- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2012

Maryland’s football season ticket sales are down 18 percent from a year ago, one last lingering hit for the cash-strapped athletic department from a rough 2011 on the field.

According to department figures, the Terrapins had sold 16,241 season tickets through Friday, down from 19,892 a year ago. The shrinking base comes in the wake of the Terrapins’ 2-10 record a year ago.

Athletic director Kevin Anderson said “there’s no question we need to stabilize and fix the program where we’re increasing the number of tickets that we’re selling” and said he had budgeted conservatively after last year’s struggles.

“We projected that there could be a shortfall in season tickets,” Anderson said. “We’ll be at the projected budget number that we projected at the beginning of the year. What it does is it does limit us from growing the program and doing things we like to do for the student-athlete, but that’s just where we are right now.”

Anderson is optimistic about bringing fans back into the fold despite the present problems. Maryland partnered with the Aspire Group to improve ticket sales in May 2011, and representatives of the company tried to reach out to all fans who declined to renew tickets. Anderson said there are nearly 1,400 new season-ticket holders, meaning almost 5,000 have left the fold since last year.

Maryland’s attempts to improve the fan experience include additional inflatables for children around the alumni center and on the practice fields and shuttle buses to take fans from far-flung Comcast Center lots to Byrd Stadium.

The department also has partnered with Living Social and Groupon to attract fans with discounted tickets (such as a Living Social offer for $15 tickets for the Sept. 15 game against Connecticut), worked with the university to have the annual family weekend coincide with an Oct. 6 game against Wake Forest and adjusted its young alumni outreach program to provide cheaper tickets and better seating options.

But season ticket data over the past decade -— much of which predates Anderson’s arrival in 2010 and his hire of Randy Edsall as the football program’s coach early in 2011 — is sobering for a department in vital need of revenue even after eliminating seven sports from its athletics tableau earlier this year.

Maryland enjoyed sizable bumps following each of its double-digit win seasons from 2001 to 2003. Season ticket sales soared, doubling from less than 14,000 in 2001 to more than 28,000 in 2005. But support gradually eroded as Maryland settled into a string of largely average seasons, with season ticket sales declining in six of the past seven years.

Since 2005, Maryland has lost more than 43 percent of its season ticket base and has struggled to fill 54,000-seat Byrd Stadium even after the school constructed 64 luxury suites before the 2009 season. The program battles for attention in a crowded D.C. marketplace hardly known for rabid support of college football, and early afternoon games often create conflicts for families with youth sports commitments.

The numbers, though, make it clear that historically, winning is strongly correlated to support for Maryland.

“There is a lot of pressure on our football program and Randy and all of us to be successful [long-term],” Anderson said. “He’s a smart guy. He knows this. We’re working in that direction. I truly believe we’re well on our way. If people didn’t believe in what we’re doing, we wouldn’t have the kind of commitments we’re getting now from recruits.”

The Terps finished this year’s recruiting cycle strong after the hire of offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, and they are slotted No. 23 by 247Sports and No. 26 by Rivals.com in early class of 2013 rankings. Anderson also said he and Edsall have discussed improving the schedule, which includes games in Baltimore in 2013 (West Virginia) and 2014 (Virginia Tech) to better connect with that part of the state.

Maryland faces a challenging autumn after several preseason injuries, including year-ending knee surgery for starting quarterback C.J. Brown. Yet in the face of both last year’s struggles and this month’s obstacles, Anderson remains encouraged about the program’s future.

“I wish we had a magic wand and could fix it overnight,” Anderson said. “I still think we’re going to be good and competitive this year. What we’re going to have to have is some of the freshmen we brought in, they’re going to have to step up right away. But that’s why they came to the University of Maryland, and that’s why they play intercollegiate athletics because they want the opportunity to play.”

• Patrick Stevens can be reached at pstevens@washingtontimes.com.

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