What changes does LU have to make to fill Williams Stadium?
Liberty University Football is playing their first season in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and at this point, there is no point in arguing over the decision. Whether or not it made sense for a mediocre FCS team to make the jump is no longer relevant. It already happened.
Now the question is, where does Liberty Football go from here?
The Flames are experiencing a difficulty that all Christian colleges go through; almost nobody grows up a fan of a team like Liberty. Most of us grew up cheering for schools like Florida, Ohio State, Alabama and Notre Dame. If you are from Virginia, you probably grew up cheering for Virginia or Virginia Tech.
But every year, Christian schools have to teach the new students all the cheers, mantras and lingo that go along with the school’s athletic traditions. By and large, Christian schools have to create new fans every single year.
For someone who eats, sleeps and breathes sports, adopting a new school may not be too hard. But what about the average fans? Think of those who go to a Christian school and are on the fence about sports or may not even care at all.
What reason do they have to care about collegiate athletics? Sure, they may don a school t-shirt, but are they going to invest their time and possibly money into sports? It is doubtful.
On top of students who have little reason to care, Christian schools very rarely attract geographical fans. These are the people who are fans because they live in the area. As I said, those who grow up in Virginia are typically going to cheer for Virginia or Virginia Tech, if anyone.
This brings us to Liberty’s little problem.
According to Liberty, Williams Stadium has averaged 17,107 fans at the four home games this season, a lackluster number.
Granted, Liberty only needs to average 15,000 fans to meet the FBS transitional requirements, but is the minimum good enough?
The top five attended home games in the history of Liberty Football all occurred between 2014 and 2016 and all were above 20,000 fans. The record (22,551) was set in 2015 against Montana in the first-ever top-15 FCS matchup in Williams Stadium history.
Even with those five games, Liberty has never consistently filled Williams Stadium. But that did not stop Liberty from adding almost 6,000 more seats in the off-season.
Liberty does not have the fan-base to fill the newly expanded Williams Stadium anytime soon. So, what are they going to do about it?
Option one is to reach the community within an hour of Lynchburg. The problem again is most of those people already have an allegiance.
Option two is to get more students on board. The only way to come close to filling the 25,000 seats now in Williams Stadium is to reach the 14,000 residential students. But with those students also having prior allegiances, it is again hard to get them to buy in.
Option three, and my personal favorite, is to make Liberty Athletics attractive to the alumni. Make those who graduated in Williams Stadium want to raise their kids as Liberty fans and bring them back here to watch a game.
Imagine a generation of kids raised as Liberty fans. Imagine 5,000 freshman already knowing how to “move those chains.” What would it look like for every student in the stadium to actually know the fight song?
I know it is a pipe dream. Heck, if I had kids right now, I am not sure if I would raise them to be Liberty fans. But dreams are dreams for a reason. And I dream of a Liberty that makes alumni proud to return with their kids on their arms wearing red and cheering on Buckshot Jr.
By the way, imagine what the fan base might look like if Liberty had managed to build on their playoff run in 2014. Or what if they had built on that record crowd against Montana in 2015 with another playoff appearance?
But alas, here we are in the FBS, averaging 17,000 fans, just hoping to go 6-6.