Georgia State trying to attract students to football

This summer, Georgia State athletic director Cheryl Levick promised a room full of sports officials from around the country that she would do whatever it took, including buying the tickets herself, to ensure that the Panthers average at least 15,000 fans at the football team’s home games this season.

The NCAA requires that teams meet that average at least once in a two-year rolling window. Georgia State’s window opened last year, when they averaged 12,309 fans.

Through two games, both against regional FCS opponents, average announced attendance has increased by more than 3,700 fans compared with last year, to 16,087. Another regional FCS opponent, undefeated Jacksonville State, is making the two-hour drive to the Georgia Dome on Saturday and should bring at least a few hundred fans.

So Levick can put away the Gold Card, for now.

“We will make it happen; we will hit the 15,000,” she repeated this week.

But she’s not getting a lot of help from the student body of more than 32,000, a segment that the athletic department specifically targeted with several initiatives this year, thinking that was one group that could help increase the average attendance. According to Levick, an average of less than 3,000 students have attended a game. There are many reasons why, but these stand out:

  • More than 80 percent of Georgia State’s undergraduates have jobs, according to Levick. Often those students work on Saturdays.
  • Answering a question asked on Twitter and on ajc.com, current and former students say they are tired of watching a losing team. The Panthers are 0-3 this season and haven’t won a game since 2011.

Georgia State began to engage the student body over the summer to improve attendance at the games.

“We have a lot of students that are excited about our sports programs,” Levick said. “They come to a variety of sporting events. We are still trying to get them to convert to being there on Saturdays.”

Georgia State has tried different promotions this year. The rapper Ludacris appeared at the first game — but didn’t perform, as one student pointed out. There was a “cash drop” at the second game, but one student said that wasn’t enticing, calculating that she likely wouldn’t get more than $40, which she said wasn’t worth the time commitment of attending the game. This week will feature a “Taste of GSU” tailgating event for the students and other adults and a “Putt with Pounce” event for kids. (Pounce is Georgia State’s mascot.)

Improving student attendance is important because while a 15,000 average attendance may not seem like much, it has an importance that could impact the Panthers for the next 10 years.

Failure to average at least 15,000 in announced (includes some types of tickets that were purchased but not used) or actual attendance can result in a 10-year probationary period. If the team fails to hit that magic number within that period, it can be placed in what the NCAA calls restrictive membership. Penalties can include being ineligible to participate in the postseason.

It seems odd that Georgia State, which is 0-3 and has been outscored by 72 points this season, may be worried about the possibility of one day playing in a bowl, but attendance, particularly student attendance, has been a concern since the program started.

After opening with more than 30,000 (including students) against Shorter in 2010 in the first game in program history, attendance dropped the next week to 12,647. The average over 21 homes games in the program’s short history is 14,714. The student sections have been mostly barren, even though student tickets are free as part of $263 in student fees that go toward athletics.

Other steps that Georgia State has taken this year to improve student attendance:

  • It has increased the portion of its $171,000 marketing budget targeted for attracting students to football by more than $13,500, to $71,800.
  • It has scheduled more free shuttles for students to get them from campus to the Dome.
  • It has created advisory groups with student organizations.
  • Coach Trent Miles spoke briefly at the convocation, a first for the athletic department.

Georgia State is considering scheduling next year’s season opener for the middle of the week, which is something some students have asked for. Levick said they also are have talked to the Sun Belt about hosting another conference game earlier in the week.

The immediate issue is meeting that 15,000 average this season. Levick said there are donors who will make sure that happens by buying tickets for themselves or for the charitable-ticket program, which has played a significant part in the increased average attendance this year.

More than 2,800 charitable tickets have been purchased this year, with slightly less than 1,000 redeemed. A total of between 6,500-9,000 have been purchased for the next five games, according to Georgia State, for a total of between 9,300-11,800 given out for the season. By comparison, approximately 9,000 were given out and more than 2,600 redeemed in 2011, and approximately 8,200 given out and 2,600 redeemed last year.

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