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Miami Eyes Rare Sellout as College FB Attendance Dips Nationwide

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Copyright 2013 The Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Palm Beach Post (Florida)
September 5, 2013 Thursday
FINAL EDITION
SPORTS; Pg. 1C
1118 words
Full house (for a change);
Florida crowd a rarity, but attendance decline isn't unique to UM.
By Matt Porter Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
CORAL GABLES

Florida and Miami will kick off in front of a packed house at noon Saturday. Close to 77,000 fans are expected to fill Sun Life Stadium for the last scheduled meeting between the bitter in-state rivals.

"It's going to be great," Miami wide receiver Phillip Dorsett said. "We haven't seen that in a long time."

In nearly a decade, to be exact. The Hurricanes, whose attendance figures have always lagged significantly behind their on-field success even in their dynasty years, are expecting their largest crowd since 2004. As this game will prove again, fans do show up for marquee matchups.

Across college football, however, sellouts are fewer and further between.

Attendance has dipped 2 percent in FBS programs over the last year, according to the NCAA, continuing a trend dating to 2009. All the major conferences saw decreases, even the mighty SEC. In strongholds like Tuscaloosa and Knoxville and, yes, Gainesville, they aren't showing up like they used to.

Florida and Florida State saw 2 and 3 percent drops in attendance from 2011 to 2012. Miami had a 2 percent increase in the second year of Al Golden's tenure, but over the last decade Miami attendance is down 31 percent.

The major problem? College football is about atmosphere, and the TV cameras do an excellent job of capturing it.

Nearly ever college football game you want to see is either televised or streamed online. That, coupled with the lower prices of home theater technology and an economy in recovery, means it's tougher than ever to get fans to a game.

"Access has to be greater. Parking has to be better. Food has to be tastier and more unique. School spirit doesn't cut it anymore," said Rick Horrow, a Jupiter resident who teaches sports law and business at Harvard and hosts "Sportfolio" on Bloomberg TV. "It's a hard choice between the couch and the stadium seat."

Even in the best of years, it's always been a tough call at Miami.

Coming off a 2001 national title, with a team stocked with future NFL players, the Canes' average crowd at the Orange Bowl in 2002 was 69,539. It was a record high for the program, and it still fell short of capacity by 3,000 seats.

"There's probably 25-30,000 true UM fans," said Dave Heffernan, an offensive tackle on UM's 1983 title team. "If you play Temple at noon, that's who's going to be there. If you play Notre Dame, you play Florida State, there will be 80,000. That's just something you get used to."

The last Hurricanes game to sell out Sun Life, which has a capacity of 75,542, was a loss to the Seminoles in 2010. In its nine seasons in the ACC, UM has gone 66-46 and attracted a home crowd of 70,000-plus three times, all against the Noles. Last season, Miami went 7-5 and drew 47,719 on average for its six home games, which included a home date with FSU. That ranked 44th nationwide.

Horrow, who founded the Miami Sports Authority in 1981, said UM's fundamental problem is the competition with four pro teams and South Florida's sunny weather. Like UCLA or Northwestern in Chicago, a program in a large urban market loses fans post-graduation.

"Miami is not alone," Horrow said.

UM is getting creative in trying to combat its attendance woes. The Hurricanes this year introduced a "Game Pass" card for season-ticket holders, which ties into a loyalty program. Fans can earn points for attendance, arriving early to the stadium and buying concessions. These loyalty points can be redeemed for discounts, seat upgrades, passes to attend spring practice and meet-and-greets with Hurricanes personalities.

Brian Bowsher, UM associate athletic director for digital strategy, said about 35 to 40 percent of UM's 30,000 season-ticket base have opted in to the program.

Attendance is not nearly as problematic at Florida as it is for Miami, though the Gators have experienced a modest decline since Tim Tebow graduated.

Will Muschamp's 2011 debut, a blowout of Florida Atlantic, marked the end of UF's 137-game sellout streak. During his two-plus seasons as coach, which included a 7-6 record the first year, Florida has sold out seven of 15 games. Of the eight non-sellouts, seven were matchups with clearly inferior non-conference teams and one was against Kentucky.

But when the heavyweights come to town, The Swamp still rocks. Six of the 10 most attended games in Florida history have happened post-Tebow for showdowns against Alabama, South Carolina, LSU, Tennessee and Florida State. The Gators are likely to sell out four of their six home games this season.

Saturday's game will almost certainly be the only sellout of Miami's season. The addition of 1,312 seats will bring capacity for the stadium to 76,854.

The big question: will there be more Gator-chomping or flashing of the "U"?

"I'm not worried about the Gator fans that are going to be in Sun Life," Golden said. "If they got some tickets, good for them. But we're excited about our fans that will be there supporting us."

Staff writer Jason Lieser contributed to this story from Gainesville. mporter@pbpost.com Twitter: @mattyports

SATURDAY'S GAME

No. 12 Florida at Miami, noon, ESPN

'Access has to be greater. Parking has to be better. Food has to be tastier and more unique. School spirit doesn't cut it anymore.'

Rick Horrow

Jupiter resident who teaches sports law and business at Harvard and hosts "Sportfolio" on Bloomberg TV

'There's probably 25-30,000 true UM fans.'

Dave Heffernan Offensive tackle on UM's 1983 championship team

Losing attendance

Where state FBS schools ranked nationally in 2012 and the percentage up or down compared with 2011:

LeftAlign.86LeftAlign.107LeftAlign.180Rank School G Attendance Average % change

LeftAlign.86LeftAlign.107LeftAlign.180Color/CMG Ice 10. Florida 7 613,182 87,597 -2

LeftAlign.86LeftAlign.107LeftAlign.180. Florida State 7 529,208 75,601 -3

LeftAlign.86LeftAlign.107LeftAlign.180Color/CMG Ice 44. Miami (FL) 6 286,315 47,719 +2

LeftAlign.86LeftAlign.107LeftAlign.180. South Fla. 6 264,780 44,130 -1

LeftAlign.86LeftAlign.107LeftAlign.180Color/CMG Ice 68. UCF 6 207,646 34,608 +1

LeftAlign.86LeftAlign.107LeftAlign.180. Fla. Atlantic 5 67,293 13,459 -23

LeftAlign.86LeftAlign.107LeftAlign.180Color/CMG Ice 113. FIU 6 81,806 13,634 -26

2012 NCAA MAJOR CONFERENCE ATTENDANCE

LeftAlign.188LeftAlign.260 Total 2012 Change Rank/Conference Teams Games attendance average In avg.

LeftAlign.188LeftAlign.260Color/PB Gray1. Southeastern 14 99 7,478,304 75,538 -294

LeftAlign.188LeftAlign.260. Big Ten 12 84 5,883,372 70,040 -1,398

LeftAlign.188LeftAlign.260Color/PB Gray3. Big 12 10 66 3,894,266 59,004 -4,261

LeftAlign.188LeftAlign.260. Pac-12 12 79 4,240,632 53,679 +1,430

LeftAlign.188LeftAlign.260Color/PB Gray5. Atlantic Coast 12 80 3,992,779 49,910 -1,497

LeftAlign.188LeftAlign.260. Big East 8 49 1,920,052 39,185 -4,581

September 5, 2013

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