Here’s an observation that will shock absolutely no one: Fresno State football fans like to party.
So much that large groups of them wait until the last possible minute to pound that last drink, pack away the tailgate and enter Bulldog Stadium. Which creates long lines at the stadium entrances and causes a noticeable lack of decibels at kickoff.
I’m not the only one talking about this. So is Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford.
“Our people must like to tailgate for a long time because they get there” late, Tedford said with a grin a couple days after the Bulldogs’ last home game. “The first quarter seemed like we didn’t really have the crowd we were expecting and all of a sudden we did. It filled in.”
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Under Tedford, Bulldog Stadium has been quite an inhospitable place for visiting teams. Fresno State is 7-1 in home games and outscoring opponents by an average of 27.5 points.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Most of that has to do with what’s happening on the field, not to mention coaching and preparation, rather than any home-field advantage provided by the Red Wave.
Getting more Bulldogs fans in their seats at kickoff, rather than lingering at their tailgates or waiting in lines outside the stadium, would make things even rougher on the opposition.
The late-arriving crowd has also become a headache for the Fresno State athletic department, which for the first time is making everyone pass through electronic metal detectors or be hand-wanded before entering the stadium. Before that it was just visual security checks.
The policy is new to Bulldog Stadium but has been in place at Save Mart Center since last year.
“It’s not a response to a specific threat, more that electronic metal detection has become the norm in venues across the country,” said Matt Studwell, Fresno State’s assistant athletic director for internal operations and events.
Problem is, electronic metal detection and hand-wanding is slower than the old visual method. Combine that with a crowd that likes to enter the stadium just before kickoff, and the result is horribly long lines.
Fresno State heard so many complaints following the Sept. 1 season-opener that it added 21 additional entry points and extra staffing at the eight stadium gates before the Sept. 29 game against Toledo.
While there were still long lines to enter the stadium – I personally checked at three gates – Studwell said the wait times were drastically reduced as a result. The longest anyone had to wait in line, he said, was 7½ minutes at the North Gate along Barstow Avenue.
The North and South gates, located off Bulldog Lane, are by far the busiest. About half the fans who enter Bulldog Stadium go through those two gates, according to Studwell. The shortest lines, he said, are typically found at the East gate behind Beiden Field and near the soccer/lacrosse stadium.
“We want to make football games as easy as possible for fans to come to,” Studwell said. “That’s our goal.”
Fans also bear some of that responsibility – especially those who wait until 7:20 to start moseying toward the stadium. Fresno State opens its tailgate lots four hours prior to kickoff (five hours for Green V members), but even that seemingly isn’t enough time for some people.
It puzzles me that fans will complain about the late kickoff times – get used to 7:30 as long as the Bulldogs keep winning – but then don’t bother settling into their seats until the second quarter.
This is not solely a Fresno State issue. I want to make that clear. Many NFL and college football teams are experiencing the same thing.
One of them, the Detroit Lions, came up with a novel idea. For the first hour after the Ford Field gates open, concession prices on several popular items are reduced. Hot dogs and soda are $2 apiece; beer and cocktails are $3.
Fresno State may want to consider doing the same. Before the last home game, I observed a large mob of fans trying to enter through the North gate. But just inside the entrance was a beer garden patronized by just a few people.
I’m thinking some of those folks could be enticed from their tailgates earlier by the allure of cheaper food and beer. Just a hunch.
Fan support at Bulldog Stadium has not been poor this season. The atmosphere is a marked improvement over last year (save for the Boise State game) and the two preceding. Winning will do that.
But things could be (and have been) noisier and more lively, and this team deserves every bit of volume Bulldogs fans can muster. Having more of them in their seats cheering from the opening kickoff would definitely help.