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Thursday, October 30, 2014 | Last updated: 8:12am

ZonaZoo strikes back in football season opener



For the last couple of years, it’s been hard to tell who UA fans hate more: ASU or ZonaZoo.

Message boards, call-in shows, blogs and comment sections of newspaper websites have been filled with venom for the student section members.

However, after being the whipping boy of Arizona supporters for quite some time, the ZonaZoo made the other fans look foolish on Friday night. The much-maligned student section was almost overflowing, while large parts of the rest of the stadium were empty.

So far this year ZonaZoo has sold 9,331 passes, a number it expects to “steadily increase,” ZonaZoo Executive Director Mario Ziccarelli said.

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By Tyler Besh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tyler Besh // The Daily Wildcat Students in the ZonaZoo section cheer at the football game on Friday.

At the end of October 2012, 10,154 ZonaZoo passes had been sold. TucsonCitizen.com even reported that the young alumni and red zone section was used for overflow last week, though Ziccarelli said it was not.

At any rate, almost every ZonaZoo pass was used on Friday, while thousands of seats were empty in the rest of the stadium.

The most poignant example was where section one, the start of ZonaZoo, and section NEZ 36 meet. Section one is usually empty, but on Friday it was packed for most of the game and full for the first half, while only a handful of people were sitting in the NEZ seats.

The new sections were mostly empty, even though those seats are vastly superior to the benches that make up nearly all non-luxury box seating.

Last season, Arizona only averaged 47,931 audience members for home games — and that was when the UA went to a bowl, had an exciting new coach and hosted Oklahoma State, USC and ASU.

The trend of low attendance at home games looks like it will continue.

This was just one game, on a Friday on Labor Day weekend, and it rained, so maybe the non-student attendance won’t always be as terrible as it was last week. Still, it’s looking like the student section will be a “sea of red” once again.

Because of the rain, three-day weekend timing and FCS competition, if there was ever a game students would not show up to and leave early en masse, it was this one.

Even after the winners of the $500 cash prizes were announced, only a handful of students left.

For most of the game, the only empty seats in the ZonaZoo were a few dozen in Zoo’s orphan section, eight, which is between the band and the new young alumni and red zone section. Some students left at halftime, and some trickled out as the UA pulled ahead, but UA officials praised ZonaZoo.

After the game, head coach Rich Rodriguez said ZonaZoo was “terrific.” Athletic director Greg Byrne tweeted: “Outstanding job by @ZonaZooOfficial tonight! Thanks for being there in force & staying the entire game. #BearDown.”

In 2013, a long list of improvements were made to ZonaZoo, like opening the gates close to game time and adding misters, cash prizes and a section for the wildest fans. The ZonaZoo section was also cut from in 10,000 seats to 9,000 — and it’s looking like all the changes have paid off.

Printing “ZonaZoo stays the Entire Game” on T-shirts or putting penalty cards on the wall in front of ZonaZoo probably didn’t help much, but the effort and ideas of the current ZonaZoo front office are what led to its comeback.

The ZonaZoo was once a source of pride for Wildcats. The victory against NAU was just one game, but maybe the section is starting to return that status, and so the Arizona fanbase can live in harmony again.

-Follow James Kelley @JamesKelley520


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