- Jake Elman Special to The Post
The Lane Train helped bring more fans to FAU Stadium. Just as Florida Atlantic athletic director Pat Chun expected.
A year after posting four games of fewer than 10,000 fans in a stadium that hosts nearly 30,000, FAU recorded some of its best ever attendance marks in Lane Kiffin’s first year at the helm. As the football team posted its first winning season since 2008 — going 9-0 in Conference USA and 10-3 overall — FAU Stadium attracted 125,588 attendees over seven games, an average of 17,941 per game. Both marks are single-season highs, which Chun tied to the winning culture Kiffin has brought to Boca Raton.
“Winning does matter in this market, and this market is as complex as there is in (the country),” Chun said, citing attendances issues with the Florida Panthers and Miami Marlins. “This is a highly competitive market, and we recognize that.”
Since FAU Stadium’s first full season in 2012, only the 2015 season saw more than 100,000 total attendees (105,703, with over 30,000 coming in a home sellout loss to Miami after extra seats were opened), but this season pulled in just over 300 more fans per game.
FAU will play an eighth home game of sorts later this month when the Owls host the Akron Zips (7-6, 6-2 in the MAC) in the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 19.
“We’ll continue to treat our customers great and provide them with a great experience,” Chun said.
Though attendance as a whole was up, issues with student attendance continue to plague the program. Both the season opener against Navy and the annual Shula Bowl against FIU attracted heavy student crowds, but the other games brought smaller numbers from on campus.
“There are incremental wins in terms of what’s going on with attendance,” Chun said. “There is no easy solution because attendance is a national problem in all sports. If there was a solution, I’m sure someone would’ve thought of it.”
Some around the program believe attendance for the Conference USA Championship was hurt not only by the noon start time, but by regulations placed on FAU’s fraternities and sororities. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Greek groups were not allowed to set up at the tailgate in response to other incidents around the country, including Florida State’s recent decision to suspend Greek life indefinitely.
Chun was still pleased with the title game turnout, calling it the “best new crowd we’ve had since we opened the stadium.”
Others around campus have pointed to issues with marketing, specifically what is being called “the student side.” Though the athletic marketing department has found ways to promote games with an actual “Lane Train” and giveaways of a Kiffin cutout, some feel that both student government and student media have failed to properly inform students about the team.
“This is the greatest team in program history and (no one on campus understands that),” said FAU freshman Lance Donovan, a sports announcer for the school’s student radio station. “When people on campus don’t know about Devin Singletary and his 30 touchdowns because no one on campus is writing or promoting it, there’s a problem.”
In part because of the attendance issues, many FAU fans were disappointed to learn the team would be staying home to host the Boca Bowl.
Chun remains optimistic about a strong Boca Bowl turnout.
“You see all the fans in and around our community that come here that are (FAU) people: season-ticket holders, ticket purchasers … this is really a big opportunity for us,” Chun said.