Nebraska football’s historic 375-game sellout streak was on thin ice heading into this weekend’s game against Fordham.
Losing season after losing season and a recent season-opening loss to Illinois clearly weighed on fans. However, the streak will officially go on. The program announced Tuesday that donors purchased the approximately 2,400 remaining tickets.
Those seats won’t all go empty on Saturday. Nebraska also announced the ‘Red Carpet Experience’ initiative, which will provide complimentary tickets to underserved youth in the state. The idea came from a meeting in which athletic director Trev Alberts asked his senior staff to brainstorm possibilities that would allow the program to be able to continue the streak.
The route they decided on was proposed by Dr. Lawrence Chatters, who was hired this summer as the department’s senior associate athletic director for diversity, equity and inclusion.
“The ‘Red Carpet Experience’ is about increasing access to more underserved youth across our state,” Chatters said in the press release. “There are a number of young Husker fans who are unable to attend a football game due to their economic circumstances.”
While the initiative alone hasn’t brought opposition, some have still been upset that this is how the streak will continue, and feel this officially puts an asterisk by the 376 straight games. I get it, to an extent. It’s likely there’ll be a notable number of empty seats on Saturday, and that can be disappointing. Nebraska also arguably hasn’t been worth continuing the streak for a few years now.
But, if you feel that the “integrity” or “spirit” of Nebraska’s sellout streak is compromised because it’s not just people who can afford it filling the stands, it’d be a good idea to change how you’ve been thinking about the streak and fandom in general.
This isn’t to say no Nebraska fan should hold up the sellout streak as a point of pride. A 50-plus year streak of anything is impressive. But it’s also worth recognizing that the fanbase should be characterized by much more than that, and not everyone has had the privilege of taking part in such traditions.
The prevailing narrative in sports has been that it brings people together, on the playing field and off. That has historically made it easy to dismiss the fact that sports don’t exist in a vacuum — the same inequities that exist outside of sports also exist inside them, and should be talked about.
Not everyone has the same access to fandom. I’ve been blessed enough to not have my fan experience impacted significantly by financial obstacles, but that isn’t the case for a lot of people.
Racial wealth inequities can’t be ignored here either. Just as there is value to me being able to see players and coaches on the field who look like myself, I want to see fans who look like me, and there are societal barriers that get in the way of that.
This initiative Nebraska has put on will help give everyone the chance to experience Memorial Stadium on game day. The wider range of people who get to enjoy Husker football, the better. If this way of doing things ruins the sellout streak for you, understand that the sellouts you’re accustomed to counting may have excluded those who now will get a chance to attend.
This column also isn’t to just completely shield the university from criticism. As Alberts admitted in the promotion video, this was a reaction to seeing that the sellout streak was in danger. If the team was 21-12 rather than 12-21 since head coach Scott Frost arrived, there might have been no problem filling the stands and this initiative might not exist.
The blame for that can’t really lie on the current staff, as Alberts and Chatters both arrived in their roles this summer, but there’s plenty of questions that now arise for the future.
Currently, it seems that this is going to be a one-week only thing. Is Nebraska only going to make an effort to bring in underserved youth when the streak is in danger? Or, will there be continued pushes to give more fans a better experience? That doesn’t even have to mean reserving tickets, but this is a chance to progress in one way or another.
From my prior conversations with Chatters and Alberts, I feel that this effort behind this is completely genuine and there’s a care for bridging the gap with underserved fans. I just hope these efforts continue.
But, I’ll be the first to say that I wasn’t thinking of it this way or had these criticisms before now. I’m sure that’s the case for many others. That’s OK, as long as we’re aware of it moving forward.
This effort is not only good for the impact it’ll have on Saturday, but because it also should inspire us to think about how we value fandom and how that space can be more inclusive.