Last season, Boston College opened the season at home against Villanova in front of a crowd of 30,922, the smallest crowd for a home opener since Alumni Stadium's last expansion for the start of the 1994 season (29,110 for the 1992 opener vs. Rutgers). Considering the opponent (FCS Villanova) and the circumstances (BC coming off its worst season in 30+ years), it was hardly surprising that the Eagles didn't pack them in for the 2013 opener.
But home attendance only rose slightly during the remainder of the season, with the high water mark coming against Florida State (40,129) and the low vs. Virginia Tech (?) (30,129) for an average of 33,006 / game.
Now tomorrow's game is a road game, not a home one, so these numbers aren't all that applicable. But I think it's important to set the context for where BC football is at attendance wise. It's probably a reasonable assumption that there won't be more folks at Gillette than your average 2013 Eagles home football game.
That's because UMass has struggled mightily at the gate in its transition from FCS to FBS / Amherst to 90 miles east of Amherst. The Minutemen averaged 15,830 over six home games last year, conveniently a hair above the NCAA's minimum football attendance requirement to avoid being placed on 10-year probation. UMass averaged just 10,091 fans per game in 2012, its first in college football's top division.
The good news is that tomorrow's game should give the program a pretty big attendance boost to get them through the rest of the year. As of late Tuesday, the Daily Hampshire Gazette's Matt Vautor reported that 21,000 tickets had been sold.
Not counting the two Colonial Clash games against New Hampshire in 2010 and 2011 when Gillette Stadium wasn't UMass' home field, Saturday is shaping up to be the largest home crowd in school history. According to UMass associate athletic director John Sinnett, 21,000 tickets have been sold for the game. The record is 21,707, which saw the Minutemen beat Miami (Ohio) last year.
Later in the week came word that BC had sold its allotment of tickets for this game and will be sending 55 (!) busses of students to the game. Earlier today, UMass upped the estimate to over 27,000, so it sounds like there will be a very good Superfan section. If you also factor in the walk-up factor generated by some -- I'm going to say something nice about UMass here, you guys -- strong "Battle For The Bay State" marketing efforts throughout the city, I think there could be a decent-enough crowd tomorrow.
Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of historical context to help us accurately predict attendance for this game. This is the first Boston College road opener since 10,788 (but more like 2,000 ... I was there) packed Cleveland Browns Stadium for the 2008 game against Kent State -- also a pre-Labor Day game. BC's last game against UMass at Alumni Stadium drew just 30,176, though the Eagles had gotten off to a disastrous 0-3 start to the 2011 season. Then again, that was probably the best UMass team of the last three years and there had to be some buzz surrounding the FCS-to-FBS transition, no?
The forecast for tomorrow looks ideal, so there may be a decent enough "walk-up" crowd to push past the 30k mark. But selling 3k more tickets in less than 24 hours seems a bit much to me. I also can't see this game drawing better than the last meeting in 2011, especially when factoring in Labor Day weekend. Call it paid attendance for this game at 28,500, which will both please UMass administrators and cause New England sportswriters to pen silly columns about how college football doesn't matter in New England.