Maryland’s football program has most things a successful college football team would want: a standout quarterback, a new head coach with a winning pedigree and many key players back from a team that won nine games last season. The question has been whether these positives would help Maryland stop season ticket sales from declining for a sixth straight season.
With nearly two months left until the season opener against Miami on Labor Day, indications are that the Terrapins could see modest gains in season ticket sales this season. One year after Maryland sold a little more than 19,000 season tickets, athletic department officials say the school has sold 18,400 to date for the 2011 season and is projecting to sell 21,000.
The current renewal percentage of 86 percent is 7 percent higher than last year’s final renewal percentage, school officials said. And Maryland has sold more than 1,200 new season tickets to date, which is already higher than its new-ticket sales total in 2010.
Addressing attendance issues in college football is important because it affects everything from revenue streams to the bowl selection process to the quality of the team’s home-field advantage. Maryland fell more than $500,000 short of season ticket sales projections each of the past two seasons, according to school officials. And Byrd Stadium, which seats 54,000, was filled to 75 percent capacity only once during the 2010 season.
Working against Maryland in recent years has been the fact that this area is flush with other activities for families to undertake on a typical autumn Saturday and that the economy continues to sputter. Other ACC teams have confronted attendance challenges. Virginia Tech recently opened up season ticket sales to the public after donor purchases regressed for the first time in at least six years. In May, season ticket sales at Clemson were reportedly down 6 percent from that point the year before. Sales at Georgia Tech have also been slower than the school anticipated.
Regardless of outside factors, Maryland has engaged in an aggressive marketing and public relations campaign this offseason to generate interest. Among Maryland’s top priorities has been to improve customer relationship management, said Nick Lofaro, Maryland’s assistant athletic director/marketing and sponsor services. Toward that end, Maryland has partnered with the Aspire Group, a global sports and entertainment firm that helps clients grow revenue and build sustainable fan bases.
“We anticipate making 5,000 relationship-building phone calls per week to our fan base, gathering data on how we can improve our gameday experience and also rallying support for the season,” Lofaro wrote last week in an e-mail. “Calls will start next week and continue throughout the season.”
In addition to its traditional advertising campaign, which includes outdoor billboards and television, radio and online advertisements, Maryland recently released a Web site called MarylandFootball2011.com in an attempt to stir up fan excitement for the season and launched a Maryland athletics Facebook page earlier this summer to cultivate relationships with fans.
As for promotions, Maryland instituted a select-a-seat initiative for the first time at the spring game, in which fans had the chance to view available seating in-person and make a purchase with the school’s ticket office representatives.
What’s more, anyone who refers a friend or family member to buy a season ticket will receive a $25 gift certificate to apply toward a future Maryland athletics ticket purchase. There is no limit on the number of referrals.
Maryland is also working with eight counties in Maryland to set up “school day with the Terps” promotions that target elementary school-age youth attendance. And Maryland is in contact with 20 youth football leagues throughout the state as part of a variety of promotions.
In the past, some fans have expressed displeasure with Maryland’s home schedule, which at times has featured some opponents generally considered to be unglamorous. This year’s home schedule features a number of marquee opponents, including Miami, rivals West Virginia and Virginia, and Notre Dame, which will play Maryland at FedEx Field on Nov. 12. (The Notre Dame game is not included in the season ticket package; tickets for that game are available separately through the Maryland ticket office.)
When asked about season ticket sales last month, first-year Maryland Coach Randy Edsall talked up the team’s selling points, which he said include the opportunity to watch quarterback Danny O’Brien and linebacker Kenny Tate, both of whom have garnered national attention. Edsall also said to expect a heavy promotional campaign to begin this month.