Maryland football has second-worst attendance in Big Ten

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Even on the prettiest fall afternoon, with picturesque skies paired with manicured turf and bright red Maryland logos, large swaths of empty bleachers dull the College Park stadium scene. In the upper decks, fans appear as individual blobs interspersed with the bleachers. Some sit alone. There is plenty of space.

In Maryland, declining football attendance is an unwelcome trend that everyone — coaches, players and school officials — can see, but no one has fixed. Through five home games this season, the stadium hosted an average of 21,226 spectators. That number, provided by Maryland to The Washington Post, includes ancillary participants such as staff, media and band members. Announced attendance, a publicly available metric, inflates the estimated audience size because it includes distributed tickets that go unused.

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This fall, Maryland’s attendance peaked with an actual crowd of 26,276 (36,204 was announced attendance) against Purdue. Even then, the stadium, which holds close to 52,000 people, was barely half full. The Terps could top that Saturday, thanks to the traveling Ohio State fans. When Maryland faces Rutgers two days after Thanksgiving, the usual scene will likely play out again. Tickets for that game are available for $3.

Maryland’s attendance woes have persisted for the better part of a decade since the school jumped from the ACC to the Big Ten in 2014 and the Terps have struggled on the field. Photos of vacant stands are circulating the Internet, reaching out to recruiters and giving opposing fans a chance to taunt, and they advertise the money Maryland makes every time it can’t fill its seats.

Maryland’s average announced attendance of 31,920 ranks 66th among the 133 Football Bowl Subdivision schools and ties the program with Boise State, Appalachian State, Navy and Stanford. The Terrapins have the second-worst mark in the Big Ten, behind only Northwestern. There’s a chasm between Maryland and the chasing pack – evident during every road game played in front of a raucous opposing crowd.

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The Terps’ smallest home crowd this season — 17,293 in the stands when Michigan State hosted — was at rainy day in College Park. Meanwhile, poncho-clad Penn State fans packed Beaver Stadium last weekend in the rain as the Nittany Lions dismantled Maryland. After the game, a reporter asked defensive end Chop Robinson, who transferred from Maryland, how many fans would fill College Park Stadium on a gloomy November day, and he said, “Not many.” When asked for an estimate, Robinson said, “Less than 10,000.”

Maryland’s campus is located inside the Beltway, and the stadium is less than 10 miles from the US Capitol. The Terps program sells its location to recruits as a gateway to professional opportunities, but the transient nature of the city may not help create a loyal Maryland fan base. The millions who live here have many options for entertainment, sports and more, stretching from DC to Baltimore.

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“The market is so unique,” ​​said Jordan Looby, who oversees Maryland’s marketing strategy and fan experience. “There is so much competition.”

The most comparable schools might be Georgia Tech (36,625 average announced attendance) in Atlanta, as well as Los Angeles-based programs Southern California (63,133) and UCLA (37,411), both of which are in the top 20 in the College Football Playoff rankings.

A saturated market is hurting Maryland’s efforts to improve attendance as well as team performance. Since the school fired Ralph Friedgen after the 2010 season, the Terps are 56-83. They haven’t won more than seven games in a season and have beaten just three ranked teams during that span — at No. 23 Texas in 2017, vs. No. 23 Texas at FedEx Field in 2018 and then at home in 2019 against No. . 21 Syracuse, which fell by the end of the season. All three wins came in September, and Maryland suffered numerous setbacks against the Big Ten’s elite.

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“I believe this area especially likes winners,” said Scott Weitz, president of the Terrapin Club, which has approximately 5,800 members.

Weitz, who graduated from Maryland in 1990, doesn’t think the Terps need years of improved results to draw bigger crowds. The problem, he said, is that “we haven’t beaten a team we didn’t expect to beat in a really long time.”

The Terps have filled the stadium in College Park at times: The university added bleachers to accommodate demand for student tickets against Penn State in 2019. That game turned into a 59-0 rout. Similar buzz surrounded last season’s matchup with Iowa, and the Terps suffered another unfortunate loss.

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Dramatic upsets happen every weekend in college football, but Maryland has yet to play a spoiler against a ranked Big Ten foe. These are the games that make memories – the ones that instill hope in tailgate conversations and lure fans to the ballpark in case the magic strikes again.

“We have to get rid of the big game narrative that equals Maryland not winning the game,” Weitz said.

Had Maryland upset Penn State on the road last weekend, Weitz doubts there would have been a surge of enthusiasm heading into Saturday’s matchup against No. 2 Ohio State. Instead, the Terps lost 30-0, and the Buckeyes’ dominance threatens a similar result.

Coach Michael Locksley understands that his team has to do its part to attract fans to the stands. A marketing major, he coached the staff when Maryland won the 2001 ACC Championship.

Fans want Maryland to “close the gap between the best teams in our league,” Locksley said earlier this season. “Well, the challenge is, will our fans help me close the gap in creating an environment that makes it difficult for people to come to Shell? … To have the type of program that can go out and recruit [top] players, we have to show that we have a community that really appreciates what this program is all about.”

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A win would help Maryland fill the stands, but filling the stands can help Maryland win more. A raucous environment might make fans buy tickets to participate, but the only way to create that kind of atmosphere is to fill the stadium.

“It’s a little bit of the chicken or the egg,” Looby said.

However, the marketing department is working to reverse the trend. Maryland was previously “operating below baseline” with an “old” video board, Looby said. The Terps rectified that by fielding an impressive replacement last year. A better sound system allows the school to fill the lulls with stunning videos and clips that showcase the players’ personalities.

“Let’s get rid of all the excuses,” Weitz said.

Maryland tried to reach new fans by partnering with a digital advertising agency and targeting campaigns in specific areas. When senior kicker Rakim Jarrett scored against Michigan State, Maryland launched an email campaign offering discounted tickets to people in Jarrett’s home county of Prince George’s. The staff has prepared similar campaigns for other local players.

Maryland’s athletic department creates these marketing efforts, envisions ways to improve the fan experience, and works through the inexact science of ticket prices. But then Maryland’s game every Saturday determines the difficulty of the school’s effort to fill the stadium because poor performances will likely lead to another day with empty stands.

“It’s not about the price,” Weitz said. “I don’t think it’s about that [being] hard to get here. I don’t think it’s about traffic. The demand has to be there, and the way you have demand is to win games.”



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