ACC Attendance Problem

Despite a successful 2010 campaign, the Terps had their lowest attendance since 2002

After turning around a 2-10 disaster into an 8-4 campaign that has the Maryland Terrapins football team bowl-bound come December's end, there is not much complaining around the Gossett Team Football House. The same cannot be said for next door.

Attendance at Byrd Stadium has been steadily declining since 2007, one year after a 9-4 season and a win over Purdue in the Champs Sport Bowl. Yet despite the success on the field, there is no desire on the part of the fans to go out and support their team.

From the 2002-2003 to 2005-2006 season Byrd Stadium averaged nearly 51,700 fans, while the product on the field went merely 20-15, including two seasons below .500. From that point forward, average attendance fell by over 5,000, as attendance from 2006 until this season averaged around 46,500.

While more people opted not to go to the games, the team put together a record just over .500 and earned spots in four bowl games. Then again, it only takes six wins for the right to call your team bowl-eligible nowadays.

In 2010, the Terps averaged their lowest home attendance in the previous eight seasons. Home crowds averaged less than 40,000 on the year, with an all-time low in the Ralph Friedgen-era recorded when the team hosted Florida International University, and a whopping 33,254 were on hand to watch the action.

Aside from the Miami Hurricanes who host games in Sun Life Stadium, the home of the Miami Dolphins and Florida Martlins, Maryland averaged the lowest percentage of attendance based on their stadium's size. Byrd Stadium, which can hold 54,000, averaged about 72.5 percent of its capacity. A close second was awarded to the Virginia Cavaliers, who managed to fill up nearly 74 percent of Scott Stadium.

Byrd Stadium ranks ninth among Atlantic Coast Conference stadiums in capacity, yet only three schools can boast a worse average home attendance record this year. Those schools had a combined record of 13-23; at least Maryland is winning.

It is true many Terps fans still have the taste of a two-win season in the back of their mouths, but the product on the field on 2010 is completely different. Sure the uniforms are the same, but this is a new era of Maryland football ushered in by redshirt freshman Danny O'Brien who led his team to a 6-3 record since taking over the reign at quarterback.

But despite an 8-4 finish, eight teams were better able to lure fans into the stands, including three teams that finished with an inferior record. The best record, naturally, belonged to the ACC's top team. Virginia Tech averaged 66,233 fans per game, meaning approximately 30 seats were left empty per game.

The Hokies were the only team in the conference that was able to sell out all of its game. As their attendance figures remain undaunted, the ACC on the whole filled up just over 87 percent of their seats, a trend seen in five of the past six years, according to an Associated Press report. No other ACC team earned a spot on the list of the top-25 ranking of team's selling the greater percentage of tickets.

The defending ACC champions, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, did not sell out a single game this season, nor did the Florida State Seminoles, who a decade ago would be shocked not to have a packed crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium. Then add in the fact that Duke's conference-worst attendance would have been even poorer if not for a visit from the 2009 national champion Alabama Crimson tide.

Clearly the attendance problem has reared its ugly heads on the majority of the conference. The ACC is not like the Big Ten or the Southeastern Conference; these are teams known for their finesse on the hardwood, not for their battles on the gridiron.

It is Maryland though that has been hit the hardest; a team with a winning record that cannot seem to draw a crowd to watch them play. Colleges in similar predicaments chose to deliver star-studded entertainment to boost attendance.

For instance, SUNY Buffalo hired skateboarding sensation Tony Hawk to appear at the stadium before the Bulls took the field.

Others schools transformed game-day a theme party to assemble the fans. San Jose State turned Spartan Stadium into a giant fiesta, while Louisiana-Lafayette arranged a petting zoo right smack in the center of their stadium's parking lot.

But those are smaller schools - Maryland is a member of the almighty Atlantic Coast Conference, a conference that prides itself on the tradition of consistency as a mark of excellence. What would they think of Maryland attempting to solve the attendance problem by parading those Capital One Vikings around Byrd Stadium?

It does not appear as if the whole winning thing is working out. A turnaround appeared almost unnoticed by the Terrapins faithful. Six more wins and a trip to a bowl game and less people show up.

It is not like you can make a game a blackout versus Florida State with a trip to the ACC Championship Game on the line either. If you could, how do you make the 2011 matchup against Middle Tennessee State sound appealing?

Oh, and trying tactless stunts - well, good luck getting that by the new athletic director Kevin Anderson. He wants the crowd to relax more as it is.

With so many solutions needed, what is Maryland to do?

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