Last Saturday, I watched the first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium, a matchup between the Wolverines and Notre Dame. Just about 115,000 fans showed up for the game, a record even for a school that hasn’t failed to draw a six-digit crowd since 1975.
Sometime in the second quarter, the broadcasters asked the trivia question of the night: “Which football stadium went the longest between its opening and its first night game.”
Immediately, I’m proud to report, I knew it was Harvard Stadium. The announcers struggled with it, fumbling around with Penn’s Franklin Field as a possibility, but neither could answer correctly (Ben 1, Kirk Herbstreit 0).
But Harvard Stadium is the clear winner, playing its first game under the lights a full 104 years after its 1903 opening. It took Michigan a mere 84 years.
Even with the lights, the Crimson has never really taken full advantage. The first night game in 2007 certainly boosted student interest, and it remains the best-attended or second-best attended contest of the year, depending on the location of The Game. Harvard athletics also hosted a night lacrosse game in 2010 that drew crowds in the tens of thousands.
Given the clear increase in interest—both among students and among Crimson fans outside the University—why the team hasn’t been playing more home night games is unclear.
But it seems like the Athletic Department and the football program are moving in the right direction.
When Dartmouth visits Harvard in late October, it will be the first time that Harvard has hosted two night games in the same season.
The Big Green seems to have caught the nighttime bug itself. After never having played a night game before this year, its game at Harvard Stadium was set to be its first.
But just a few weeks later, the team announced that it would host its first-ever night game against Penn a few weeks before it was set to meet the Crimson.
Across the Ivy League, and especially at Harvard, these changes are promising signs that schools are interested in reinvigorating interest in their football programs.
Though the days of regular Ivy sellouts are long gone, the interest is still there. The Crimson, Yale, and Penn consistently boast among the best attendances in FCS football. But the reality is that student involvement is lower than it has been in the past, and it seems at long last that Harvard recognizes that fact—and is working to change the culture.
The most notable initiative to drive student attendance is the Crimson Cash bonus, which awards attendees at certain games this season with $1 of that ever-elusive laundry money.
All sorts of other giveaways are in the works as well.
I think that more important than anything else, though, is that most of these promotional games are at night.