fun and exciting watching my team in person, IMO.

    • RealCatsFan
      5:34 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

      mash, it’s fun for a big game when we are competitive against a good opponent. But against a crummy team, a lot of times the crowd energy just isn’t there. It’s the same way (if not worse) at Rupp. And we try to cheer and make noise, but that’s tough when everyone around you is just sitting there like a clam.

  11. Wilfred Smith
    3:02 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    I can put my phone down. I can even leave it in my office when I go to a meeting. Hell, I don’t run with my phone, but…

    I live 4 hours from Lexington. I’m not going to a game unless I have excellent tickets and a group of friends.

    I’m an hour from Murray and I’m not going there either for the same reasons – large, quality TVs, gas prices, and a spouse who isn’t a sports fan make watching at home the easy choice.

  12. chardun20
    3:08 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    How about ticket prices and large HD tv’s in sports bars and at home.

  13. BlueByYou
    3:30 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    Old dude here…..If I’m watching the game at home and I can pee whenever I want without standing in a long line and getting peed on:)

  14. JPGott2
    3:58 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    I agree, phones are a problem today, but I do not agree they are the root cause of declining football attendance, nor do I agree with the HDTV/Hime take.

    A football game is a totally different experience live than at home. People that do not care about the actual game will go to tailgate and be social.

    The main cause to me, is:

    1. People are being out-priced. I would love to attend a game but when the price is anywhere from 200/300 for the evening, staying at home or doing something else is a solid choice. It is not cheap to attend games. This is an issue across all sports, professional or Collegiate.

    People are not making the money their parents made when you take inflation into account. People have to cut back, and I can say this is a no brained.

  15. dcarlinf1
    4:00 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    Sounds like his struck a nerve Mrs T. As others have said, he ain’t wrong that people (young and old) look at their phones too much. Does it cause low attendance at the games? I have no idea. I don’t go because I want a beer with my sports. Maybe that will change soon.

  16. TOMCATS1990
    4:10 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    Home or a Sports Bar a lot cheaper

    • zoupman
      10:08 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

      I agree. Between high ticket prices and every game on TV, I now go to about 2 games a year instead of what was 4 or 5.

  17. UKinIN
    4:12 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    Another issue impacting attendance is that every kid in America seems to be specializing in one sport so the weekends that use to go to watching other people play are now devoted to road trips to watch your own kids play.

  18. largoky
    4:22 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    Dang kids today! My phone helps me out on game day by being able to listen to the radio broadcast on iheartradio while I use my dvr to sync the tv broadcast here in FL.

  19. nosewhistle
    4:32 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    There are tons of reasons for decline in attendance, and it’s different for everyone. Time, money, comfort, watching other games, etc. etc. The list goes on and on. The fact that you have a phone is not one of them. I am addicted to my phone, I will admit it. I look at it constantly. I still go to all the games.

    Everyone has things that they like. I love going to the games and hate missing them. Most people would rather just watch it at home for a couple hours and then go do something else, and that number is increasing.

    • mashburnfan1
      5:05 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

      Agree I love being there and it is way better than on tv. We will make all 8 this year and possible 1 road game at Vandy. Next year we will make all home games and 1 road either at UGA or U6 depending or work scheduling. We even took the unexpected trip to the Citrus Bowl last year which gave us the idea to do 1 road game a year starting this season.

  20. minton22
    5:50 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    I agree with him 100%. I’ve stopped inviting phone addicts to go places because they are a drag. One guy was with me at an ESPN Gameday taping when Coach Cal was talking about 20 feet in front of us. He got a video, but my phone was intentionally left in my glovebox. We discussed the event later and it was like he missed the whole thing. His hero was right in front of him but he missed it! I didn’t invite him anymore. Might as well have gone alone.

  21. Wildcat homer
    6:18 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink


  22. chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
    7:06 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    He may not be totally wrong, but IMO it’s mostly about 3 things: 1) ticket prices, 2) ticket prices, and 3) ticket prices. That is why even though I really like Mitch Barnhart and our HC’s, when I hear anyone, especially a HC or AD, complain about empty stands, I’m yelling “Cry me a river!” These folks all make sick money (even at a lot of non-power 5 schools), and sports and concert tickets are outrageous today. Dabo Swinney (sp?), whom I admired as a good and religious guy, was complaining about players possibly getting paid right after he signed a NINE MILLION DOLLARS PER YEAR contract working for a PUBLIC university. Shut up Dabo. Sorry not sorry. Get back with me when it doesn’t cost my mortgage for a year to take my kid to a ball game.

    • chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
      7:12 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

      Oh, and several touched on the home TV’s being so large and advanced now. Mike Greenberg said it best: it used to be we wanted to recreate the stadium setting at home. Now, they’re trying to create the home experience at the stadium. Everything is upside down compared to what it used to be.

      Tyler mentioned better wifi, etc. A couple years ago the Miami Dolphins put in some plush recliners in an area to charge more money for folks who wanted that.

  23. Don Kean
    11:48 pm July 22, 2019 Permalink

    Fitzgerald is dead right. Just think what would happen if telecom. went down for a week in this country, can you imagine the record number of suicides that would occur? A phone is a tool and should be nothing more, They are more addictive than heroin to far too many individuals. They have stupefied our entire world. If everyone in the whole world had two phones and I had a feather up my butt we would ALL be tickled.

  24. dballrb
    5:25 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

    Agree with coach. If I see another post of the food someone is about to eat…smh..