The Washington Times - August 5, 2008, 12:37PM

One of the story’s in today’s dead tree edition concerned Maryland’s flattened season-ticket base over the last four years.

There was also a discussion about suite sales in there. Maryland has sold 28 of its 64 suites, which is actually ahead of pace since corporations aren’t likely to sink their money into such a project more than a year in advance. And since those suites don’t open until 2009, corporations haven’t bit just yet.

SEE RELATED:


I asked Ralph Friedgen a couple weeks ago if he’d done much work as a salesman of late, and he indicated it wasn’t too much but conceded he’d sold two or three at an event this summer.

That’s some serious work, and while I didn’t think Ralph was fibbing, I wondered if there was perhaps an exaggeration at play. The guy is 61, after all. And like a lot of people, he has been known to let details get a little fuzzy with time. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, and it isn’t like it’s intentional.

But in this case, Ralph was dead-on, said Brian Ullmann, the school’s senior associate athletic director for external operations.

When Maryland wants to close the deal, Ralph is the heavy hitter who is deployed.

“I could make an argument they’re all his,” Ullmann said of the suite sales. “If Brian Ullmann was the coach, I’m pretty sure how many suites we’d sell. When you make a commitment to a suite, it’s different than making a commitment to a seat.”

Maybe that’s why there isn’t as much dissonance between the suites doing reasonably well at this point and season tickets remaining about the same. Of course, Ralph also merits credit for getting season ticket holders to rise from a pathetic base of 12,000 fans the year before he arrived.

As another coach in College Park might say, they’ve had a pretty good decade – as this chart from today’s paper illustrates. (*-through yesterday)

Year Season Tickets  Average attendance 
2000
12,00034,129
200119,00043,565
200222,00046,251
200327,00051,236
200429,00051,410
200529,00052,426
200630,00049,393
200730,00051,263
200828,000*

Sure, numbers are lagging behind a bit compared to last year (about 900 off vis-a-vis early August in both years). But the thought of even coming close to 30,000 season tickets was laughable as recently as 2000, when it was fan apathy as much as wins and losses that doomed Ron Vanderlinden. Byrd Stadium looks pretty empty when there’s about 8,000 fans left at the end of a game. Trust me.

Is 30,000 season ticket sales (out of 34,000) the ceiling for Maryland? Perhaps, and possibly likely so long as the Terps don’t toss up nine- or 10-win seasons with regularity. But even if the athletic department can’t surge close to a season sellout next year, its football product is clearly vastly better off and more relevant in the marketplace than it was a decade ago.

Patrick Stevens