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Posted at 10:52 AM ET, 11/23/2010

Maryland attendance and the television issue in ACC football

By Eric Prisbell

The red light on my BlackBerry blinked at 12:55 a.m. Sunday morning. The e-mail came from the ACC office, which was announcing the kickoff times for the Nov. 27 games that had been received six-day options the week before. Among them, North Carolina State at Maryland, which I learned was scheduled to kick off at 3:30 p.m. I was still in the Byrd Stadium press box writing my FSU-Maryland game story, but I sat back and thought of the many Maryland fans who were either asleep or chugging a cold soda at a night-time establishment or doing whatever. They weren’t going to learn of the kickoff time until Sunday morning. And if they had not already planned on going to the game, what would be the chances that they would be able to adjust their schedule – on a holiday weekend no less – and go buy tickets for Maryland’s regular season finale now that they finally knew the game’s start time? Slim.

College football needs television to thrive. But college football programs need in-stadium fans to survive. And when a conference waits until six days prior to a game to announce its start time, that puts a lot of fans in a difficult situation. You’re either asking fans to make a late decision on buying tickets or you’re asking them to block out the whole day for the game in advance and wait and wait and wait until the start time is announced whenever conference and TV folks deem fit. A lot of fans I have heard from – and I thank everyone for the many emails following Saturday’s attendance story – feel that is too much to ask. Attendance for this N.C. State game is worth keeping an eye on. This was a game that, before the season, didn’t figure to hold much weight for a rebuilding team predicted to finish last in the division. The game was set for a holiday weekend, and students are scattered at their homes across the region or across the country. Then the game-time was not announced until six-days prior to game day, rather than six days earlier, giving even interested fans less time to figure out their plans for the day.

In my story, I attributed recent attendance issues to many things: economy, on-field struggles, D.C. market. But television is also a factor, and it cuts a few ways. In addition to start times not being announced soon enough, many Maryland games in recent years could only be viewed on the Internet on ESPN360.com (or whatever they call it now). I actually liked watching the game on the Internet the one time I did. The picture quality was good – not great, but good – and there was a tool called volume that allowed me to mute the broadcasters who required muting. I also liked the option to keep up with the statistics. That said, a lot of fans, casual fans, aren’t going to watch on the Internet, so the lack of television coverage – regardless of whether Maryland wins or loses -- does little to excite the fan base.

These are some of the sentiments I’ve heard from fans in recent days and weeks, and I think they are valid points. Do you agree with me or am I nuts – or both – and what should be done about the television issues to help attendance?

By Eric Prisbell  | November 23, 2010; 10:52 AM ET
Categories:  Football  
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Comments

I guess we're done with the bolw talk, so onto the Maryland can't draw fans topic from our infinitely creative beat writer!

I am a season ticket holder, so the times don't change the fact that I will show up to every game. However, I do feel that the television situation has affected attendance at Maryland games. There's a big difference between a noon game and an 8 PM game, and a lot of people with families do not want to commit to season tickets when they don't know if they can even bring their kids to all of the games on the schedule. It seems that the ACC is one of the more eratic conferences in the way that it schedules games with the SEC a close second.

I can see the arguement from the other side, and the desire for ESPN to show the most attractive matchups in primetime, but the NFL survived for years without the flex, and still only flex one game a week and only allow the flex during the last few weeks of the season.

I know it will never happen, but if the schools could negogtiate a deal with ESPN that only allowed the network flexibility on 2 home games per season, it wuold really help out. Most of the time, you can predict the important games before the season starts (for next year it's going to be Maryland/Miami, Maryland/ND, and possibly Maryland/Clemson), so that leaves 4 other home games that could be locked in with kick times. The Big Ten has been doing it for ages, and ACC basketball tip times are locked in a month before the season starts. I just don't understand how ESPN is allowed to wield so much power over the conferences and schools when it's the schools that provide the product. Does ESPN really see that big of a difference in ratings if they show Maryland/NCSU at 3:30 versus 7:00, especially when they have 4 different networks that allows them to prioritize the games based on perceived level of importance.

