SBD/December 12, 2012/Colleges

Attendance Woes Have UMass Questioning Move To FBS, Gillette Stadium

UMass football's average attendance fell by more than 2,000 from '11 to '12
The Univ. of Massachusetts-Amherst football program’s declining attendance at Gillette Stadium has "driven up the cost of the school’s effort to enter the ranks of big-time college football and intensified concerns about the upgrade’s prospects for success," according to a front-page piece by Bob Hohler of the BOSTON GLOBE. Hohler writes under the header, "Enthusiasm Gap For UMass Amherst." UMass football in '12 saw average attendance "decrease to 10,902 from 13,008 the previous year." Students and taxpayers will fund about $5M of the $7.1M budget "through institutional support, including student fees and direct public subsidies." School officials had "projected average crowds at Gillette of about 20,000." Subpar ticket sales have "contributed to a $715,000 cost overrun, increasing the budget for the football program's inaugural season in the Mid-American Athletic Conference to more than" $7.1M -- up from $5.4M in '11. With students and taxpayers "picking up the tab for at least some of the cost overruns, the lower-than-expected attendance has prompted some to wonder whether UMass should reconsider its plan to transform the Minutemen into a national football program." UMass Ad Hoc Committee on FBS Football co-Chair Max Page said, "I think we certainly need to get out of the FBS experiment." UMass AD John McCutcheon said, "One thing we have learned is that it’s going to take us a while longer than we had perhaps anticipated to build a regular fan base. It’s not going to happen overnight." UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, who inherited the football plan when he took office last summer, said that he was "generally satisfied with the inaugural season and will evaluate the initiative annually." Hohler writes the "long-term question remains: will persistent meager ticket sales at Gillette increase pressure on university leaders to fully return the program to Amherst in 2017?" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/12).
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