The last time the Virginia Tech football team played at FedEx Field, a near-sellout crowd turned the venue into Lane Stadium North to open the 2010 regular season. The stands were filled mostly with burnt orange and maroon as 86,587 fans watched the Hokies lose on a last-minute touchdown against No. 3 Boise State.
When Virginia Tech returns to Landover on Saturday for a nonconference tilt with Cincinnati, Coach Frank Beamer and company could be greeted by a half-empty stadium.
On Monday, the Washington Redskins informed Virginia Tech that only 38,000 tickets had been sold to Saturday’s game, associate athletic director Tim East wrote in an e-mail. Mitch Gershman, the chief marketing officer for the Redskins, said the team expects “well over 50,000 distributed tickets” by game day.
That figure includes tickets given to Redskins premium seat and suite holders who receive them as part of their season ticket package. FedEx Field, which like the Redskins is owned by Daniel Snyder, has a capacity of 79,000 after the NFL team removed about 4,000 seats this offseason.
Despite Virginia Tech’s large Washington area alumni base, it appears fans have been turned off by face-value ticket prices that are as high as $174.95 for a game between two unranked teams.
A season ticket at Lane Stadium is just $300 for six games this season.
“We had a lot of people balk at the price,” said Sandy Smith, Virginia Tech’s assistant athletic director for ticketing services. “I think that may have hurt their sales, at least through us.”
Virginia Tech did not receive a ticket allotment for the game, but did offer tickets at the prices set by the Redskins through its season ticket package. Smith said the school sold about 6,600 tickets that way.
This week, in response to lagging sales, the Redskins began advertising tickets for $41.70, although that price was only available if someone were willing to buy four tickets.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there also were close to 2,700 tickets available on StubHub, a Web site where people sell tickets on the secondary market, for $29.95. LivingSocial, an online business that offers daily deals to various good and services, is offering tickets for $35.
Both StubHub and LivingSocial are partners with the Redskins, and Gershman noted: “If fans want good deals, they’re out there. At this point, we’d just like the stadium to have as many fans as possible.”
Virginia Tech’s loss to Pittsburgh two weeks ago “clearly took some of the wind out of the sails,” Gershman added. “I won’t say I’m disappointed, but we’d like to see some more team support.”
Gershman said the ticket prices were set according to the rights fee the Redskins had to pay to host the game, but the contract precluded him from disclosing the amount. Saturday’s game was originally slated to be a Cincinnati home game until the school sold it to the Redskins in 2009, the same year the team paid Indiana $3 million to move a 2010 home game against Penn State to FedEx Field.
Cincinnati Athletic Director Whit Babcock did not return a message seeking comment.
Much larger crowds have filled FedEx Field for previous college games. When Virginia Tech opened the regular season against No. 1 Southern California in 2004, the announced attendance was 91,665. More than 70,000 were in the stands for Maryland’s game against Notre Dame last season and for the Indiana-Penn State game in 2010.
The first college game this season at FedEx Field — West Virginia took on James Madison two weeks ago — did not draw nearly as well, with an announced attendance of just 45,511. Gershman said Redskins officials were expecting around 65,000, but said the team was “pleased” with the outcome given the teams involved and the rights fee it paid to host the game.
Virginia Tech’s players, particularly those with ties to the Washington area, expressed excitement about the matchup based on their experience playing Boise State two years ago.
“I was like a little kid in the candy store,” said junior linebacker Jack Tyler, a lifelong Redskins fan. “That was just awesome. I remember we were in the home locker room that game. It was just an awesome feeling knowing that’s what I always dreamed of when I was little. That’s the locker room I wanted to be in when I played football. It’s a cool venue.”
Tyler, an All-Met from Oakton, said he has been trying to get more tickets to the game from teammates to accommodate the growing number of friends and family who want to attend.
If he’s unsuccessful, it seems there are plenty of options available on the open market.