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Virginia Tech, which has the third longest active streak of sellout games, likely won't fill the stands today.
The Roanoke Times | File 2011
Virginia Tech’s 93-game sellout streak, a recruiting tool used by coaches, began 15 years ago.
MICHAEL SHROYER | Special to The Roanoke Times
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer speaks to the team in Lane Stadium in August, with the nearly-completed video board in the background.
Friday, September 6, 2013
BLACKSBURG - When word began to trickle out earlier this week that Virginia Tech's 93-game sellout streak was in jeopardy, people around the football team tried to rally the troops.
Head coach Frank Beamer encouraged fans to come out on his weekly radio show. Running backs coach Shane Beamer did the same on Twitter.
But barring a major rush in walk-up ticket sales, it looks like the streak will end Saturday against Western Carolina.
"I don't think there's any question that it's coming to an end," Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver said Friday.
Weaver and ticketing services director Sandy Smith said more than 5,000 tickets were available earlier this week. That includes 3,700 tickets Western Carolina returned of its 4,300 allotment. But Virginia Tech still has 2,000 unsold season tickets, the first time in a while those haven't sold out.
It likely means the end to Tech's 93-game sellout streak, which began nearly 15 years ago when 53,207 were in Lane Stadium to witness Virginia Tech's excruciating 36-32 loss to Virginia.
That's the third longest active streak in the country behind Nebraska's 316 games (dating back to 1962) and Notre Dame's 232 (dating back to 1973). It's something Tech has taken as a point of pride.
"We use that in recruiting," Beamer said on Tech Talk Live. "We talk about the straight sellouts we've had at Lane Stadium. ... These players, they played hard last week, and they'll play hard this week, so I hope that people get in there and support us."
Lagging attendance is not just a Virginia Tech issue. According to the USA Today, there's been a 2 percent drop in average per-game attendance from 2009-12.
"I think it's a trend right now," said Smith, who's talked to several other ticket directors in the league who are seeing similar drops. "I think the economy has a lot to do with it, and I think TV and game times have made a big difference."
The Hokies have routinely sold their full allotment of around 44,000 season tickets in recent years, although that figure is down to around 42,000 this year. There are numerous factors.
Last year's 7-6 record was the team's worst in 20 years, so interest could be down. Although every game last year was listed as a sellout, there were noticeable swaths of empty seats at Lane Stadium, meaning far less than the 65,632 capacity actually in attendance.
Tech's home schedule this season, which doesn't have a marquee non-conference opponent, features a middling ACC slate (North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Duke and Maryland) and has no home Thursday night game for the first time in 11 years, doesn't help either.
Today's home opener is against Western Carolina, a Football Championship Subdivision team that has gone 1-10 in each of the last two seasons, hardly a top-notch opponent.
Additionally, Tech is battling the same forces that are driving down ticket sales across the country: many fans are choosing to bypass paying top dollar to attend a game when they could watch it at home on their 60-inch television.
"That's one of the reasons we have put a new scoreboard in," Weaver said. "We're competing, if you will. And you do everything you possibly can to enhance the fan experience."
Weaver has also tried to set up better non-conference matchups that take place in Lane Stadium in future years, not at neutral sites. That has a dual purpose of making the schedule more attractive to fans and stronger, should that come into play with the upcoming College Football Playoff's selection committee.
In the next 10 years, the Hokies will host Ohio State, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan and West Virginia in Lane Stadium. Weaver is working on more matchups.
"We're doing the best we can do," he said.
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