It's no secret that Florida International University has struggled to fill its stands for home football games. The Panthers dipped below the NCAA-mandated average attendance of 15,000 in 2012 and 2014, putting its Football Bowl Subdivision status at risk.
So this year, FIU is offering rewards to students who go to the trouble of supporting the team. Any student who attends five of seven home games receives a free Amazon Fire TV stick. If they make it to all seven games, they'll get a free Android tablet. And that's in addition to the all-you-can-eat wristbands handed out to the first 500 students in the stadium.
This isn't the first time FIU has gotten creative in trying to boost student attendance. During a game against University of Texas at El Paso last year, the school gave out 20 scholarships worth $1,000 each.
Despite finishing just 5-7 last year, the Panthers still reached that magic attendance number in 2015, finishing the season with an average attendance of 15,324, according to an audit released in January. That number was calculated using the number of tickets sold rather than the number of fans in the stands, as allowed by NCAA rules. (Miami Herald sports reporter David J. Neal documented the disparity between the official numbers and actual attendance in a 2014 YouTube video that shows mostly empty bleachers despite attendance figures greater than 15,000.)
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For each home game in 2015, between 367 and 2,720 students were in the stands, according to the audit.
The Panthers' first game of the 2016 season was last Thursday, against Indiana University. Students filled one section of the stadium but appeared to be outnumbered by Hoosier fans. The game featured a DJ and fireworks at halftime. Attendance was recorded at 16,089.
FIU spokesperson Maydel Santana did not respond to an email from New Times seeking comment on this story.