The Fremont Cannon is a big deal. I know it's a big deal because I wrote that multiple times in the lead-up to the Nevada-UNLV game last week. But fans are perhaps telling us something different. Something is amiss. We know that. We don't know why.
When UNLV beat Nevada, 34-29, in one of the classic games in the rivalry's history, only 19,921 fans were in attendance at Sam Boyd Stadium. That came one season after just 17,359 fans were in attendance at Mackay Stadium when Nevada topped UNLV, 23-16, last season.
Since Nevada moved to the FBS in 1992, those are the two lowest-attended games in the rivalry game. It also marked the first time the game drew fewer than 20,000 fans since the Wolf Pack's move to the top level of college football 27 years ago. You have to go back to 1983 for the last time a Nevada-UNLV game played at Sam Boyd Stadium drew less than 20,000 people (16,168 fans attended that one).
I went back and looked at every old media guide I have (they go back to 1973, when the Nevada-UNLV tilt was called "The Big Game") to scrounge up attendance figures for every contest between the Wolf Pack and Rebels. I found each attendance number except for the first six games played between the teams (the 1969-74 contests) and the 1976 game. Here are those attendance figures by year.
(Note: Nevada and UNLV didn't play six times in the 1980s, so those years have been omitted; games at Mackay Stadium have an asterisk).
1977: Don't have attendance number
1969-74: Don't have attendance number
Since 1990, Nevada had averaged 27,307 fans per home game against UNLV. It drew 17,359 last season, about 10,000 fewer than its average in the modern era.
Since 1990, UNLV had averaged 25,740 fans per home against Nevada. It drew 19,921 this season, about 6,000 fewer than its average in the modern era.
That's a problems. I'm not here to figure out why those attendance marks were way below what we typically see for this game. That's up to the universities to figure out and fix.
Is it the state of the two programs entering those games?
Is it part of the national trend with declining attendance?
Is it a sign the rivalry doesn't invoke as much passion as it used to?
Is the date of the games (Thanksgiving weekend) the problem?
Is it a combination of everything?
I don't know, but I do know a decline of 10,000 fans below the average is something the Wolf Pack should be trying to figure out. At $35 per ticket, that's a loss of $350,000 pre-concessions. If it is in fact the date of the game, Nevada and UNLV should re-think their request to the Mountain West to play this one on the final regular-season date of the year. If it's something else, both schools need to find out what the issue is sooner rather than later. This used to be a bankable near-sellout for Nevada. It must be that in the future.