Playing in an empty stadium

First home game on Nov. 14; stadium will have fencing to prevent fans from watching



This year’s football season will reduce the number of people in the stands of Martin Stadium from over 30,000 to just a handful. As of now, it has yet to be decided if close friends and family will be allowed to attend games.

CODY SCHOELER, Evergreen reporter

Cougar football will be returning to Martin Stadium on Nov. 14, but it is going to look a lot different. Instead of playing in front of 30,000-plus fans jam-packed into the stadium, the players will be performing in front of largely empty seats.

When the Pac-12 announced the return of the football season, it did so with a qualifier: there will be no fans in attendance, according to a press release.

The decision to ban fans was a vital component of getting the season back, said Phil Weiler, WSU vice president for marketing and communications. Some of the areas in the conference still have significant COVID-19 outbreaks, including Pullman.

“It makes really good sense to say we’re not going to allow fans to be in the stands,” Weiler said.

There is a chance family and close friends will attend the games, he said, but the Pac-12 is still deciding on that. If the Pac-12 allows it, it will be up to local health officials.

WSU will also try to prevent large group gatherings on days when games are played, Weiler said.

Tailgating will be banned, the CUB will be closed and the athletics department is in the process of putting up fencing around the stadium to prevent fans from watching from the outside, Weiler said.

“Hopefully we’re going to be able to really encourage people to do the right thing,” he said. “We want folks to stay home, watch the game from their own house with their own immediate family.”

Tony Poston, CEO and founder of College Hill Custom Threads, said he has been a Cougar fan since the early 2000s before he attended WSU. He even met his wife on a Cougar Football Saturday, and they are now season ticket holders.

Poston said he and his wife have not missed a home game since 2010 and go to multiple away games a season.

He said he understands the health concerns and the reasons for not allowing fans at the games but is still disappointed.

“You’re not going to make everybody happy,” he said. “There’s going to be fans that still think they should be here and there’s going to be business owners that are upset about the messaging, but I think the priority should be people’s health.”

Poston said his business will be greatly impacted by the lack of fans. College Hill makes custom apparel for events such as game days and stadium giveaways. He said they had to close their retail store on-campus over the summer because of the pandemic.

“I don’t think there’s many businesses in Pullman that won’t be affected by the lack of fans,” he said.

Weiler said the economic impact of the lack of fans has been a huge concern since the start of the pandemic. WSU brings millions of dollars into the community each year, through football games and other events that bring people to town.

The athletics department is trying to offset the loss of revenue from ticket sales by giving season ticket holders three options, he said. Those options are to receive a refund, roll their payment forward to next season, or choose to turn the payment into a donation.

“A surprising number of season ticket holders voluntarily decided just to say ‘Consider it a donation to Cougar Athletics, I don’t need my money back. We want to support Cougar Athletics,’” Weiler said.

Fans will have the chance to watch every Cougar football game on national television this season. The Pac-12 announced earlier this month that all 36 games will be carried on either ESPN or Fox Sports channels, according to a press release.

Weiler said this will be good for the national exposure of the conference. He said it allows both sports fans and sports media members the opportunity to watch the Pac-12 teams play.

Poston said he is excited to see how well the conference’s games are going to do on national television.

The Pac-12 and WSU Athletics are great marketing tools for the conference and the school, he said. The 2002 Apple Cup influenced him to come to school in Pullman, a place he was not very familiar with.

“If it wasn’t for those Mike Price football years, WSU never would have caught my attention,” he said.

Weiler said there will be opportunities for Cougar football fans to participate in virtual watch parties while staying at home. He said the university is learning how to host those events from the WSU Global Campus, which has held those types of events before.

Poston said he and his wife plan to watch the games from home or at their neighbor’s house. They are keeping their social circle small because they have a 1-month-old newborn baby, so he said they are not going to risk it by going to any large watch parties.

However they decide to watch the Cougars this year is going to look different, but it should not stop fans from enjoying the season, Poston said.

“I think that people can still have fun and support the Cougs from home,” he said.