Football stadiums in the Atlantic Coast Conference generally are less full than they were last year.
The 12 ACC teams’ stadiums had been filled to only 86.9 percent capacity this season before last weekend’s games. According to league data, the stadiums were roughly 90 percent full during the 2010 regular season. Both figures are well below the high of 94.5 percent set in 2004, the year Miami and Virginia Tech joined the league.
Losing teams, stadium expansion and scheduling have all contributed to the attendance decline.
Wake Forest and Virginia Tech are the only ACC teams whose stadiums have been 100 percent filled — or better.
Only three schools have shown significant improvement in attendance: Wake Forest, Maryland and Florida State. At five ACC schools — Boston College, Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami and North Carolina — the stands are markedly emptier than they were last year.
Virginia’s numbers are slightly higher, but it’s only filling 74 percent of its seats. The figures at Clemson and North Carolina State have been respectably steady, and Virginia Tech remains the league’s model of consistency with 86 straight sellouts at Lane Stadium.
“What we want to continue to do is to have people keep coming back,” first-year Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. “If we play, they’ll be even more enthusiastic.”
It also helps to play opponents that travel well, and two teams were hoping to see noticeable bumps last weekend.
Georgia Tech was scheduled to host No. 6 Clemson in what was expected to be the first sellout of the season at 55,000-seat Bobby Dodd Stadium. Duke was to have welcomed 15th-ranked Virginia Tech, who was expected to turn Wallace Wade Stadium into Blacksburg South.
“They’re proud that their people travel with them. Where I come from, I’m used to that,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe, a longtime assistant at Tennessee who enjoyed that kind of fan support with the Volunteers, said last week. “We’re not very far apart [geographically], and they certainly come in droves. I don’t begrudge them that fact. … So, hats off to them. That’s the way it’s supposed to be done.”
It’s long been a challenge to draw fans to Duke. The Blue Devils have drawn at least 30,000 fans only 15 times in the past decade, with 12 of those coming since Cutcliffe arrived in 2008. They’ve hit that number only once this season — the opening loss to Richmond — and for an early September home game on a perfect late-summer day against Heisman Trophy contender Andrew Luck and then-No. 6 Stanford, only 24,785 showed up.
It’s difficult to compare ACC schools to each other because they count attendance differently.
Boston College and Georgia Tech announce the number of tickets distributed. North Carolina State counts tickets sold minus the number of student no-shows. Wake Forest — which uses the number of tickets scanned plus the number of students in attendance — has filled BB&T Field to 102.6 percent capacity through four games. North Carolina’s announced crowds are estimates of attendance.
The Tar Heels’ Kenan Stadium was expanded before the season — and has been significantly less full. North Carolina added 2,980 seats when it completed the bowl around one end zone, but the school has had trouble putting people in them — perhaps part of the fans’ reaction to Butch Davis’ preseason firing. North Carolina is drawing 55,300 per game this year, compared to 58,250 in 2010.
Interim coach Everett Withers said “if they put two people out there, I’d coach the same way,” and one of his players insists all those Carolina blue empty seats isn’t much of a factor for those on the field.
“I mean, you notice it but it’s just one of those things,” offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper said. “We’re pretty much just trying to play for one another. If you get your motivation from whoever’s in the seats, then you’re pretty much in trouble, especially with away games. We love when our fans show up. But as for absence of fans, it doesn’t bother us too much.”
Virginia has drawn more than 50,000 to 61,500-seat Scott Stadium only once this season — for the opener against William & Mary — and hasn’t sold out since the 2008 opener against Southern California.
Georgia Tech hired a consultant to help sell tickets, and athletic director Dan Radakovich made a public plea for fans to show up for last month’s ACC opener. Their efforts have helped some, and the Yellow Jackets’ average of 44,228 figures to rise in the coming weeks — not for anything they’ve done, but because of who’s coming. In addition to the Clemson game, they will play host to Virginia Tech and Georgia.
Meanwhile Maryland is enjoying somewhat of a boom; Byrd Stadium has been nearly 89 percent full this season, compared to 76 percent last year. The Terrapins’ boost may have been a result of a home schedule that opened with Miami and included local draws West Virginia and Towson and unbeaten Clemson. The Miami and West Virginia games, Edsall’s first two at the school, drew two of the eight largest crowds in stadium history.
“The crowds have been good the first two games, and then I know people maybe didn’t think we’d get the kind of crowds we got for Temple and Towson,” Edsall said. “When you have 54, 55,000 and they’re all cheering for you it makes it very difficult for the others teams. … What you want to be able to do is protect your home turf.”