COLLEGE PARK -- There is plenty of space on the Vandwagon.
Maryland's football marketing campaign this year was a natural. Sell first-year coach Ron Vanderlinden and his experience tilling other football wastelands as a top assistant during the rise of the programs at Colorado and Northwestern.
The effort to sell tickets figured to be aided by a Byrd Stadium schedule that included border rivals West Virginia and Virginia, North Carolina and its national aspirations and a homecoming date with Clemson.
Fans, however, have not been compelled to go to Byrd Stadium. The Terps are 2-6, and attendance reflects that record. Maryland will have its worst average attendance for a schedule that includes Virginia and West Virginia in at least a decade, and ticket sales will fall about $700,000 below budget projections.
The Terps complete their home schedule at 1 p.m. Saturday against Virginia. Maryland anticipates 30,000 fans, and with an average attendance of 28,374 for its first five home games, the Terps probably will fall short of even last year's average of 29,559, when the program had a lame-duck coach in Mark Duffner and a less attractive home schedule.
Maryland's revenue projections again have taken a beating. The athletic department made $350,000 less on ticket sales than it anticipated last year, and that figure could double this year. The addition of a sixth home game led Maryland to project $2.3 million in ticket revenue this season, but actual sales will be closer to $1.6 million.
"We were not expecting a drop-off," athletic director Debbie Yow said. "I remember looking at our revenue total for 1995, when we made $1.95 million, and thinking that maybe we could make as much as $30,000 more per game."
That optimism called for Maryland to average 44,000 fans. The team's performance hasn't helped, but attendance also has been affected by external factors.
Yow said that the Atlantic Coast Conference confuses fans when it moves starting times to accommodate television, something it did for the Clemson game. The Orioles captivated the region in October, but the largest impact on Maryland likely has been the 85,000 NFL seats that have been added to the Baltimore-Washington market over the past 15 months.
When Maryland averaged 42,121 fans in 1995, the Ravens were not in Baltimore, and the capacity for Redskins games was 55,000, not the 80,116 at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium.
"There are an incredible number of football tickets being sold in this region that weren't two years ago," Yow said. "We'll do a thorough market analysis next spring, to see how important those factors are. Vandy [Vanderlinden] is upbeat about this. He's the kind of guy who thinks that marketing is nice but the way you get fans is to win."
There is anecdotal support for that contention.
In Annapolis, also in the shadow of the Ravens and Redskins, Navy has turned the goodwill of last season's bowl appearance into record attendance (32,108). There is Maryland's own 1995 season, when a 4-0 start and a quarterback controversy boosted average attendance to 42,121. It was the Terps' best attendance at home since 1991.
"We saw a blip on the radar screen in 1995," Yow said. "We won our first four games, we were ranked No. 17 and people came. Could it possibly be that simple? Maybe."
Maryland's decade-old budget deficit has been trimmed from $6.8 million to $4.8 million over the past three years, but the football losses will make it harder to balance the budget for fiscal year 1998.
The easiest fix for the shortfall could come from the Bowl Alliance. If No. 5 North Carolina were to beat No. 3 Florida State and both are chosen for lucrative Alliance bowls, Maryland's share of ACC bowl revenue would increase from $1 million to $1.8 million. Yow said that the last option to balance the budget would be to cut budgets in other sports.
The search for additional revenue could lead to Baltimore. Yow ++ has explored moving one of next year's home games, most likely Georgia Tech, to the Ravens' new stadium.
Yow moved last year's date against Florida State to South Florida for $1 million, which netted Maryland $400,000 more than if the game had been played at Byrd. Yow declined to say how much money the Ravens have offered Maryland to move a game, but nodded yes when asked if $1 million was a reasonable starting point for negotiations.
Byrd Stadium was expanded to 48,000 seats two years ago, and Yow said that capacity could grow, because Maryland is exploring the possibility of adding skyboxes and a Hall of Fame into the closed end of the seating bowl. With Maryland filling only 59 percent of its seats at Byrd Stadium, easily the worst rate in the ACC, would that expenditure make any fiscal sense?
"When we win," Vanderlinden said, "you won't be able to get a ticket here."
Maryland's football attendance has typically gone up in odd-numbered years, when Virginia and West Virginia come to Byrd Stadium, but that pattern has not held this season:
... .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . .. .. Pct. of
School .. .. .. .. .. Average .. .. Capacity
Florida State . .. .. 76,853 ... .. ... 99.2
Clemson . .. .. .. .. 70,500 ... .. ... 86.5
North Carolina ... .. 57,600 ... .. ... 99.6
N.C. State . .. .. .. 51,000 ... .. ... 95.3
Georgia Tech .. .. .. 45,095 ... .. ... 98.0
Virginia ... .. .. .. 41,080 ... .. .. 102.7
Maryland ... .. .. .. 28,374 ... .. ... 59.0
Duke ... ... .. .. .. 24,484 ... .. ... 72.1
Wake Forest ... .. .. 22,326 ... .. ... 70.8
SOURCE: Atlantic Coast Conference
Pub Date: 10/29/97