BTW, could we PLEASE get some reporting on the actual team before the holiday like injuries on the o-line, how the team plans on attacking Russell Wilson, or maybe a feature on Travis Baltz and his handling for both primary kicking duties and Ferrara's fall from grace? Aside from gamers, Terp fans have gotten next to NOTHING about this team from it's so-called beat writer. Maybe that's why the Terps have trouble drawing fans.

Posted by: Russtinator | November 23, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

I would say the biggest problems with attending Terp games are: traffic (College Park is horrendous to get to), the stadium (what little charm Byrd stadium had was lost when they plopped that upper deck on), tailgating (have to watch out for underage drinkers), the schedule (how many people are really excited by oppenents like East Tenn?), and the program (how many charasmatic, exciting players are there on the team?). Game times don't help, but that really doesn't figure into this Alumni's decision to skip going to the games.

Posted by: pppp1 | November 23, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

pppp1, did you seriously just list having to watch out for underage drinkers as one of the biggest problems with attending Terps games? Oh. My. God.

Posted by: Barno1 | November 23, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

I would say the biggest problems with attending Terp games are: traffic (College Park is horrendous to get to), the stadium (what little charm Byrd stadium had was lost when they plopped that upper deck on), tailgating (have to watch out for underage drinkers), the schedule (how many people are really excited by oppenents like East Tenn?), and the program (how many charasmatic, exciting players are there on the team?). Game times don't help, but that really doesn't figure into this Alumni's decision to skip going to the games.

Posted by: pppp1 | November 23, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

I would agree with the traffic issue, but if you show up 3-4 hours before kickoff to tailgate, it's not an issue getting in, but getting out can be a different story. It's the curse of the University and it's location, along with the fact that the city and county keep blocking the long-proposed connector highway from the I-95 Park and Ride to the Paint Branch Drive gate.

I'm not sure how a stadium loses charm when you add an upper deck. What the upper deck did do was make the place look really empty when it's 10,000 or more short of capacity. The upper deck is far nicer to sit in than those lousy bleachers, and as a 5-year season ticket holder in section 203, I wouldn't trade my seats for pretty much any other location in the stadium.

I'm not sure why someone is worried about underage drinking at tailgates. Do you regularly have underage kids walking up to you asking for beer? I don't get it.

I would agree with the schedule, and hopefully that's something that's being addressed. A lot of it has to do with who is willing to play you during certain years. The loss of the WVU game really hurt, and the Cal home at home turned out to be a wash (very exciting home game, but a road slaughter). I think a lot of FBS teams are trying to figure out how to handle the 12th game, and the ability to schedule an FCS team. The Terps' current approach has been pretty good by scheduling local FCS teams like Deleware, JMU, Morgan, and Towson, and I think it's a huge mistake to eliminate the FCS game altogether.

I'm not sure why you think the program doesn't have exciting players. Moten and Woujiack have a good chance to play at the next level. Tate is lock to play in the NFL. DOB is one of the most exciting young QBs the Terps have had in the Fridge era. Meggett is a great RB, and DJ Adams might be even better when given regular carries. Torey Smith would probably be going into the draft this year if he wasn't dealing with so many injuries (he might still go). Add to that the series of pros the Terps have sent to the NFL throughout the Fridge era including Darius Heward Bey, Dan Gronkowski, Shaun Hill, Vernon Davis, Shaun Merriman, Kevin Barnes, Stephon Heyer, Jared Gaither, Phil Costa, Bruce Campbell, Josh Wilson, Domonique Foxworth, and many many more. The Terps are in the top 25 in active former players currently on NFL rosters.

Posted by: Russtinator | November 23, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Seriously Prisbell???

When I heard that N.C. State had beaten UNC on Saturday I knew that is Maryland had won, the MD-N.C. State game would be another late start (after 7 pm). Had F$U won the game, the MD-N.C. State game would be at 3:30 because would no longer be the Atlantic Division Championship game. (Had Maryland and N.C. State both lost last Saturday, this Saturday's game would have been at Noon because it would have had no importance.)

But the question you're asking is a demonstration of the nature of the Maryland fanbase which is constantly on display around here and doesn't need to be asked.

