Maryland will play West Virginia (2013) and Virginia Tech (2014) at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium. So sayeth the school this evening. This follows neutral-site games against Navy in Baltimore (2005 and 2010), and the decision to play Texas at Landover’s FedEx Field in 2018 as the back end of a home-and-home with the Longhorns.
And now, a related note:
TOP 10 BYRD STADIUM CROWDS, 2006-2010
|West Virginia||2007 ||53,107 ||L, 31-14|
|Boston College||2007||52,827||W, 42-35 |
|Florida State||2008||51,620||L, 37-3|
|Virginia Tech||2009||51,514||L, 36-9|
|Wake Forest||2006||51,500||L, 38-24|
|Florida State||2006||50,517||W, 27-24|
That Thursday night date with West Virginia accounted for the largest crowd in the latter half of the Ralph Friedgen era. In fact, the Mountaineers account for four of the 16 largest gatherings in Byrd’s history.
While Virginia Tech’s last visit to College Park brought “just” the fifth-largest home crowd in the last five seasons (33 games total), there are two mitigating circumstances worth pointing out. One, Maryland was deep in the throes of a 2-10 season (the loss to the Hokies sent them to 2-8). Two, it was a 1 p.m. kickoff; only two of the other 10 games on the list (2006 Miami and 2007 Clemson) began before 6 p.m., and those were 3:30 starts in the latter half of the fall.
Also worth mentioning: Virginia Tech was the visiting team for Byrd’s second-biggest crowd ever back in 2005.
Coincidentally, Virginia Tech and West Virginia possess relatively nearby fanbases – the Hokies, with their substantial Northern Virginia presence, might as well be in Maryland’s backyard – who generate more demand than supply for tickets in their teams’ own stadiums.
So while folks at Maryland spoke, in a statement released by the school, of creating the best experience for everyone involved and maintaining a strong presence throughout the state (both noble, plausible and genuine sentiments), these games will also aid in offsetting Maryland’s well-known financial issues.
Consider this overly simplistic scenario, which is not an attempt to provide hard financial data (i.e. does not account for additional cost of using an off-campus facility for a “home” game and merely hypothesizes ballpark ticket prices): Byrd’s listed capacity is 54,000. M&T Bank Stadium’s is 71,008. If Maryland sold 15,000 extra seats at $40 a pop, that’s $600,000 (minus some other costs) for the trouble. At $50 a ticket, it’s $750,000. And yes, Maryland can use every last penny it can muster, regardless of whatever the final numbers actually look like.
The ideal world for Maryland is its program grows and its own fans gobble up all those extra tickets. But if not (Maryland is coming off a year when it averaged 39,168 in six home dates), Virginia Tech and West Virginia supporters can reliably be counted upon to pick up the slack and help pay some bills in College Park.
The downside is obvious: If Terps fans (particularly those in the Baltimore area these sorts of game are supposed to appeal to) don’t purchase tickets en masse, it won’t take much for those dates to take on the feel of neutral-site or even road games. Of course, that happened anyway when Virginia Tech came to Byrd in 2009.
It certainly isn’t a brazen move like playing a “home” game against Florida State in Miami, as the Terps did back in 1996. But it isn’t without the risk of hosting a party for a regional rival’s fanbase. Indeed, at this stage, the most assured – and necessary – payoff for Maryland with this decision is the payoff itself.