There are 10 days until Florida's football opener against Florida Atlantic on September 3. 10! There are 21 entries remaining in our 50 For 50 series. You do the math. And check out Alligator Army's 50 For 50 series for more of our 50 reasons to be excited for Florida football in 2011.
I've been at Florida and in Gainesville for long enough to know one of the dirty not-so-little secrets about Gators fans: We're mostly football fans. That's not exactly a knock on us, because it also means that we're discerning folks who require experiences about as good as The Swamp in the fall to get fully riled up. But it's true, and I don't think there are a lot of people who would disagree that the majority of Florida's local fan base thinks "Football first, everything else second."
I know that's backwards, but let me explain. Florida has never had to worry and likely will never have to worry about pleasing or drawing football fans. The Swamp would sell out or come close if Florida were coming off a 5-7 season, and it sells out or comes close when the Gators are in the national title hunt.
It's in every other sport that Florida could use a shot in the arm: I've heard stories of men's basketball games in the O'Dome that didn't get packed during the Oh-Fours' back-to-back run, and I've been at men's basketball games against top-10 teams and had the other team's fans (cough, Kentucky fans, cough) drown out the faithful in orange and blue. I've been to sparsely attended volleyball games and seen a couple thousand fans turn out for women's basketball. But I went to one lacrosse game — which was packed — and saw how the crowd buoyed Florida against Northwestern. And I got a rush out of hating Florida State along with a crowd at last year's home baseball game.
And anything that gets more students interested in the less popular Florida sports will eventually pay off for the Florida athletic department. Attendance to non-football games, as the University Athletic Association will mention until the world ends, is free to any student with her or his Gator 1 ID card. Getting students in seats, in turn, makes them more likely to buy concessions, take part in promotions, and generally make Florida look better to potential advertisers who are always on the hunt for young consumers.
It's not just a short-run gambit, either: Investing thousands in prizes now could pay off if even one of these new-school Rowdy Reptiles turns into the next Stumpy Harris or Ben Hill Griffin and showers money on the Gators as an alum.
And for the students, there's both the allure of Gators swag and the fairly good chance that they'll form bonds with fellow students who are just as devoted as they are. If two fans meet at a soccer match, decide to pursue Rowdy Reptile points together, and turn into best friends because of it, I'm guessing those friends will be the sorts who help keep the Florida football money machine whirring later in life.
There's more to this — if you want me to get really dorky, I'll write about the gamification of fandom — but it suffices to say that this new Rowdy Reptiles points system will get me out to more Florida sporting events this year. So it's already working.