Despite entertainment changes, turnout for this year's Gator Growl was lower than expected.
The UF student-run pep rally, put on by Florida Blue Key, attracted a crowd of about 26,000 this year, said Gator Growl Producer Aaron Heger. Staff had projected more than 30,000 people would attend.
Final attendance numbers were not available at press time, but Heger said about 11,000 students attended, which he estimated is about 2,000 more than last year.
This year the stage was moved from the north endzone to the student section of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, fireworks were brought back after a two-year hiatus, and a headlining music act returned after a year without one.
From what he has heard, Heger said the stage change has generated the most positive feedback.
"It's just much easier to see from multiple angles across the stadium," he said.
Heger said the return of fireworks and the "Ask Bernie" skit were also received well. In the skit, UF President Bernie Machen did "the Bernie," a dance from the 1989 movie "Weekend at Bernie's."
Audience members also enjoyed this year's entertainment, Heger said. Joel McHale, who hosts "The Soup" on E! Entertainment network and acts in NBC's show "Community," performed as the Gator Growl comedian. The Goo Goo Dolls played as the headlining band.
Heger said a 1,500-student survey conducted in the spring indicated that 90 percent of respondents wanted a music act at Gator Growl.
Bringing the Goo Goo Dolls cost $110,000 and bringing McHale cost $85,000, Heger said. Student Government transferred $71,000 from reserve funds to Student Government Productions in September for Gator Growl to put toward the Goo Goo Dolls.
Gator Growl Public Relations Director Cait Feroleto estimated that Gator Growl expenses totaled around $1 million.
Kaitlyn Hosticka, a 23-year-old criminology junior, said she had never heard of McHale before Gator Growl staff announced he would be the comedian.
She said McHale turned out to be her favorite part of the show. She particularly enjoyed his jokes about the Kardashian family and about the University of Georgia.
Hosticka said the Goo Goo Dolls were good, but she was interested in seeing more recent acts like Maroon 5, LMFAO or Lupe Fiasco.
She posted her thoughts on Twitter on Friday night: "Joel McHale was the best part! Goo Goo Dolls are great, but next year they need a more current performer."
About 26,000 people attended Gator Growl on Friday night, said Gator Growl Producer Aaron Heger.