So, now it is official. Tiger Stadium will be at 25% capacity in 2020, at least to start the season, with no tailgating on campus and no band playing the first four notes of “Hold That Tiger” on the field and with masks.
Sounds soulless, doesn’t it? On the surface it does, and I’ve seen a lot of folks on social media acting like everyone from the Gov. John Bel Edwards to LSU is the daddy in that Beach Boys song trying to take their T-bird away.
Remember, like, a month ago? Remember the Faustian bargain folks were prepared to offer up just to have a college football season? Now there will be one, or at least the start of one (I continue to say the big issue will be getting all the way through it), and people are up in arms, as if a tailgate party or a ticket were a constitutional right.
No one needs be happy with this state of affairs. I’m not. Many are the times in my life I’ve been able to survey Tiger Stadium from my seat in the stands or the press box, see the packed coliseum and think to myself how lucky I was to be in one of THE places to be in the world at that given moment.
But it isn’t going to be that way in 2020. And LSU isn’t immune or different. In fact, a quick survey of the Southeastern Conference done by our Wilson Alexander shows Tiger Stadium will be at or near the top of the conference in terms of percentage and total available seats.
LSU will admit 25% of Tiger Stadium's capacity this year, putting it near the top of available seating amongst Southeastern Conference teams for the 2020 season.
I saw someone post on Twitter that this will be the first season they don't tailgate. I get it. That’s painful. LSU football is woven into the being of so many Louisiana natives and Louisiana expatriates. Not having those precious Saturdays in the fall feels like having something surgically removed.
“There’s a magic in the air in Tiger Stadium, and that magic is contagious, but not in a negative way,” said LSU interim president Thomas Galligan, who for a New Jersey native sure gets the whole football-is-life thing down here. “It is a whole lot more magic with 105,000 people but there’s going to be magic with 25,000, and that’s a whole lot more magic than with no football at all.
“But again, safety’s our guidepost. So, yes, it will still be Tiger Stadium, but like life has come to be, it will be different.”
To be sure, this is a time for doing without some things, so we can have most of what we want. And what we all want is a full and complete football season, one in which the attendance numbers eventually tilt up or down depending on how we fare against the coronavirus.
Still, it will be strange. Even in the worst of times for the LSU program, like the midst of the Tigers’ now-unfathomable six straight losing seasons from 1989-94, Tiger Stadium was never less than half full
When LSU opens Sept. 26 against Mississippi State, it will have the sugar-substitute-like taste of a spring game compared to the full flavor of a much-anticipated season opener. One coming on the heels of a national championship season, no less.
All that said, after the Herculean effort it has taken to get ready for this most unusual season, LSU officials — from Galligan to athletic director Scott Woodward on down — should have an eye to the future.
Just because some fans may be over the top in their feelings about LSU’s restricted gameday plans doesn’t mean their feelings don’t matter.
Yes, LSU sold 71,000 season tickets for 2020, but we know seeing all 102,321 of Tiger Stadium’s seats filled has become a rarer thing in recent years. People are now forced to break with their years, even decades, of LSU football-watching tradition and turn their on-campus tailgating parties into at-home watch parties. They may not necessarily flock back to deal with the heat and the crowds and the traffic.
Back in the 1950s, then-athletic director Jim Corbett, a marketing wizard by trade, had to sell fans on the notion that Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night was the one and only place to be. In 1958, LSU only sold out one of its five home games en route to the national title, that on Nov. 1 against Ole Miss.
It may take a bit of a sell job to get Tiger Stadium packed again in 2021 or 2022. But the effort, now and in the future, on the part of the school and its fans, is worth taking.