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Chris Thompson on attendance: ‘I expected it to be packed, honestly’

September 18, 2018

ASHBURN A six-season veteran, Chris Thompson knows what a good crowd can do for the home team. The Redskins running back pointed out how energy from the fans gives a “boost” to the offense, while making it hard for opposing team to communicate.

But when the Redskins took the field for Sunday’s 21-9 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Thompson was surprised by how empty the stands were.

“It was very noticeable for me yesterday being that it was the first home and we had just came off a win [in Arizona] that way,” Thompson said. “I expected it to be packed out, honestly.”

Washington’s self-proclaimed 50-year sellout streak ended Sunday, with the team reporting an attendance figure of just 57, 013 down more than 21,000 from last year’s home opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Most players interviewed Monday either shrugged off the poor attendance or said they didn’t notice it at all, but Thompson emphasized the importance of fans showing up.

“I wouldn’t say it affects us as a team, but I know we want to have our stadium packed out,” Thompson said. “That makes us feel good. It makes us feel like we have the support the people here in this DMV area. For it to be as empty as it was, to me, it was a little bit of a shock.”

Last week, Redskins chief marketing officer Steve Ziff said the team was “comfortable” with the idea of the streak ending. He added the Redskins are trying to establish a new “culture” on their business side, aiming to sell to authentic fans rather than ticket brokers.

The Redskins have also moved to upgrade the game-day experience by introducing new food and beverage options, revamping pregame introductions and cutting down on in-game commercial spots.

But for the team’s new marketing efforts to work, the franchise has to overcome some obstacles. Their home, FedEx Field, is an outdated facility compared to many NFL stadiums, and with traffic and limited public transportation options, the Prince George’s County site can be difficult to get into and out of for many fans.

The Redskins have also lost fans frustrated with the lack of winning or put off by the team’s nickname, which some have come to see as a racist reminder of a less-inclusive America.

Then there are fans who swore off the NFL entirely because of players protesting during the anthem. Aside from seven Redskins taking a knee last September in response to President Trump, the franchise has largely avoided the player protests.

But in an interview with The Washington Times last month, season-ticket holder Monica Arrington-Miller cited the divisive political climate surrounding the NFL as a reason she stopped watching and sold her Redskins tickets.

“There’s a lot of arguing in the stands because of it,” she said. “I’ve heard people make comments how they disagree with the players kneeling and then the people who do agree start yelling at who don’t agree. And then the people who don’t agree start yelling at people who do agree. There’s a lot of arguing that’s going on both sides.

“It’s made for taking my kids to the games to be an unpleasant experience.”

It’s a costly experience as well. Just two years ago, FedEx Field topped a GoBankingRates study as the most expensive place to watch an NFL game.

The Redskins aren’t the only NFL team facing attendance issues. Ziff noted how there are many more entertainment options now than there used to be.

“We want them to feel like instead of going out to dinner, that week they can go to a Redskins game and enjoy the time,” Ziff said. “Win or lose, they’re going to go ‘This is fun. We enjoy coming here. We’re not [expletive] and whining when we leave.’ ... It’s time to become a fan again.”

Fans weren’t satisfied Sunday. They booed. They left early.

Running back Adrian Peterson said it was the first time in his 12-year career that he was booed at a home opener. Thompson added the jeers were unnecessary.

“We’ve got to have our own passion if the fans aren’t going to show up,” tight end Jordan Reed said. “We have to go out there and enjoy the game.”

Thompson agreed. He said the team’s offense was better than what they showed against the Colts, noting he needed to make tacklers miss more often when he received the ball as frequently as he did.

The best solution to the Redskins’ attendance woes is winning, Thompson said.

“We’ve just got to win games,” he said. “We win games and we dominate, I’m sure more fans will show up. We’ve just got to focus on us and try to win.”

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