"They don't care that you won, they're just too furious that you could have lost."

Posted by: CapsNut | November 23, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Something else that is hurting attendance is the incredible jump in the quality of televised games. Just 10 years ago the screens were dimmer, smaller, and non-HD. Not to mention the percentage of games televised has probably doubled.

Posted by: mdavidj | November 23, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Russ, here's the whole list. This also includes 2 that played at MD before the Fridge era, but also doesn't include at least a dozen more Fridge players that are no longer in the NFL.

Lance Ball Denver Broncos Running Back
Kevin Barnes Washington Redskins Cornerback
Eric Barton Cleveland Browns Linebacker
Bruce Campbell Oakland Raiders Guard
Nolan Carroll Miami Dolphins Cornerback
Jon Condo Oakland Raiders Long Snapper
Phil Costa Dallas Cowboys Guard
Vernon Davis San Francisco 49ers Tight End
Jeff Dugan Minnesota Vikings Fullback
Moise Fokou Philadelphia Eagles Linebacker
Domonique Foxworth Baltimore Ravens Cornerback
Jared Gaither Baltimore Ravens Offensive Tackle
Dan Gronkowski Denver Broncos Tight End
Joey Haynos Miami Dolphins Tight End
E.J. Henderson Minnesota Vikings Linebacker
Erin Henderson Minnesota Vikings Linebacker
Stephon Heyer Washington Redskins Offensive Tackle
Darrius Heyward-Bey Oakland Raiders Wide Receiver
Shaun Hill Detroit Lions Quarterback
D'Qwell Jackson Cleveland Browns Linebacker
Kris Jenkins New York Jets Defensive Tackle
Shawne Merriman Buffalo Bills Linebacker
Adam Podlesh Jacksonville Jaguars Punter
Randy Starks Miami Dolphins Defensive End
Jaimie Thomas Indianapolis Colts Guard
Madieu Williams Minnesota Vikings Safety
Edwin Williams Chicago Bears Center
Josh Wilson Baltimore Ravens Cornerback

Posted by: Barno1 | November 23, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Feinstein makes a great point in his article. If MD beats NCST, Yow gets knowcked out of the ACCCG. Reason enough alone to show up to the game.

Regards -

-hgr

Posted by: HughGRection | November 23, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Eric,

While it may be just fine watching a game on the internet, it's not possible to replicate the quality you get watching on a big screen HDTV.

Also, another huge problem that you fail to mention is that a lot of internet service providers don't carry ESPN3. For those fans, you are simply SOL when half your teams games are relegated to internet-only broadcasts.

Posted by: FeartheNoodle | November 23, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

MD plays on national tv yet again on Saturday, making this the most national tv appearances in Maryland football history. Great for recruiting and great for fans who live out of this area.

Posted by: Barno1 | November 23, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Eric,

While it may be just fine watching a game on the internet, it's not possible to replicate the quality you get watching on a big screen HDTV.

Also, another huge problem that you fail to mention is that a lot of internet service providers don't carry ESPN3. For those fans, you are simply SOL when half your teams games are relegated to internet-only broadcasts.

Posted by: FeartheNoodle | November 23, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Actually, if you stream ESPN3 through the XBox 360, the picture is in HD (assuming they are taping in HD--UVA game was poor quality HD). The XBox version of the service is vastly superior to streaming through the computer. I found myself switching through a lot of the offerings (5 other CFB games, soccer, NCAA basketball, and a constantly updated pseudo-SportsCenter show) during halftime of the UVA game.

It is unfortunate that ESPN3 is not available everywhere, but other than contacting your broadband provider, what can you do about it?

Posted by: Russtinator | November 23, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I blame John Swofford. I wrote about this a while back when Barno was trying to pass off that every game has been on national television. For the record, ESPN 3 is not national television since it's on the network and Raycom is a crappy regional sports network.

John Swofford signed a horrible deal with ESPN. Not only did he let them broadcast whatever they wanted on the Internet, he also kept Raycom as part of the deal. I understand they have been long time partners with the ACC and run the website for the ACC but they are a small company that's barely surviving and was going to be shut out had Swofford not felt sorry for them and gave them one game a week and included them for basketball when he cut the deal with ESPN.

