When Maryland's football team played Wake Forest three Saturdays ago in Byrd Stadium, the announced attendance was 36,472. That was an accurate figure, counting everyone in the stadium.
But it was also a deceiving figure. Of the 36,472 in the stadium, fewer than 15,000 paid full price. More than 5,000 got in free as part of band day. tAnother 5,000 safety patrol youngsters got in for $1. About 8,000 were students. About 4,000 got in on some kind of half-price ticket. The only ones who paid full price were about 11,000 of the 12,500 season ticket holders (1,500 of them have reduced priced tickets) and about 2,000 others who bought tickets for the game.
With the exception of Penn State games, Maryland rarely sells more than 15,000 full-price tickets for a home game.
"We've tried everything in the world to sell our football team," Maryland Athletic Director Jim Kehoe said. "We just can't seem to get more people to come out and watch."
The primary reason Maryland Football does not draw more fans in that there is none of the rah-rah college spirit in Washington that one runs into in Chapel Hill, Clemson, Athens and Tuscaloosa. In addition, the Redskins are the traditional No. 1 attraction in Washington.
"What else are people going to do in Clemson besides to see a Clemson football game?" Keho said. "We're competing with the Redskins, the Bullets, the Caps, the Colts, the Orioles. You name it."
Former Maryland quarterback Mark Manges put it another way: "People around here don't come out to support Maryland; they come out to see what Maryland's got. It they don't like it, they don't come back. When you open your season by beating Villanova, 7-3, you aren't going to turn a lot of people on. Winning like that hurts your image a lot more than losing to a good team does."
Maryland's home schedule normally includes three ACC games. One of those usually is a decent draw. Last year's nonconference home schedule included Villanova, Mississippi State, Louisville and Penn State. This year it is Villanova, Vanderbilt, Penn State. Of the seven, only Penn State, always a sellout, drew more than 35,000 fans. But the Nittany Lions do not return to Byrd Stadium until 1985. Next year's nonconference home games are West Virginia and Syracuse.
"There's no questioning the fact that our attendance is dictated by our opponent," said Chip Zimmer, the school's assistant athletic director in charge of marketing. "If we're 7-0 and playing Villanova I still don't think we would draw more than 35,000 people.
"The problem is we don't have any tradition here. We haven't been able to establish one to give us a base to work with. People in Washington think it's Redskins or bust when it comes to getting tickets.
"It's psychological. Washington is a sophisticated town. Washington people are attracted to a sophisticated atmosphere. Obviously, our image here is not one of sophistication."
Because he believes Maryland's chances of attracting the Washington crowd are limited, Zimmer is in the process of changing Maryland's marketing approach. He is targeting the Baltimore area, a place where interest in Maryland football is almost nil.
"Our location hurts us," Zimmer said. "We're thought of as a Washington school by a lot of people, not the state school. We need to get back to the grass-root people who live in Frederick, Cumberland, Hagerstown."
And, Zimmer admits, marketing Maryland basketball, with colorful, quotable Lefty Driesell as coach, is easier than marketing Maryland football, with low-key, cliched Jerry Claiborne as coach.
"All of us hear the team knocked as playing dull football. We can't just close our eyes and ignore that. We have to deal with it and it can be difficult to do. After all, who is to say what's dull?
"We have to try to and create an exciting atmosphere at the game to make people want to come, win or lose."
The atmosphere in Byrd Stadium never has been like that at Clemson, North Carolina or Alabama. "I always preferred playing on the road," ex-quarterback Larry Dick said. "I never really felt like I was in a college atmosphere until my sophomore year when we played at Tennessee."
Many of the current players say they prefer playing on the road because the empty seats depress them and they know if they fall behind they are likely to get booed.
Maryland is trying to play more teams in future years that are close enough to bring fans to fill seats -- West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Syracuse. But the team that would fill the most seats -- aside from Penn State -- and create a college atmospere in the stadium won't play the Terps: Navy.
There is one more reason Byrd Stadium does not have the pure college atmosphere. Many Maryland students are cynical about their team and for that reason the student section sometimes does not generate enthusiasm.
"I think many of the students probably feel that in the past we've turned our back on them," Zimmer said. "They've been moved, there's been controversy over the student fee and they don't know many of the players that well. We're trying to get them more involved, too."
Opening your season with a 7-3 win over Villanova doesn't make it easy.