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.)
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.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.