They have one HD truck and if anyone has watched basketball or football games when they broadcasted multiple games in one day, only one has been in HD which is inexcusable these days. And there are tons of companies out there that would pay a pretty penny to run the ACC website and reap the rewards. Not to mention the horrible broadcasters which have included Billy Packer (thank goodness he retired) and Tim Brandt, who is alumni, yet thinks he is objective when he bashes Maryland and doesn't speak positively of them. It always feels like he's pulling for the other team. And Mike Hogwood has the composure of a deer-in-headlights with his sideline reporting.

The SEC dropped Raycom not long ago and we didn't follow suit unfortunately when the opportunity presented itself.

In regards to the times, I have season tickets and the time do not effect me going to the games. It has been like this for years and if people aren't used to it by now, that's sad. And if you're planning on going to games, it basically is an all day event and it seems like people with season tickets plan on these things. I understand there are other events outside of this but if your committed to supporting your school or team, then you'll be there one way or another.

I always get a few supporters but seem to be the goat most of the time when I post but I'm passionate and try to look at things objectively and from a realist point of view.

Posted by: DiehardTerp | November 23, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

I'm with you DiehardTerp on Swofford. He's been all about the cash grab since he's been commissioner. From the expansion to the ACC Title game disaster (the 9-6 GaTech/Wake game in Jax comes to mind), the unbalanced basketball schedules, to the bowl tie-ins. Swofford has been a terrible advocate for the ACC. He strikes terrible bowl arrangements (Humanitarian, Emerald, and Sun), while letting the SEC stomp all over the conference. The TV deal is a joke, and only came about because the ADs unanimously pushed him to renegotiate with ESPN ahead of the Pac-10 and Big 12. The conference does pull in a good bit of money, but they treat their crown jewel (men's basketball) like a second-class citizen, placing their marquee event (ACC Tournament) in a terrible, oversized building with a schedule that always favors the local Carolina teams. The only thing he's gotten right over the past few years is keeping all of the sports, aside from football, in a single division.

As much as Maryland was treated like a red-headed stepchild, even though they are a founding member, BC is treated even worse by the conference. They don't get a dime more despite having to travel 400 miles more than ANYONE in the conference. They pretty much can never take a bus to a game for any sport, and the ACC doesn't even bat an eyelash when they start becomming uncompetitive in just about every sport--just look how bad their men's BB team will be this year with 3 straight years of poor recruiting under Al Skinner (good coach) and a new coach at the reigns.

Swofford's screwed up the ACC enough, and should be replaced before it gets any worse.

Posted by: Russtinator | November 23, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Why they ever broke up the 9 team round robin for basketball and football is confusing. You almost have to ask if basketball was even factored in because from the outside looking in, it was a football decision. And the results are we now have a championship game that no one really attends but they finally switched to a better location. I really think they had it in Florida because they were banking on Miami and FSU dominating which has not been the case.

If they really wanted to expand that badly with a 12th team, why didn't they look at West Virginia which would have kept everything below the mason dixon line in a southern dominated conference. Yes, West Virginia isn't a coastal state which would not make sense for the name but who today really looks at the names of the conferences and says teams don't really belong there based on that. The only reason BC got an consideration is because it brought in a new TV market.

How much more money has this title game truely brought in? You don't hear much about it other than the poor attendance.

The ACC has been and always will be a basketball conference. Look at all of the national champions that have come out of the ACC in the past along with the prestigious programs.

And not to hate on the teams they brought in but what have they really brought to the table other than football? It's great that VT came in an has been winning the conference but there were no basketball traditions brought in. And it seems like they're reaping more rewards than the conference is actually getting. And they talk about tradition when most of those schools have been switching conferences or trying to identify with one for years and think now that they're in the ACC, that they were the ones who solidified the conference. True ACC folks know who the original schools were and understand that everything was going great even in football up until this recent change. These teams came into the ACC and need to adopt to the ACC ways and understand the tradition and history which I feel has not happened. To me, they still do not seem part of the conference. Their rivalries do not feel the same as the original ACC ones.

