So this is what the place looks like with people in it, cheering for the home team until they’re hoarse.
Two weeks ago doesn’t count, when just a few hundred were allowed into the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex
But after Saturday’s 17-10 loss to San Diego State, we still don’t know what it looks and sounds like when it’s really full. We’re almost there, but not quite.
The assumption in the summer is that sellouts would be a given, because the program’s season-ticket base was around 15,000 at Aloha Stadium (where no spectators are allowed now — not due to a virus, but because the place is falling apart).
It was thought the problem would be the other way around … how could UH appease the 6,000 loyal season-ticket holders for whom there’d be no room in this new 9,000-seat facility on campus?
But the turnstile count was just 5,119 Saturday. That number might have been considerably higher, though, if some ushers were more diligent about making sure spectators passed through the metal bar that would add them to the official attendance count.
That withstanding, the tickets distributed count was 6,239 … much less than 9,000. That doesn’t make any sense at all considering how much anguish was expressed for so many months by so many people about being deprived of their beloved UH football.
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One reason this happened is government mandates disallowed any paying spectators from attending the first three home games — and then just the token 500 for the fourth. So UH had to refund all of its season-ticket receipts for football this fall, and instead sell the tickets for these last two games individually.
Of course that resulted in leakage, especially when you consider this game was on national television. Also, when it became apparent that spectators wouldn’t be allowed for who-knows-how-many of the six games, many bought the pay-per-view cable package instead.
Last spring, before the new executive orders banning gatherings for UH sports in fear of the COVID-19 delta variant, UH athletic director David Matlin estimated a full house at Ching would translate to around $500,000 in revenue.
It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that Saturday’s crowd brought in significantly less than that, especially when concession sales allowed were for water only.
This is on top of the nearly $2 million lost because of empty stands at the first three games and nearly empty at the fourth.
UH did the best it could to to sell suddenly available tickets for Saturday’s game online and the Warriors ended up with a lively, supportive crowd.
But don’t let anyone tell you it was full capacity, or a sellout.
On the plus side, the student section was boisterous just the way it should be.
And longtime fans were elated to be back in person. They dealt with masks, no food, port-a-potties, digital ticketing, and making sure they had their vaccination credentials in order. They didn’t get a UH win in return, but it was a tense, exciting game with UH in it to the end against a quality opponent.
Tom Ishii, 80, has held season tickets since 1960, when UH played its home games at Honolulu Stadium. An Air Force veteran, he was proud to be recognized as Military Night was celebrated Saturday.
Because of his seniority, he has great seats, in around the 15th row, very close to the 50-yard line. Then again, this might be one of those venues where there are no bad seats.
“He liked Aloha Stadium the best,” said Tom’s son, Jon, who accompanied him Saturday. “But he thinks the games will be super fun here when we get beyond the pandemic. These seats really are amazing.”
Jon said the atmosphere was electric.
“Way more energy since we’re all packed in. It actually feels crowded,” he said. “I just hate wearing the mask.”
It would have been fitting if a day full of upsets all over the college football map ended with yet another, and Warriors quarterback Chevan Cordeiro — who has pulled of such magic acts in the past — and his teammates had covered those last few yards as time ran down.
Maybe a few more first-down passes, like the one that went for a 19-yard touchdown to Calvin Turner in the first quarter, would’ve helped loosen up the Aztecs defense. And coach Todd Graham was right when he said the SDSU fake field goal touchdown was the key play of the game, and helped make a superb Hawaii defensive effort go to waste.
But it was still an entertaining evening at the stadium, even though the count was 5,119 instead of 9,000. It wasn’t the grandest of grand openings, but for the most part, UH is doing the best it can in a situation that is of no fault of its own.
Senior night in two weeks figures to be a blast, and an emotional end of a journey for athletes who have had to deal with challenges experienced by no other college football programs for so long.
And, it’s an outside shot, but the Warriors, now 4-6, could still be in contention for a Hawaii Bowl berth — right here at Ching.
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