Florida Blue Key announced Sunday it’s breaking with the 82-year tradition of holding Gator Growl in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. This October, the pep rally/concert/comedy show will take place on Flavet Field.
Although organizers are spinning the move as a flashy new update, the editorial board feels it’s not enough to compensate for deeper issues, including declining attendance and general disinterest.
To be fair, it does seem that organizers are aware something isn’t working. They’ve spent the past few years adjusting Gator Growl’s model — adding comedians, taking away musicians, switching up genres, playing with fireworks and trying to appeal to both student and alumni interests. But since 2010, the Swamp has seemed emptier.
In the past, high-profile comedians and music acts have attracted large crowds. The glory days brought performers like Bob Hope, Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano, Mitch Hedburg, Dane Cook and Dana Carvey.
In recent years, the Gator Growl acts have fallen in quality as ticket prices climbed.
We think the world’s largest student-run pep rally needs more than a venue change.
It seems the Gator Growl organizers have fallen victim to a universal paradox: They’re attempting to appeal to too-large a fan base, and in doing so, they’re alienating their audience.
We understand that Homecoming weekend is catered toward UF alumni and supporters who want a dose of nostalgia and a chance to connect with the current generation of the Gator Nation. But in order for Gator Growl to succeed, it needs to be refocused.
Alumni will come no matter what, so Gator Growl should try attracting current students with relevant performers and cheaper tickets.
If Blue Key and the university don’t change things soon, the move to Flavet Field will be the nail in the coffin demoting Gator Growl to the ranks of summer concerts. It will be just another event, and nobody wants that.
Gator Growl should be a celebration for UF students, alumni, supporters, athletes and administration. It deserves better. It deserves the Swamp. It deserves current music acts such as the Black Keys, Tom Petty or Vampire Weekend, for example. It deserves current comedy acts such as Hannibal Buress, John Mulaney or Natasha Leggero.
Not all hope is lost. We love Gator Growl, and we want to see it continue its legacy as the biggest, greatest student-run pep rally in the country.
We realize it’s difficult defending the tradition year after year, and we appreciate the organizers’ adventurousness in their efforts to switch things up.
We hope they’ll continue to experiment and evaluate Gator Growl’s direction — not just its location.
[A version of this editorial ran on page 6 on 3/31/2014 under the headline "Flavet fail: Moving Gator Growl won’t solve everything"]