Had we stood pat, maybe the college landscape would not have changed so much. I know the Big 12 just lost a few teams and if they're smart, they'll keep the conference the way it is because less is more sometimes and the ACC is living proof of that.

Just because someone else does something, doesn't mean you have to follow suit. Sometimes it's best to step back evaluate and see how things play out before making a decision. I don't remember any other conferences trying to expand at that time other than maybe the Big 11, I mean Big 10. The Big East did it in basketball as a result of us and they focused on the basketball side with a little football and their football has taken more shots in the arm than we have but we're not far behind.

Posted by: DiehardTerp | November 23, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Wait, I do remember the Big East threatening to expand a little but even if they did expand, I don't think anyone from the ACC really would have left and who would have wanted to go into the Big East. Even if they pulled from Conference USA, which they did anyways, having Tech, Miami and BC still there would not have made that the super power conference everyone thinks these 12 team conferences are. FSU was the last team that was added and that was in the early 90s and they came into the conference mainly because of football.

And now it even appears that the Big East has the edge in basketball over the ACC with their 16 team conference though they might as well use the BCS formula to explain their scheduling since both have no foundation and change constantly.

Posted by: DiehardTerp | November 23, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

DHT -

The big pay-of for expansion was to be the ACCCG. Bowl revenue would be diluted with the three additional teams but that was to be more than offset by the ACCCG. I do think that VT & Miami were natural ACC teams - I would have preferred taking Miami over FLST back when they joined. On BC - I wonder how whether the conference can wriggle out keeping them around. I understand the logic that they are as close to MD as Miami is to FLST or GT but its in the wrong direction.

What would be real interesting to see is the FB and BB NCs won by the current ACC member teams. Where do we stack up vs. the other major conferences over the course of the last 30 years or so? Certainly, FLST and Miami both joined with NCs in FB (although I contend that the best team in 1984 was the Clemson Tigers who were on probation). We talked endlessly this summer about all of the permutations of expansion and some on the board felt that the ACC MUST expand further to survive.

I actually think 12 is the optimal number going forward. Why the conference has sunk so far back among the AQs needs to be examined. When was the last time an ACC team was close to winning the NC? Or even ranked in the top 5 at the end of the season?

Regards -

-hgr

Posted by: HughGRection | November 23, 2010 10:36 PM | Report abuse

I can't figure out the drop-off either. The only historically bad football programs in the ACC are Duke and Wake, and Wake has recently proved their ability to compete in the conference with Jim Grobe at the helm. Duke has even made strides here and there to become legitimate, and of course has some ancient history behind them. All of the other programs in the conference have some history behind them along with dozens of former players in the pros. On paper, the conference should be a strong one, with some teams that have been in lulls over the past 20 years (UVA, Maryland, GaTech, and UNC) showing significant progress over the last decade. However, it has not panned out on the field as ACC teams are routinely beaten in interconference games with the SEC, Big 12, Big 11, and Pac-10. VaTech is clearly the class of the league right now, but they have found some way to ruin a run to the NC Game by losing one or two stupid games along the way. FSU is still recovering from the cheating scandal, and Miami doesn't seem willing to skirt the rules anymore to return to the glory days of "The U." Clemson is an enigma that cannot seem to find a coach that can utilize the most talented roster in the conference. UNC looked to be going in the right direction until the most recent scandal, and GaTech took a big step backwards as a very young team had to learn Paul Johnson's crazy offense. NCState and Maryland are working their way back to prominence with coaches that have been in the league for a while now, and one or both may be on the verge of breaking through, while BC is lost with three coaches in the past 4 years.

Maybe another year or two of coaching stability pulls the ACC back to respectability (Dabo Sweeney is probably the only coach in trouble this off season), but the recent performance of the ACC in interconference games and bowl games has been embarrassing.

Posted by: Russtinator | November 24, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Times do not impact me because I go to all the home games. I work weekends, but I adjust my schedule in order to go.

The DC area will never be the type of place to just shut down on game day. Think about how many people/families you know in the area and how hard it is to schedule activities.

