- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The construction at Byrd Stadium rapidly progressed this summer, and hard-hat-clad workers can be seen milling about in the unfinished edifice.

Season-ticket sales, meanwhile, seem set to match the last two years.

The athletic department had sold about 28,000 season tickets entering the week, about 900 shy of this point last year but still a figure likely to come close to the 29,000-to-30,000 range the program hit the last four seasons.

Department officials want to reach a season ticket base of 34,000 (a sellout before the season) by the time the new suites in Byrd open next year. The school also allocates 10,000 tickets to students and 4,000 tickets to opposing teams at what is now a 51,500-seat facility.

While it is a vastly different situation than the one coach Ralph Friedgen inherited - in the final year under his predecessor, Ron Vanderlinden, the school sold 12,000 season tickets - support appears to have plateaued regardless of Maryland’s performance.

“We had to do something extra to get through that ceiling, which is [why] I wanted to use the completion of [the suites] and the reopening of the stadium next fall as the goal,” said Brian Ullmann, Maryland’s senior associate athletic director for external operations. “I hoped to do some of it this year.”

Much of that work likely will be needed next year, when Maryland also will attempt to sell the majority of its suites. Ullmann said the school has found buyers for 28 of the 64 suites, which come with options of three-, five- or seven-year contracts and average approximately $50,000 annually.

Friedgen remains a critical part of the suite sales pitch. Ullmann describes him as “the ultimate closer,” and Friedgen believes a good season could be critical to ensuring the suites are full at the start of the 2009 season.

Ullmann said the department has yet completely to target corporations, which are less likely to make purchases when the completion of construction won’t come in the current fiscal year.

“I went to one thing, and I think I sold three of them,” Friedgen said recently. “I think they’re doing pretty well. I know they’re going up pretty fast. It’s amazing how fast it’s going up. Compared to our [team house] building, these guys aren’t fooling around. … I see that thing, and I think it’s going to change the feeling of the stadium a lot.”

The unfinished bookends to Tyser Tower won’t be enclosed before this season begins, and the construction figures to remain noticeable for much of the Terps’ seven-game home schedule. A dozen rows at the top of the bleachers remain fenced in as part of a construction zone.

It should not have an impact when the Terps begin the season Aug. 30 against Delaware. However, a bump in the season-ticket total - a figure unlikely to be helped much since single-game seats went on sale Monday - would be meaningful for the program.

“I think it would be real important, especially with the economy the way it is,” Friedgen said. “I think we averaged 51,2-something [51,263] last year. The top [27 crowds] in the history of Byrd Stadium, 21 of them have come in the last seven years. I think that’s a pretty significant stat there.”

Still, it remains a question whether Maryland can grow its base much more than it already did with three straight 10-win seasons earlier this decade.

Regardless of reason - the economy, interest, the overall product - the Terps probably won’t increase their season-ticket sales this year. But they won’t endure a serious dip, either.

“It tells me we have 30,000 good, core fans that are not bandwagon people. These are legitimate people,” Ullmann said. “To do that 4,000, to close the gap and sell it out on a season-ticket basis, I think we need to engage people beyond that core group.”