To be an elite program in college football, you have to have an elite fan base. Let’s be frank, Missouri doesn’t have that right now.
To Preface: No, I am not just trying to attack the Missouri fan base. The Tigers have, by all accounts, a great following that is passionate and committed to their team. Faurot Field has the capability — we’ve all seen it — to be an incredible atmosphere, and there are plenty of people that are die-hard Tiger fans. They just have not been showing up as much recently. I will also certainly acknowledge that COVID-19 and game times (11 a.m. kicks are a killer, especially for traveling fans) have also negatively affected fan turnout and support, and watching on tv is widely available. With that being said, I do not believe any of these are completely worthy excuses for the lack of support we have witnessed.
Let’s face the facts. In the grand scheme of the college football landscape (and especially the SEC), Faurot Field is fairly small. A capacity of 62,621 is nothing to scoff at, but it pales in comparison to the Death Valleys, the Neylands, and the Kyle Fields of the world. After all, Faurot is the 72nd largest football stadium in the country, meaning it isn’t intimidating anybody with its size.
Here’s a couple of revealing numbers as to how things have changed. The record for attendance at Faurot is 75,298 against Penn State in 1980. The next eight are all from before 1990.
Even if you compile a list starting with games from 1995-onwards, 2015 is the latest year that makes the cut, with 2014 vs. Arkansas and vs. Georgia leading the way. The Tigers have not gotten close to setting any attendance records since then, and although I recognize that the stadium make-up has since undergone changes, to not even crack the Top 20 within the past seven years is concerning. It means the hype and belief in this program has somewhat disappeared.
Years of mediocrity and coaching turmoil will do that to the fans, so I can perfectly understand that. However, even in a year in which the team had a lot of hype entering the season, not much changed.
In 2021, Mizzou averaged 46,516 fans at their home games. They did not eclipse the 50,000 mark once, something they routinely did when they first entered the SEC. In 2019, Mizzou averaged 54,160 per game, which was still only good enough for 10th in the SEC.
In both of those seasons, Mizzou went 5-2 at home. While that is respectable, the Tigers have not gone undefeated in a season at-home since 2010. The fans would like that to be broken soon, as being a stalwart defender of your home field can really bring back that pride. So, tab that as another ball that is in the court of the program itself.
Let’s take a look at the rest of the SEC. The SEC averaged 72,195 fans per game as a whole, with Arkansas having the highest increase in attendance compared to 2019 (up 35.6%). Alabama, of course, led the way with an average of 98,720 fans per game.
Now, it is difficult to compare to those two teams, as one is the premiere college football program in the country, while the other had a major turnaround season. They also have much bigger stadiums. This is all acknowledged.
However, even if you crunch the numbers, all of these teams fill their capacity more frequently than Mizzou. Even Tennessee, a team that has arguably been worse off than Mizzou in recent years, sold out games almost every time in 2021.
There’s a lot that goes into this, but there are no available excuses from the Mizzou side of things right now. A raucous atmosphere can completely change a game, and I cannot point to one game in 2021 (maybe Florida?) where the home crowd at Faurot really made a difference in the outcome of the game.
And as every long-time Mizzou fan will tell you, Faurot can be a crazy environment. Just look at the Texas A&M game in 2013, Oklahoma in 2010, or South Carolina in 2013 (despite the heartbreaking loss). This stadium can be intimidating, and it can be a driving force for this program. Let’s be frank, the Tigers need any edge they can get when competing in the SEC. Having an elite home-field advantage would be huge for their future success, both on the field and in recruiting.
And to take a more broad approach, I would challenge anybody to name a great college football program without an elite fan base; it is essentially a requirement.
I mean, look at USC, a usual blue-blood that has fallen off in the past decade. There are plenty of reasons for this, but one of them is the abysmal fan support they receive at the Coliseum. It just looks sad, and I can imagine that as a coach or player, it can be a downer. Let’s not let Faurot get like that.
To wrap things up, I firmly acknowledge that the on-field product needs to be worth watching for fans to show up in the masses. It is on the coaching staff to get the team ready to perform for the fans. This is their job. The fans’ job, however, is to be present at games and show support for the team, no matter the exterior expectations or atmosphere. The current attendance and support from the Mizzou faithful is not what is used to be, and will not lend to much improvement in the win column. Consistently winning at home is usually the first step to competing nationally, but the Tigers need the help of their supporters for this to happen.
Drinkwitz knows this. He made a major point of wanting better attendance at games in the summer of 2021, calling for Mizzou fans to fill the stands in the fall. He has made the personal efforts to win over the fan base, locking down the borders in recruiting and traveling around the state for camps and rallies. He wants this state to take great pride in this program, but he needs it reciprocated. Right now, it appears that many Tiger fans are waiting to show up when the going gets good. Want to stop having so many 11 a.m. tips? Show up.
At the end of the day, Mizzou fans cannot impact the 11 players out there on the field as much as they wish they could. What they can do, though, is strengthen the 12th man, and make it one that draws in recruits and scares away the opposition.
My Call To Action: Show up to games, have a bit more faith, and cheer for these Mizzou teams. Don’t just be waiting for them to fail. Otherwise, they’ll never get out of the realm of mediocrity, because they’ll have mediocre support.