CHESTNUT HILL MA - SEPTEMBER 11: Fans take a moment of silence in remembrance of the 9/11 attacks before the game between the Boston College Eagles and the Kent State Golden Flashes on September 11 2010 at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
ESPN's Ivan Maisel recently wrote about the Big City Marketing Summit, a conference among ADs from schools in big city markets focused on marketing and ticket sales. Boston College was joined by Miami and Maryland in the ACC, as well as Northwestern, Arizona State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida, TCU and Washington, among others.
This Summit probably could have been called the "Boston College Football Marketing Challenge," as many of the marketing and ticket sales challenges that were discussed were most likely directly applicable to BC. This is why I hope GDF took a lot of notes, because the program can use all the help it can get when it comes to football ticket sales and attendance.
Football attendance has dropped significantly from a recent high in 2007 (41,989). Last year, BC averaged over 1,000 less fans per game than they did in their inaugural ACC season (39,429). All indications are that ticket sales will again be soft this year, and my guess is we'll see another dip in per-game attendance with a six-game home schedule that includes games against Northwestern, UMass, Duke, Wake Forest and N.C. State. This year's home marquee opponent -- Florida State -- will play on the Heights on Thursday.
ESPN Boston took the WWL-wide look at college football teams in NFL markets and applied it to BC. Here's what GDF had to say about the unique challenges of marketing college football in a pro market:
"We never, ever, ever make excuses. "We say we have a lot of great opportunities from being in a professional town. And we have to work harder and we have to work smarter to be able to sell tickets and to create excitement."
This quote runs contrary to a lot of other sound bytes I feel like I constantly hear coming out of the school and the AD. I thought the unique challenges with selling BC football started and stopped with the fact that we are overshadowed by the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins and Celtics in our own market?
There are plenty of opportunities on the horizon to sell more tickets and better promote BC football, but the school and the AD will be handcuffed if they continue to cite an unhealthy economy or the fact that BC is located in a pro sports town. That's why my hope is that some new and innovative ideas come out of this Summit and are applied to BC's unique football marketing challenge.
An NFL lockout poses an enormous opportunity for BC. Without football on Sundays, college football programs can build some buzz heading into the season and may see an increase in ticket sales from Patriots fans looking for something to do to fill their suddenly empty weekends.
BC's fellow participants in the Big City Marketing Summit are also an enormous resource here. There are seven BCS conference teams that I personally harbor no ill will towards that were members of the Big City Summit -- Arizona State (Pac-12), Cincinnati (Big East), Northwestern (Big Ten), Pittsburgh (Big East), South Florida (Big East), TCU (soon to be Big East) and Washington (Pac-12). Much in the same way I've advocated with scheduling smart with some of these other BCS schools with strong academics, why shouldn't these city schools help each other out when it comes to scheduling non-conference games?
Isn't there an opportunity here to band together and bring in more high-profile, non-conference opponents to Alumni? Why not band together and sign a Washington, TCU, Arizona State or Northwestern (again) to a home-and-home deal and combine forces with these other city-schools?
The non-conference schedule over the last decade has been good for building the program and sustaining a high level of success, but I'm not sure this is going to cut it going forward. Especially in the face of increased Division I-A competition from the likes of UMass, who is looking to land BCS AQ opponents like Colorado and Indiana for games in Foxboro. Given the choice between scheduling a home-and-home with BC or writing a check and getting to play at Gillette, I think the choice is easy for other BCS AQ conference teams.
That's why I'm personally against an annual series with UMass, because you know GDF will also schedule a I-AA opponent in those years, further watering down the annual home schedule. It's time to get more interesting non-conference opponents to the Heights on Saturdays like BC had in the 1990s. That will go a long way to increasing the interest and exposure the program gets if you land more programs like USC and less like Weber State, Stonybrook, UMass and Rhode Island.
Winning is only one part of this, and won't solve all the Eagles' attendance woes. It's going to take more than simply winning more football games to get Alumni Stadium filled every Saturday. BC has been to a bowl game for 11 straight years, so it's going to take more than the 9-3, 8-4 and 7-5 seasons we've grown accustomed to over the last decade.
As for the "pro sports town" excuse, I truly believe it's just that -- an excuse. If the AD continues to find creative ways of marketing the program, uses the NFL lockout as an opportunity and starts bringing in more interesting non-conference opponents, I think averaging 45,000 per game is an incredibly modest and easily attainable goal. Equally attainable is averaging 38, 39 or 40k per game and using two of BC's 6-8 home games to schedule a MAC opponent and Stonybrook. Either way.