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More on how EMU is playing the attendance game in 2010

September 22, 2010

Hidden behind the innocuous-sounding title, “EMU Helps Local Schools Score Extra Money“, and the “Education First Ticket Stimulus Program”, I found an announcement from EMU athletics that goes a long way toward explaining their attendance strategy for the ongoing football season.

Remember that NCAA rules require a school to post an average home game attendance of 15,000 or more once within any two-year period in order to remain in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest level of NCAA football.

Remember also that EMU posted an average attendance of 5,016 fans per game in 2009, — lower than 25 Division II schools and one Division III school (St. John’s, in Minnesota) — so the 2010 attendance must average at least 15,000 per game.

Remember also that, at the MAC Football Media Preview, EMU Athletic Director Derrick Gragg said:

“The university has been in compliance because the rule states they can have 15,000 in either actual or paid attendance, and we have been able to do it with paid attendance, so that makes it fine what the NCAA.”

Actual or paid attendance, got that?

So here’s the solution.

Corporate sponsors, such as (according to the announcment) Pepsi Co., pre-purchased EMU football tickets for the season. The EMU announcement didn’t say, but I’d be willing to guess it was at least 50,000, and maybe the whole 75,000 (15,000 per game average needed times five home games) just to be safe. EMU can count tickets purchased, as long as they were sold for at least one-third of the highest normal price; since the highest normal price is $9, tickets sold for at least $3 count. (Remember the voucher packs? 10 tickets for $30 is $3 per ticket, so they all count, even if only some get used.) Then the corporate sponsors give the tickets away. In this case, 10,000 tickets to the Central Michigan game were given away to local schools. I’d heard about a giveaway from a friend, but I hadn’t realized the scale. Then, to (theoretically) ensure the tickets get used, EMU promises to pay the schools $1 per ticket used. The tickets have special bar codes that, when scanned, give EMU a record of how many tickets were redeemed from each school.

Did it work? Yes and no.

Yes, because the “attendance” for Saturday’s game was over 20,000, bringing the season average to date over the required 15,000. Yes, because surely some of those tickets did get used, resulting in a decent (by Rynearson Stadium standards) crowd.

No, because at least anecdotally the tickets were not exactly a hot item. Remember that friend I mentioned? Sunday morning, they had a stack of unused tickets.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 22, 2010 12:08 pm

    I’ll have to admit, I was surprised when I went to the game on Saturday because of all the people there. The last time I saw a crowd like that was when I was a freshman at Eastern in 1987. I ended up getting one of those vouchers so the game was free for me and I’m not going to complain about that. As much as I would like to see Eastern remain Division 1A, maybe going down to Division 1AA might not be such a bad thing for them. I think they may end up being more competitive in that division. I mean look at the Ivy League schools.

    • September 22, 2010 12:37 pm

      I’m not so sure. There’s been a lot of conversation over the past several years about EMU dropping to Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA), but most of factors that are causing problems for EMU today would remain with them. For example, rather than building alumni support, (the percentage of alumni who donate to EMU is abysmally low, no matter what standard you use — somewhere around 1%) dropping to FCS is likely to further erode it. Rynearson Stadium will be just as much a problem, it will just have even fewer fans in it for games. On top of all that, long-standing rivalries, like Central Michigan, Western Michigan, etc. would be lost. From what I’ve heard, the school would also need to find a new conference for all sports; supposedly if a member drops out of the MAC for football, they must drop out completely (I’m not completely sure about this). I don’t think dropping to FCS is a viable solution.

  2. September 22, 2010 1:39 pm

    I think a big part of the problem with attendance at football games is the abysmal state of the football team. I mean last year they went 0 and 12 even though they were competitive in alot of those games. A couple bounces here and there and they might have had a couple wins. And this year, they are already 0 and 3 and soon to be 0 and 4. I like what Ron English is doing with the team though and I wish the defense were much better. I’m not terribly worried about the offense (as that’s never really been a problem).

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