A loyal U-M alumnus enjoying a tailgate spread during a football Saturday in the 1970s.


Michigan fans tailgating at the U-M golf course in 1974. 

When Don Canham became athletic director at the University of Michigan in 1968, the football team was struggling with attendance, as many of the 101,001 seats in the Big House remained empty during the season. Canham sought to address this issue mainly through the adoption of season ticket mailers and shrewd marketing tactics. Thanks in large part to his efforts, since 1975, Michigan has seen at least 100,000 fans attend each football game.

In addition to certain logistical adjustments, Canham also worked to turn Michigan football into a “spectacle.” He popularized tailgate parties, where friends and family would get together to eat and drink before football games, and introduced “Pom-Pom girls” to the sidelines for the first time. He also emphasized the importance of the Michigan Marching Band, allowing it to perform before, during, and after games.[1] Canham’s vision of sports as spectacle came to include basketball as well. For a New Year's’ Eve basketball game, Canham created a so-called Family Night, allowing families to attend at a discounted, group rate.

The Michigan students themselves fell in love with Canham’s ideas. Writing in The Michigan Daily, Geoff Larcom explained, “Canham peddles the fall weather, the town, and the pregame tailgating. He asks: ‘Do you want to miss out on this when it happens only six or seven times a year?’ And we say, ‘Hell no!’ and hop on the bandwagon.”[2]

[1] Canham, Don B., and Larry Paladino. From the Inside: A Half-century of Michigan Athletics. Ann Arbor, MI: Olympia Sports, 1996. Print.

[2] The Michigan Daily, September 8, 1979.