Attendance has AD's attention

CHAMPAIGN — Yes, he noticed the crowd. Or lack thereof. Official attendance for the first football game of the Mike Thomas era was listed at 45,154.

The actual headcount was considerably less than that.

"You'd like to be playing in front of a full house," the new athletic director said. "You can look at all of the different marketing pieces that hopefully would enhance those kind of crowds. But at the end of the day, it really comes down to winning and sustaining success and building a foundation that regardless of what your record is, people are going to show up and attend games at Memorial Stadium."

When he took over at Cincinnati, Thomas had a 35,000-seat stadium with less-than-capacity crowds. Half full.

By the time he left, the place was at 97 percent capacity.

"That's the same thing that we want to do here," Thomas said.

Thomas used a string of marketing tools to help build the crowds at Nippert Stadium. He also got the coaches involved.

"I think it's important for the coaches to get out in the community, regardless of what the community is like," Thomas said. "There, it's a pro city, so you need to be really active. It's not one of those situations where you can sit back and think things are going to fall in your lap. They're not."

Cincinnati had a difficult time drawing football powers to Nippert Stadium. So, the school decided to play big-time games, including Oklahoma in 2010, at the Bengals' home: Paul Brown Stadium. Louisville and West Virginia will visit the building this season.

At Illinois, Thomas said he will be heavily involved in football scheduling. While the 2012 nonconference games are set, there are holes in the 2013 and 2014 schedules.

"I'll be the key person," Thomas said. "I have been at other schools in which I've worked. It will be in conjunction with the football coach. Certainly, I would want to get their input before any final decisions were made on future football schedules."

Thomas will sit down this week with members of the football program to look at the philosophy of scheduling. One possibility in the future is playing an occasional game in Chicago, Thomas said.

"If you're going to have a presence up there, you need to figure out a way to get in front of those people," Thomas said. "You certainly don't want to do it to dilute the experience of the people in Champaign. I think it's definitely something we need to look at."

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports

Comments

News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

gbw wrote on September 07, 2011 at 10:09 am

I'm an alum living in Chicago who for years has looked at the scheduled non-conference schools played in football and continue to roll my eyes and pass on buying season tickets.
We have to start playing some more interesting schools from the Pac-10; ACC or Big East. I don't mind an inter-state school such as ISU or Northern but North Dakota State or Fresno State aren't going to pack Memorial Stadium. Cal-Berkeley; Standford or Texas A&M would spark my interest. So we'd probably loose 2 of the 3; that's our fault for not being able to recruit in our home state. Shame on us!
Let's face it Champaign Urbana isn't the draw a Madison, WI or Columbus, Ohio are to interest fans for a weekend getaway so its got to be focused on the game and the competitor. If Northwestern can play Notre Dame; why can't the Illini? I at least like the news of playing a game at Wrigley or Soldier Field annually. Can you imagine if Illinois were to play a regular game against Notre Dame at Soldier Field! It would pack the place.
Good luck to Mike Thomas in bringing some life back into Illini football.

illini82 wrote on September 07, 2011 at 10:09 am

The AD is absolutely right that the most important thing is to establish a winning program. Winning takes care of a lot of things. We saw in the 80's and early 90's that Illinois fans will fill Memorial Stadium and now the stadium holds about 7,000 less seats.

As far as the person replying that we don't want to see cupcakes well we do have a strong Arizona St. team coming in just a couple of weeks. We are already in the B10 which has 5 ranked teams and a few others on the cusp. Adding 9 conference games to the schedule in a couple of years will also help solve the "cupcake" argument.

But, it goes back to getting yourself in position to 1. Get to a bowl game and 2. start winning bowl games. Start going to bowl games and better recruits start looking at you and more will commit. Did you notice who OSU, Mich and PSU as well as Wisky and NE played this past weekend? Yep. Cupcakes. I would love to have more BCS conf opponents in the non-conf schedule but we found out with Mizzou that it hurt us if you aren't ready. Plus we replaced them with a home and home vs AZ St.in case you didn't notice. They are no cupcakes but at least we get a couple of games under our belt and hopefully momentum. That said I DO want at least ONE quality D-1 non-conf opponent at home on the schedule.

But it starts with winning and getting a winnable schedule is important to build a foundation.

The other major factor IMO affecting attendance is the terrible agreement for 11:00 start times. It really puts those teams who have to start at that time at a disadvantage as far as getting good attendance. I know, Iknow, start winning and you'll get better time slots but it's the chicken and the egg thing. No B10 team should have more than two or three 11:00 a.m. start times at home. Play at night or even have a Friday night game vs. having more 11:00 a.m. games. I'd even settle for noon. Most of our fan base is in Chicago or at least 2 hours away. The B10 needs to be more aggressive with ESPN on this game time issue.

Marketing. Yes winning is the best medicine but, we are silent and invisible in the Chicago area as far as marketing goes. Terrible radio presence and NO promotion at all in the greater Chicago area. That needs to be addressed and I think Thomas knows this.

TomP wrote on September 07, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I agree with the comment about getting to a few consecutive bowl games and building a winning tradition. I had season tickets for the '83 Rose Bowl year and Memorial Stadium rocked.

The early games are an issue with travel, and the local hotels don't help with their game weekend policies and prices if you want to stay Saturday night. Maybe we could get some local cooperation.

I would agree that an occasional Chicago game at Soldier Field could help get the ball rolling and get more alums interested, but please don't risk the team's safety at Wrigley again. US Cellular would be a better alternative.

dshendricks wrote on September 07, 2011 at 7:09 pm

ASSmussen you are a wolf in sheeps clothing. You and others keep saying the crowd was "considerably less" or attendance was "exaggerated". Memorial Stadium holds something like 62000 now, give or take a few thousand. The official attendance was something like 45000. I watched it on tv and that estimate looked to be about right. The lower level was almost full except for the corners of the endzone and the upper levels were about half full. Anyway you look at it was way more than half full which would be at least be 31,000. Do you have some secret government document showing that the attendance was other than what they claim. More importantly I saw penn state claim another sell-out when you could clearly see that the stands weren't full. If you watch the Purdue game their attendance was listed at around 46000 and they didn't have 2/3 the crowd Illinois had. i don't know how many bowl games I watch where the attendance was a fraction of what they claimed but not a word from ASSmussen. He can only find way to brag about other programs and how Illinois isn't them.

blmillini wrote on September 07, 2011 at 10:09 pm

The stupidity of the conference plays a part with the attendance issue. The fact that the big ten restricts night games virtually eliminates a large percentage of the highest income potential fans. Anyone with children involved in football, soccer, baseball or various other activities cannot attend because all of those events happen during the day, every saturday. Oh, and by the way, those are many of your future fans.

I know there are many other issues and everyone in the big ten is in the same position so it is an even playing field within the conference. The SEC plays many night games, conincidence they have a better following and more recruiting interest?