Skip to content

A College Football Town Tries to Survive a Ghost Season

Ten months after winning the Rose Bowl, the Oregon Ducks have found that everything has changed—and Eugene is … weirder than ever.

Autzen Stadium

Autzen Stadium

Photographer: Nils Ericson for Bloomberg Businessweek

On a typical fall Saturday at the University of Oregon, Greg Wells would be patrolling a cacophonous corridor of 24 tents in the parking lots next to Autzen Stadium. An Oregon alum and chief executive officer of Tailgate Pal, Wells and a staff of up to 10 would be coordinating the pregame experience for hundreds of fans on hand in Eugene to see their Ducks play. They would take care of everything down to the coolers chilling local IPAs and the hot dogs and ribs from a nearby catering company. For an added fee, tailgaters could rent flatscreen TVs, snack on cupcakes topped with green Os, or play cornhole.

Normally, in this city of 172,000 people where I grew up, Autzen Stadium fills up for Duck games with more than 50,000 fans seven times a season; countless more people crowd into bars or restaurants, or attend parties in Eugene. Around campus, it’s hard to find a coffee shop, hair salon, or front yard that doesn’t have green or yellow paraphernalia on display. “Go, Ducks” is an accepted salutation.