Maize Outs and the Michigan Stadium Fan Experience

What sucks about Michigan games, and how I would change it.

Photo: Patrick Barron
Tomorrow's tilt vs Nebraska has been designated by the athletic department as an official "maize out" game. For those of you not aware, and judging from the outcomes of previous "maize out" games, there are many of you...its where Michigan fans are supposed to wear maize shirts in order to create an entire stadium of people all wearing the same color. For reasons passing understand U of M hasn't taken the hint from every. other. unsuccessful. maize. out. ever. and still pursuing this dream that one of these times it's just going to click and be awesome.

Spoiler: Unless they hand every fan a maize shirt as they enter the stadium and say "put this on", it won't ever work.

But why? Why won't a "maize out" work?

Its the same reason Michigan Stadium has a reputation as the largest quietest crowd in the country. Its the same reason no one has ever described going to Michigan game a "rowdy" experience. Michigan should have an almost unblemished home record given how big and intimidating it's stadium could be. Michigan home games should be a spectacle...a sight to behold. 110,000 people all in one place for one reason is an incredible showcase of humanity and a testament to the game of college football.

But its not. Last week vs SMU, the place was...dead. Sure it's SMU and it was a weird game with a weird flow...but there was zero energy in the stands. Even the students, who do wear maize, showed up late and left super early. And yes, in everyone's defense, that game was boring and it was super hot so I get it. But last week also wasn't really much of an outlier in terms of fan apathy.

And I mean apathy in the glowingest of terms. Michigan fans care, they care a lot. They've also been shit on repeatedly by not only the outcomes of football games (especially against rivals) but also the gameday experience in and around the stadium itself.

If last week further exposed anything, its that when conditions aren't just right (i.e. its too hot or too cold), being inside Michigan Stadium is not exactly a fan friendly experience.
Because I was so bored I started counting commercial breaks, finally giving up when the number hit a staggering eight in the first 22 minutes of game clock. There are eight commercial breaks in the entirety of a 40-minute basketball game, plus some timeout-induced ones. And that frequently feels excessive; a couple of years ago the problem seemed so severe the NCAA even stripped coaches of one of their precious timeouts. Football is now throwing up timeouts at almost twice the rate of basketball, a sport where the clock only runs if something is actually happening.

This is close to intolerable when it's nice outside. When it is not, and when there is a steady stream of baffling penalties from the part-time refs from a podunk league, and replays to fix some of the baffling issues the part-time refs are creating, and many more stoppages for injuries—one of which takes a long time and then gets a Full Media Timeout appended to the end of it—you wonder why you're doing this instead of sitting at home with air conditioning and connectivity. Several years ago I probably would have yammered about the students leaving early. Now I just envy anyone with the common sense to bail when they are so clearly being told to bail.
Michigan needs to be going out of its way to make gameday better for the fans. As it stands currently, almost everything happening now is a deterrent for going to a game and actually enjoying it. Here's what I would change...within reason, of course.

1. More room, more rows
Now is the time to make the changes necessary to keep butts in seats. That means more creature comforts and amenities. I hate to say it, but wider seats would be a good thing (yes, even at the expense of losing the coveted attendance crown). It's been both the largest gripe about going to a Michigan game for decades, and the biggest source of pride for the fan base. They love the attendance record, but bemoan the small cramped seats. My solution would be to add more rows to the top of the endzones (or another deck entirely). Also, add endzone upper concourses as well...this will create one continuous upper concourse around the entire stadium, plus will add more room for bathrooms and concessions. Also, this will help alleviate congestion on the ground level outside of the stadium and expedite those long lines of people waiting to get into each section before the game.

2. Move the band and the student section
The student section should be the entire north end of the stadium. See handy seating chart below:

For basketball, the student section is front and center (I know, it's for TV). But for football, they're stuffed into the corner. Currently, the student section stretches from the middle of section 25 to the middle of section 34. Yes, it would require relocating some season ticket holders, but most of them would upgrade their seats because of this. Plus, I dig symmetry.

The band is in a horrible spot. If it weren't for the microphones and PA system assisting them, you wouldn't hear the band. Move them to the bottom of section 33, 34 or 35..facing out towards the entire field...not just the north endzone like they are now in section 26. Both the visual impact and the audible impact would be noticeable immediately for both students and the band.

3. Pregame pep rally
Speaking of the band, they should hold a pregame pep rally/concert at Crisler before the game. Ohio State does this with their "Skull Session" which I've attended. Originally it was meant to be a final rehearsal before the game...but has evolved into a huge fan favorite which both bands attend while fans fill the stands of St. John's Arena. The team and coaches attend prior to going into the locker room. Call it what you's a pep rally.

A little hype never hurt anyone.

4. A pedestrian bridge(s) at the corner of stadium and main
I don't know how would they pull this off...but that intersection is loaded both before and after the game. Build a bridge for pedestrians or completely close off the road to cars. Main Street is already closed to traffic so maybe more fans could exit onto Main Street and not just the 4 corners of the stadium.

5. The cost of attendance
This one's a no brainer. Ticket prices, parking prices, concession prices all need to come down or at the very least, stop going up. It should also be easier for fans to be able to sit with their friends without costing paycheck. Until Michigan changes course and goes back to valuing their fans more than their fans' money, this will drive more people away from the stadium than any other factor.

6. Connectivity
Once considered a luxury, fast and reliable cell service/wifi is absolutely crucial. Nothing will irk modern fans more than being forced onto a communications island for 4+ hours.

7. Move things along
My god the TV commercials (i.e. full media timeouts) MUST be curtailed.

Michigan is one of the few schools that haven't been completely decimated by dwindling attendance numbers, which is impressive considering the struggles on the field in the last 10 years. But I'm telling you...unless some of these items aren't addressed, we'll all look back on these days of a full houses every Saturday as fond memories. 

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