Guest Column: ZonaZoo should show support by staying entire game
Yes, it’s that time again, school’s back in session and the first football game is on the horizon. As many of you have already seen the ZonaZoo shirts, it’s obvious the message “Zona Zoo STAYS the entire game” is the prevailing mantra over in the Athletic Department, the first time such a message has been communicated so strongly to the student body, primarily in response to last year’s poor showing in the Zona Zoo, especially those who bolted out the door at half time. While the Athletic Department sounds its trumpets to rally the troops, the reality is that no marketing campaign, no slogan on TV shirts, neither tweets nor banners can fix this issue. Instead the solution is much simpler: You, the student section, a factor we’ve always been able to count on to show up and support the team, until recently. Rather than try to take on the onus of responsibility to fix this issue that athletics and sports marketing has placed upon itself, I want to bring you up to speed on the last few years and put the responsibility back on you, the students.
Zona Zoo, up until about two years ago, was known as one of the loudest student secions in the NCAA. In the last two years, the numbers began to trend downward toward the end of the third quarter, where students began to trickle out, and by the second home game, leaving at half time, whether or not the team was losing or winning, became the new student tradition. It became such an obvious issue that the only triage the Athletic Department could do was move the Marching band into the seats previously occupied by vacated student seats, just so the section appeared full (even though they claimed this was because they had done ‘studies’ that showed moving the marching band would make them more effective).
How then does this problem get fixed, and where do we go from here? Athletics has invested millions into a new stadium facelift, new mascots costumes (apparently complete with tanning beds), a new field and a new coach in the last two years to re-energize the program. They’ve even upgraded the Wi-Fi in the stadium because some believed many of the students were leaving because they couldn’t get a signal and thus felt isolated at the football game when they couldn’t text, tweet, surf or Facebook their friends. They’ve done all they can to fill those seats (except those times when they schedule a game on a weeknight or homecoming game at 11 a.m. for the almighty lucrative TV revenues).
Many say the reasons we have this problem of early departures at the games is that this generation has a sense of entitlement and a short attention span, where they show up to the games and stay for as long as the game is interesting to them. Some also say that the only fix to this is to find more ways to entertain them and to keep them interested, so they’ll stay the entire game. However, if people are correct that this is truly the issue, brainstorming for more ideas to entertain the students in order to keep them in their seats only perpetuates the issue further.
Instead I believe it comes down to an undertaking of personal commitment and understanding what fruits come from truly investing your heart and time into anything you undertake in life. With regards to the football program, what needs to happen is a reset of the way these games are viewed. The reality is that our role and part we play as fans for the game is to support this team, and support this school. This team is made up of students just like you who spend their free time training and practicing, and running drills to make sure they’re prepared for the game. On game day, it’s show time, the time for the fans to come and do their part, with the sole purpose of keeping the energy in the stands, with the understanding that the advantage of the home field is the home crowd which can cheer loudly, and with that noise comes the ability to make a quarterback’s audible calls unintelligible. It also has a direct impact on morale to the team and energizes the entire stadium. The fans are there to support the team, and with good team support comes a successful program, and not to show up and try to figure out what you can take.
And one last note to keep in mind. These are your college years, the people around you are your college peers and with this comes the opportunity to have the best days of your life and to experience something remarkable. Instead of putting your faces down and staring at your phones every second to communicate with all the people who aren’t with you, put the phone away, and the distraction it brings, and experience the moment for yourselves with the people around you. We have many proud student-initiated school traditions here at the UA and not one of them was created via Facebook. Don’t be consumed with having to share every second of every moment with others that aren’t there, or you will miss the moment for yourself in trying to do so. Limit yourselves to two pictures per event and turn the phone off, and wean yourselves from the urge to need to be plugged in at all times. Otherwise expect your experience to be distracted at these games, mediocre and the team to play sub par.
I took the time to write this to you because I want our team to be great, our program to be successful and for you to experience what commitment brings. As mascot for the UA, I’ve been part of a program that saw a 12-1 Top 5-ranked UA football team who, only two years prior, had a bowl-less and losing season, and a 1997 NCAA championship in basketball. I’ve had my time investing in the program and winning. Now it is your turn. I want Arizona to continue to be a place that’s a feared place to play and tough to win at, and that starts in the heart of our stadium, ZonaZoo. I want to see what you can do to shake off the bad reputation that was earned last year and show up, and stay committed, win or lose, to this program, and it starts on Friday night and it ends in November. It’s your turn.
Kirk Sibley is a UA class of’99 alumni and former Wilbur the Wildcat.