Northwestern’s football team took the field under the lights at Ryan Field for the first time since 2007 against the Purdue Boilermakers Saturday night, Oct. 9. While the results may not have been to the liking of Wildcats fans, a big crowd filled Central Street to watch the game and postgame fireworks, and many appeared to linger in Evanston afterward. Continuing a trend this year, the game drew more than 10,000 more fans than last year in this date slot. 

While in previous years the crowd for a Big Ten game against an opponent as close geographically as LaFayette, Indiana’s Purdue would have often drawn as many or more fans cheering for the visitors as those cheering for Northwestern, times are changing. Purple dominated the crowd this time as Northwestern’s marketing efforts, including an attempt to reposition Northwestern as “Chicago’s Big Ten Team,” appear to be paying off.  Attendance so far this year has been consistently ahead of last year’s numbers. 

Given the fact that the Wildcats play two fewer home games in Evanston this year, the City’s budget certainly welcomes increased ticket sales. The City collects 11% of the proceeds from each ticket sold. With Northwestern traveling to Wrigley Field for a home game against Illinois, a matchup that traditionally brings a huge crowd to Ryan Field, and scheduling one fewer home game as well, the City expected to take a substantial revenue hit.  Should ticket sales continue to increase over last year, however, the financial hit could be largely eliminated.  Added economic activity surrounding the night game may help as well, as fans may have decided to stay in town after the game. The ordinary end time for home games is around 2:30 p.m. but the prime time game ended shortly after 9 p.m. 

The game itself saw Purdue come from behind to defeat a Northwestern team that looked out of sorts much of the game, particularly on special teams. Purdue scored the go-ahead touchdown, putting them up by 3, with about 4 minutes left, leaving the ‘Cats plenty of time to score or set up a game-tying field goal.  Northwestern was able to get within field goal range, but Stephan Demos’ attempt from 45 yards out sailed to the right with less than a minute remaining. Purdue then ran out the clock to seal the victory. 

Northwestern, who had cracked the top 25 rankings just last week, falls to 5-1, 1-1 in the Big Ten. Purdue goes to 3-2 and 1-0 in the conference. Northwestern gets a week off before hosting undefeated and 13th ranked (AP) Michigan State on October 23 at 11:00 a.m.  Another big crowd is expected.