UM football is becoming a crowd-pleaser

Terps expect 51,000-plus for 3rd home game in row

College Football

October 01, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Three hours before Maryland's home football game against West Virginia on Sept. 20, Terps athletic director Debbie Yow was stuck in traffic.

Tropical Storm Isabel had blown through town two days before the game, but fans were still pouring onto campus by the thousands. A bus carrying West Virginia's band had stopped in the middle of the road a few blocks from Byrd Stadium, and now traffic was backed up all through campus as the Mountaineers' band members trickled out of the bus.

So Yow did what any sensible administrator would do. She hopped out of her car, and in her fancy dress clothes, got the bus moved. For the next 15 minutes, she directed traffic until she was satisfied things were moving along again.

Four years ago, in the pre-Ralph Friedgen era, it would have been hard to imagine a scenario like that even being necessary.

But these days, with season-ticket sales up more than 12,000 since 1999 (to 27,500), game day in College Park is a little more crowded.

When Maryland plays Clemson on Saturday, Byrd Stadium is expected to draw more than 51,000 for the third consecutive game. That has never happened in school history.

"I hear these complaints that people don't want to expand our stadium because they're worried about the traffic," Friedgen said jokingly last week. "You're not telling me what I want to hear. ... People have been going to games so long in a vacuum, they forget what real football is about."

Real football, in Friedgen's opinion, eventually means 80,000 seats, corporate boxes and probably selling the naming rights to the stadium to generate revenue to pay for it all.

Maryland's not there yet, but with fans now showing up in good times and bad, that dream inches closer to becoming reality.

"I told our team before the West Virginia game, we were 0-2 and we're coming home to play The Citadel, and we draw 51,000 people?" Friedgen said. "That's unprecedented at Maryland. That's the belief the fans and the student body have in you."

It has been a gradual process. Chrystie Klar, Maryland's director of sports marketing, said that Maryland's goal is to sell 30,000 season tickets, a number the program could reach next season.

"Each year since Coach Friedgen has been here, the season-ticket buyers have increased between 4,000 and 6,000," Klar said. "They're becoming more loyal because they've gained trust in his ability to coach."

Klar said the marketing department has taken the grassroots approach to get people to come back.

This year, Friedgen's picture and the team schedule were everywhere, appearing on yard signs, billboards, soda cans, TV commercials, and radio ads, a blanket-the-community strategy that barely existed through the 1990s.

The school sent out 60,000 flyers in the mail in February to alumni and previous season-ticket and single-game buyers, and then sent out another 100,000 after spring ball. It has been slow going, but the school is finally starting to see the results.

"It's hard to change people's mentality when they've been through a major drought for the last nine or 10 years," Klar said.

"But when people start to believe in your product, they'll come back."

Once the team hits 30,000 season-ticket holders, expansion becomes a more realistic possibility.

"I had a meeting the other day with some people, and we were going over the designs [to expand Byrd Stadium]," Friedgen said.

"It's going to be awhile, maybe a year or two. Once we feel we can support that, then it's worthwhile doing."

For now, Friedgen has to settle for packing Byrd Stadium as is. Against West Virginia, 51,973 showed up, making it the seventh-largest crowd in Maryland history.

"The crowd [against West Virginia] was a big factor in the way we played," Friedgen said of Maryland's 34-7 win.

"The atmosphere is what I would expect it to be every game. I turned to [wide receivers coach] James Franklin on the sideline and I said, `This is what I want our stadium to be every game.' Even in the '80s, we didn't have that. We had some pretty good crowds, but we didn't have that."

Next for Terps

Matchup: Clemson (3-1, 1-0) vs. Maryland (3-2, 0-1)

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 7

Top crowds

When Maryland plays host to Clemson on Saturday, a crowd of more than 51,000 is expected for the third straight home game, a first for the school. A look at the top crowds at Byrd Stadium:

Att. Opponent Date

58,973 Penn State 11-1-75

54,715 West Virginia 9-17-83

54,412 Alabama 9-14-74

52,915 N.C. State 11-9-02

52,462 Clemson 11-10-01

52,348 Penn State 10-6-79

51,973 West Virginia 9-20-03

51,758 Florida State 9-14-02

51,750 Clemson 11-13-82

51,594 The Citadel 9-13-03

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