There has been a lot of talk about this season about the UTEP football team.
“What is up with this season’s schedule?”
“Who decided to schedule Immaculate Who? for the home opener?”
“Why can’t we be in a real conference like we were in the past?”
But most importantly, why won’t El Paso fans support the team?
I don’t pretend to have any idea about the mechanics of the football or how the schedule is put together, but I think I have a handle on why it is so damned tough to get a decent crowd in the Sun Bowl on any given Saturday night.
It’s an El Paso thing.
Usually when you hear that, it’s meant as a compliment. Why do we like Chico’s Tacos? It’s an El Paso thing. Why does a child’s first birthday party happen at 7 p.m. and involve a keg or two of beer? It’s an El Paso thing.
In this case, however, it’s an El Paso thing to turn up our collective noses and act like the Miners are IHOP machaca. It’s a nice try, but not even at 2 in the morning will that pass for Lucy’s.
I have to admit that in the past, I was not always a game-goer. I would go if a group of friends dragged me along, or go with my family and sons when they were younger. It was fun, but football holds no interest for me, so I went along solely on the premise that there would be Dunkin’ Donuts or alcohol after the last pass.
Now I am married to the original Sports Dude and we go to all the home games. It’s fun, the grandkids love it, and we have seen the same people and their families in the same seats for the past ten years. I have become a football game gal.
So why do people sneer and shake their heads no if I say “hey, meet us at the game!”
Some say it’s because they are such a crummy program and they never win. I say baloney. If that was true, there would be a lot fewer Dallas Cowboys fans in this burg – no offense to Cowboys fans. Besides, the program had a good season last year, and dwindling fan turnout with each victory. So what is it?
It’s an El Paso thing, and in this case, it’s the we’retheonlygameintown-itis that UTEP has had for decades.
Want to go catch a football or basketball game that isn’t high school or little league? You had to go watch the Miners. Want to see teams from other towns? You needed to go to The Don or the Sun Bowl. With the advent of the El Paso Chihuahuas that all changed, but UTEP’s attitude has not. Their fan experience is awful.
Let’s start from the beginning – parking.
UTEP has a wonderful parking structure that is a quick stroll away from the stadium, but you can’t park there unless you are a donor or season ticket holder. You’ll have to hike up and down Mesa to find a spot for your ride instead of parking in the mostly empty Sun Bowl parking garage.
UTEP could open the garage after kickoff, make some money and keep regular fans happy, but they won’t, and they won’t even discuss the possibility.
Concessions are another problem. You can get wonderful food from the local food vendors on the concourse, but don’t buy your kid a churro because it will more likely than not be a piece of cinnamon sugar-flavored drain pipe. I bought three churros last season and each one was more inedible than the last. I now try to distract my grandkids when we pass the churro stand.
Finally, there are the freebies. Let’s face it, we all like a free rally towel or bobble head figurine when we go to a game. At the home opener, UTEP gave out some foam fingers, and fans loved them. They were sponsored by a local credit union, so the cost didn’t come out of UTEP’s pocket.
They need to do more incentives. Think that doesn’t work? Talk to Jim Paul. The man invented game-day giveaways.
I know it would be nice to see old rivalries renewed by moving to a different conference. It would be great if we went to a bowl game every year. Knowing that we were watching a team full of future NFL hopefuls would be a dream come true, but maybe those things would materialize if we were able to get some butts in the seats.
Aw hell, who am I kidding? It’s football, people, it’s fun and it’s a pretty affordable event. It’s our hometown team, and we should be supporting them. We complain about UTEP being a commuter school, yet we do nothing to make it feel like a ‘real’ university, and don’t get all smug on me, UTEP, you don’t either.
I like going to the games, I just wish they were more user-friendly. Work on that, UTEP, and maybe you’ll see a better turn out.