The other thing to consider is the DC area is a transient town. Many people will leave today to return to NY and other parts of the country (thank god). The fact that lots of people don't have roots here, including the student body, cannot help.

The "charm" of the stadium does not matter as long as the place is not a dump. All fields are the same. Stadiums only affect baseball.

Posted by: garrett4 | November 24, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Regarding the comment by some about underage drinking at tailgates:

I assume what the poster was addressing was the large police presence and presumed campus security policy towards interacting with tailgaters (presumably in regards to underage drinkers). The tailgating experience for the average fan (not necessarily the hard core season ticket holder for the past 10+ yrs) has changed.

It used to be fine to tailgate all day. In fact, you could park in any lot without being charged. (Understandable that they now charge for parking). But alot of fans would come to tailgate mainly and football was secondary (as Ralph mentioned with 1 bowl game in 17/18 yrs under Krivak, Duffner and Vanderlin tenures). With regular 2/3 win seasons, perhaps going to the game wasn't as exciting for the average fan.

With the physical changes in Lot 1 (lax/soccer field, performance arts, Riggs Center, parking deck), the physical location of many tailgates has moved from prior years to Lot 4 (behind the dorms) and down by Comcast Center. However, the police are out in force and start to chat fans/tailgaters as game time approaches and after start time. I assume the previous poster was referring to this constant police presence. (One could say they almost harrass tailgaters. But they are persistent in telling fans to finish the tailgate and go to the game. I heard one cop at the FSU game say it was illegal to tailgate in Lot 11B once the game started). (I don't know if this is true, but they really push hard, albeit in a professional manner generally).

You can debate whether this is good or bad. But regardless, the policy is now to get tailgates to end at game time and get everyone to the stadium. Perhaps a worthwhile goal, but it nonetheless it has changed the tailgate experience.

Posted by: gwasser | November 24, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

A few things. First, Russtinator that was a great post. Only slight disagreement I have would be in coaches in trouble. I might throw in NC and Miami as schools that may be looking around for a coach.
Second-I was a season ticket holder for 27 years. This is my first year without going to a game. The thing I hated most in the latter years was the constant changing of game times. I have family and friends that I like to visit/plan things with for the weekends. Not knowing my Saturday schedule was a real pain. I understand those of you who cosider yourselves great fans and plan ur entire day around the games. Good for you. I also found that such erratic game time/day made it very difficult to see my grandsons play on Saturday. This year I would have been able to only see Navy and NCST or give up their games and giving them up was not an option.
Finally-After giving up my tickets I also dropped from the Terrapin Club. This meant that I had to give up my reserved/numbered parking space and my basketball tickets. I did consider going to see the NCST game but parking for the casual fan is spread all over the place so I remain undecided about it.
Hope this helps explain why some of us MD grads root, root, root for the Terps without being able to see them live.

Posted by: fellowfan | November 24, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

"I might throw in NC and Miami as schools that may be looking around for a coach."

The UNC situation is an interesting one, and probably won't be decided until the NCAA investigation is complete. However, as a school who let one of the best coaches in the country (Mack Brown) walk out the back door, they're pretty unlikely to give up on a big-name coach like Butch Davis unless the program gets hit hard by the NCAA (this is his 4th season).

I just don't see Miami getting rid of Randy Shannon (also in his 4th season). The 'Canes were in good position until they lost Jacory Harris. Their only losses before that were on the road in the Horseshoe, and at home to FSU. Shannon is starting to bring in the types of players that epitomized Miami through the 80s and 90s, and they would be fools to mess with a big-time team on the rise.

If you are interested in the NCSU game, there are tons of pay lots around Comcast, including 4b and 11b.

Posted by: Russtinator | November 24, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Fellow fan, if you post your contact info I'll mail you a parking permit for the NC State game.

Posted by: Barno1 | November 24, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Barno1-Thanks for the offer but still undecided about the game.
Russ-Great points about the coaches and thanks for the parking info.
Hope everyone had a great turkey day!

Posted by: fellowfan | November 25, 2010 10:58 PM | Report abuse

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